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Ethnomusicology, World Music, and Folk Music: Search Strategies

Ethnic and Geographical Terms

ZSR uses the Library of Congress's subject headings in our catalog. The Library of Congress is currently revising its headings for ethnic groups, peoples, and nationalities, to eliminate names that may now be considered derogatory, and to more closely reflect what groups call themselves. If you're not sure what name to search for in the ZSR catalog, ask a librarian, or consult the Library of Congress authority files.


Using the Library of Congress authority files

  • Go to and search for the ethnic group by any name you're familiar with.
  • In your search results, click the red "Authorized Heading" or "Reference" buttons.
  • Click "See" or "Scope note" or "Authority Record" (select the "Labelled Display" to identify variant and "see also" names).


Some headings that may cause confusion:

"Black people" and "African Americans." Library of Congress uses the term "Black people" to refer to people of African descent anywhere in the world; the African diaspora. Example:

  • Black people -- France.

The subject heading "African Americans" refers more specifically to U.S. citizens of African descent. (For others of African descent in the U.S., use "Black people -- United States.")


"Indians" and "East Indians." Library of Congress uses the term "East Indians" to refer collectively to peoples of India (you can also search the names of specific peoples). "Indians" is used to refer to "the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere." There are also headings for specific peoples ("Navajo Indians") and for peoples of specific regions of the Americas:

  • Indians of North America
  • Indians of Mexico
  • Indians of Central America
  • Indians of South America


Asia. In Library of Congress subject headings, this refers to "the entire continent that extends from Europe and Africa to the Pacific Ocean, including Siberia, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia." There are also headings for specific countries, and for specific regions:

  • Asia, Central
  • Asia, South
  • Asia, Southeastern
  • East Asia  [= Far East]
  • Middle East
  • Australasia


America. In Library of Congress subject headings, this refers to "the lands of the Western Hemisphere"; the Americas. There are also headings for specific countries, and for specific continents and regions:

  • North America
  • Central America  [see also Mesoamerica]
  • South America
  • Latin America
  • Caribbean Area
  • West Indies
  • Andes Region
  • Amazon River Region
  • Rio de la Plata Region
  • Rio Grande Valley



When it comes to discussing musical instruments across different cultures, there are two systems of terminology currently in use:


Hornbostel/Sachs terms. Named after the two scholars who invented them, these terms are widely used in the scholarly literature. When searching  databases, websites, etc., try the following terms:

  • Aerophone(s)            [wind instruments]
  • Chordophone(s)        [stringed instruments]
  • Membranophone(s)   [instruments with a membrane: drums, etc.]
  • Idiophone(s)              ["self-sounding": includes many percussion instruments]

See the entries for each of these terms in Oxford Music Online (available on our “Databases” page).


Library of Congress subject headings. These are used by most college and university library catalogs. They don't include the Hornbostel/Sachs terms, so when searching library catalogs, try subject headings like these:

  • Wind instruments
  • Woodwind instruments
  • Brass instruments
  • Stringed instruments
  • Stringed instruments, Bowed
  • Percussion instruments
  • [English names for specific instruments]

You can also try the Hornbostel/Sachs terms as keyword searches. This will retrieve any authors who have used them in their book titles.


Searching ZSR Library's Catalog

Subject Guide

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Leslie McCall
Office: 251 ZSR Library
Phone: 336-758-5474