Skip to Main Content

Music dictionaries and encyclopedias

Find background information from dictionaries and encyclopedias for your music research projects and assignments

Welcome! Use this guide to find background information from dictionaries and encyclopedias for your research projects and assignments.

On this page, you will find links to some of the major dictionaries and encyclopedias used in music research and performance.

Dictionaries and encyclopedias can also be found through the Library's catalogue/search tool, Sofia, by using relevant keywords.

Music dictionaries and encyclopedias

Core music dictionaries and encyclopedias

Other general and specialty music dictionaries and encyclopedias

  • The Canadian Encyclopedia
    • Bilingual digital encyclopedia of history, culture, and people in Canada
    • Includes former Encyclopedia of Music in Canada entries
    • Almost 20,000 articles written by expert contributors
    • Interactive features include curated content exhibits, interactive timelines, immediate updates of important events, and a user-generated content map that invites Canadians to share their stories
    • Offers a new learning centre for teachers and parents that contains classroom resources, quizzes, and themed study guides
  • Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World
    • Comprehensive reference work on popular music of the world
    • Read articles by leading popular music scholars
    • Includes extensive bibliographies, discographies, sheet music listings, and filmographies
    • Certain volumes available online:
  • Dictionary of Opera Characters, 2nd ed.
    • Contains more than 2,500 entries on operatic characters, with information on the creator of the role and notable performances, and gives synopses for 200+ operas and operettas
    • Includes feature articles written by well-known opera singers, conductors, stage directors, and scholars
    • Recommended opera-related web links are listed for relevant and up-to-date extra information
  • Encyclopedia of African American Music
    • Showcases all facets of African American music including folk, religious, concert and popular styles
    • More than 500 in-depth entries on a vast range of topics - genres, styles, individuals, groups, major record labels, institutions of higher learning, and cultural venues
    • Includes historical topics such as the music of the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement
    • Provides a selected bibliography of the most important works on African American music
  • Encyclopedia of Latin American Popular Music
    • Extensive coverage of topic, from the mambo and unique music instruments to the biographies of famous Latino musicians
    • Contains about 200 entries, organized alphabetically
    • Includes a chronology, discussion of themes in Latin American music, and 37 biographical sidebars of significant musicians and performers
  • Grove Dictionary of American Music
    • Comprehensive resource about American music, particularly in the areas of popular music, cities and regions, musical theater, opera, concert music, and music technology, as well as the musical traditions of many ethnic and cultural groups
    • Articles range from short definitions of dance styles and musical terms to mid-length biographies of important performers, composers and music patrons, to longer examinations of larger subjects such as the history of jazz, musical instruments, music education in the United States, and the American history of the orchestra
    • Supplemented by over 400 images and 140 musical examples and other materials
  • Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music
    • Quick reference tool
    • Short biographies about thousands of people in music from dawn of music history to the present day
  • Harvard Dictionary of Music
  • Historical Dictionary of Sacred Music
    • More than 800 cross-referenced entries on major types of music, composers, key religious figures, specialized positions, genres of composition, technical terms, instruments, fundamental documents and sources, significant places, and important musical compositions
    • Contains a chronology, an introduction, appendixes, and an extensive bibliography
  • Lexikon: Musik und Gender
    • German-language encyclopedia of music and gender
    • Historical section provides insights into the history of music while exploring issues of gender
    • Dictionary section provides gender-related articles on women in key fields of music history, music, performance, education, instrument making, and composition
  • OnMusic Dictionary
    • Dictionary of music terminology, instruments, and symbols
    • Composer dictionary includes short biographies and a list of main works
    • Series of appendices provide lengthier entries on performance practice and fundamentals of music
  • Oxford Companion to Music (via Oxford Reference)
    • Classic reference work with a wide range of articles exploring musical terms and ideas as well as extended surveys of musical forms and styles
    • Covers current research and approaches to music, including analysis, theory, ethnomusicology, and performance practice, as well as all variety of musical forms, including jazz, popular music, and dance
    • Online edition provided through Oxford Reference
  • Oxford Dictionary of Music (6th ed., via Oxford Reference)
    • Dictionary includes more than 10,000 entries on a broad range of musical categories: composers, librettists, singers, orchestras, important ballets and operas, and musical instruments and their history
    • Sixth edition has been expanded with new entries on popular music, ethnomusicology, modern and contemporary composers, music analysis, and recording technology
    • Entries organized alphabetically; online edition is searchable
  • Oxford Music Online
    • Comprehensive music resource that includes access to Grove Music Online, The Oxford Companion to Music, and the Oxford Dictionary of Music (2nd edition revised).
  • Popular Music: the Key Concepts
    • An essential reference text for those studying the social and cultural dimensions of popular music
    • Provides a comprehensive survey of key ideas and concepts in popular music culture
    • Fourth edition includes new and expanded entries on genres and subgenres, and explores the digital music revolution and changes in the way that music is manufactured, marketed and delivered
  • The SAGE International Encyclopedia of Music and Culture
    • Presents key concepts in the study of music in its cultural context and provides an introduction to the discipline of ethnomusicology, its methods, concerns, and its contributions to knowledge and understanding of the world’s musical cultures, styles, and practices
    • Approximately 730 articles, authored by prominent scholars, are arranged A-to-Z
    • Encyclopedia also includes an annotated Resource Guide to further research (journals, books, and associations), an appendix listing notable archives, libraries, and museums, and a detailed Index 

Location and contacts

Profile Photo
Music Library Staff
Marvin Duchow Music Library
Elizabeth Wirth Music Building
3rd floor - 527 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, Quebec H3A 1E3
Subjects: Music


Profile Photo
Cathy Martin
527 Sherbrooke St. W, A-317, Montreal, QC, H3A 1E3

Resource key

  • McGill users only
  • Open access resource
  • Free resource
  • In-library use
  • Catalogue record

McGill LibraryQuestions? Ask us!
Privacy notice