Skip to Main Content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

MUS 133: Introduction to World Music

This guide can help you begin research into world music. Especially helpful for students in Music 133.


This page explains how to search for world music recordings and streaming media through the library catalog. The box below outlines search strategies and includes several suggested collections. To learn more about the streaming audio and video databases the library subscribes to, check out the box at the bottom of the page.

If you need help distinguishing between the various audio and video formats listed in the catalog (it can be confusing!), make sure to look at our page on decoding audio and video format information.

World Music Recordings in the Catalog

You can search for world music recordings using a basic keyword search (example: Folk music and Bulgaria) and limit to audio, or you can use the advanced search to perform a subject search.

To search by subject:

  • Open the Library catalog and click on "Advanced Search" to the right of the search bar
  • Underneath "Search filters", you'll see that the default is set to "Any Field"
  • Click on the arrow next to "Any Field" and select "Subject" from the drop-down menu
  • Conduct a subject search (see the examples below for sample search structures) and limit the "material type" to "sound recordings" or "video/film" if desired.

Example subject searches (remember to limit by format or resource type if you only want audio or video results):

  • Instrumental music -- Morocco
  • Popular music -- Egypt
  • Folk music -- Balkans
  • Music -- Brazil

Tip: Play around with a few searches until you find good results. Once you've found a few promising recordings, see what subject headings were used to classify the results you liked and try to search by those.

The item records for many of our world music recordings include a country or region code that you can search by. To figure out which code to use, consult the Outline of World Cultures (call number: GN345.3 M871983) at MPAL or the digitized version of the text available online through Hathi Trust.

**However, it is important to note that these HRAF codes are not consistently applied in the catalog, so this search won't be exhaustive. Make sure to also try keyword and subject searches if you aren't finding the material you need.

  1. Using the index, find the alphanumeric code for the continent, geographic region, nation, or ethnic group you are researching. This code is called the Human Relations Area File (HRAF) code.
  2. Using the library catalog's advanced search, conduct a subject search for HRAF and the country or region code (note: leave a space between HRAF and the code).
  3. You can also choose to limit the material type to "sound recordings".
  4. If the search you tried is too specific and you aren't finding good results, try using a more general number. For instance, if you are looking for recordings from the Amhara, a region in Ethiopia (HRAF MP5), but don't retrieve many results, try searching with the more general number for Ethiopia (HRAF MP1) to broaden your search.

Screenshot of an subject search in the catalog using the country code for Mongolia and limiting to sound recordings. Refer to example text below for more detail.

Example: The screenshot above shows a sample search for recordings of Mongolian music. Using the HRAF code for Mongolia (AH1) listed in the Outline of World Cultures, you can perform a subject search for HRAF [space] AH1 and use the "material type" filter on the right to limit to "sound recordings".

If you are looking for a place to start and want to browse some of the world music collections available through the Library, check out the recordings and video listed below.

Streaming World Music

The best streaming audio database for world music is Smithsonian Global Sound (linked below), but check out the full list of databases to see the range of resources available. Be sure to also check out the next tab on publicly available streaming media as there are some great resources there too!

This box collects archives of videos and sound recordings that are publicly available to all regardless of institutional affiliation. You'll find many that are specific to particular countries or regions, but also some general collections of world music as well! This is by no means an exhaustive list (and we would recommend spending some time browsing on YouTube to find more material), but these resources are a great starting point to guide your exploration.