In theory, it’s a veritable treasure trove! In practice, any musician or musical director knows how hard it can be to locate a particular song within a universe of songbooks and score anthologies.
Library staff are always happy to play musical detective with you. But to search on your own, I offer you four tools for successful song sleuthing:
- DPL Catalog: All of the library’s sheet music has a location code of SCORE. So if you are looking for a particular song, include the word [score] in your search. This can help limit your results to the sheet music of Kiss Me Kate, for example, rather than the DVD and the CD. Note: If a particular song isn’t specifically listed in a catalog record, it won’t show up in a search. Searching WorldCat should be your next step.
- WorldCat: The WorldCat database searches library collections around the world. Sometimes another library will have cataloged the contents of a songbook to the song level when we haven’t. WorldCat can find that song for you, and then let you know if Denver Public Library owns that particular book. It’s a roundabout, top-secret librarian trick that can make you an expert searcher. If you find the song in another library, you can request an interlibrary loan through WorldCat. We’ll do our best to borrow the book for you.
- Song Indexes: Finding sheet music at the song level is not a new problem. In 1926, Minnie Sears sought to remedy that with a song index. Simply put, an index will list songs (and sometimes first lines) and point to compilations where the song has been collected. The Reference Department at Central Library maintains holdings of the most popular song indexes from the last 75 years:
Song Index: An Index to more than 12,000 Songs in 177 Song Collections Comprising 262 Volumes by Minnie Earl Sears, 1926.
Children's Song Index: An Index to more than 22,000 Songs in 189 Collections Comprising 222 Volumes by Helen Grant Cushing, 1936. ;
Songs in Collections: An Index by Desiree de Charms & Paul F. Breed, 1966.
Popular Song Index by Patricia Pate Havlice, 1975 plus supplements.
Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection by Florence E. Brunnings, 1981.
Where’s That Tune? An Index to Songs in Fakebooks by William D. Goodfellow, 1990.
Song Finder: A Title Index to 32,000 Popular Songs in Collections, 1854-1992 by Gary Lynn Ferguson, 1995.
SongCite: An Index to Popular Songs by William D. Goodfellow, 1995.
The Song Index of the Enoch Pratt Free Library by Ellen Luchinsky, 1998.
- Sheet Music on the Web: Musical enthusiasts have begun creating repositories of sheet music in the public domain, and making the content freely available on the Web. Here are some of the most popular resources:
IMSLP: International Music Score Library Project
61,676 works • 221,310 scores • 21,355 recordings • 7,800 composers
Choral Public Domain Library
14,957 score pages; free choral/vocal scores, texts, translations
The Mutopia Project
1,727 pieces of classical music in the public domain
Finding songs can be an exercise in patience, much like learning a new piece of music. If you are floundering, make sure to contact Reference Services, located on Level 3 of the Central Library:
Very helpful! Thanks for this post.
You're welcome! Stop by the Central Library reference desk (3rd floor) next time you're browsing the score stacks (2nd floor). We'd love to talk to you about your musical searches.
Whenever I get lost in the Central library, I like using the ask a librarian phones. Thank you for making these available.
The librarian phones are one of my favorite service features to point out to our customers. We endeavor to be responsive; the phones help us find you in the stacks at that point where you need help. Just pick up the receiver and one of our experts will come find you!
This will be helpful to me at the Reference Desk! :-)