Skip to main content

Music Research Process: Selecting a Topic

Getting Started

Your topic is the foundation of your research, and it guides your choices through the entire process. When choosing a topic, consider the following:

  1. Are there any guidelines that I need to follow from my instructor?
  2. What do I know about that I want to know more about?
  3. Would this topic be interesting to others in my field?
  4. Does this topic answer a question or make a conclusion about the information available?

Identify Umbrella Topics, and Research Background and Context

Make a list of nouns: geogrphic locations, time periods, musical styles, musicians, or other concepts that interest you. Refer to your course readings, lecture notes, or draw upon prior knowledge.

Examples:

Mozart, women, opera
Lady Gaga, identity, religion

For ideas, look up your genre, musician, geographic area, or social concept in the library's online music encyclopedias, such as Oxford Music Online. Your research is starting NOW, as you can pull good sources from the bibliographies of each article.

Form Your Ideas Into Research Questions

After reading some background information, start grouping the nouns and ideas together to formulate a question.

Mozart, women, opera  

Many women played important roles in Mozart's life. How did these relationships affect the themes of his operas?

Lady Gaga, identity, religion  

Lady Gaga's newest album has many songs that relate to her personal identity. What is her religious identity, and how does she express it in her lyrics and videos?

Read, Read, Read! And Adjust Your Topic

Do more preliminary reading to get a sense of the amount of information available on your topic. You may find that there is too much information (or too little) to thoroughly cover for the time you have to research or for the length of paper to complete. So, consider making your topic more (or less) specific. 

Mozart, women, opera

Many women played important roles in Mozart's life. How did these relationships affect the themes of his operas?

How is the theme of forgiveness portrayed in Die Entführung aus dem Serail within the context of Mozart's relationship with his wife Constanze?    The answer is your thesis statement.
Lady Gaga, identity, religion

Lady Gaga's newest album has many songs that relate to her personal identity. What is her religious identity, and how does she express it in her lyrics and videos?

How does Lady Gaga's use of Catholic imagery (both lyric and visual) express her religious identity in the song Judas? The answer is your thesis statement