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Online Databases: Advanced Search Techniques and Strategies for Graduate Students in Music and Music Education: Home

How to use the Advanced Search space available in most online databases. Specifically for graduate students in music and music education.

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This online tutorial covers use of the advanced search space in online academic databases with particular emphasis on those databases of use to graduate students in music and music education, particularly students in MUHI 610 (Dr. Hefling) and MUED 444 (Dr. Bauer). Academic databases provide indexing, abstracting, and links to full text or facsimiles of primary and secondary materials for a specific academic disciplines or group of disciplines. These materials consist primarily of journal articles, chapters of books, and dissertations, but may include any material which serves in scholarly research. An “advanced search space” in an online database is any search space which includes multiple boxes for inputting search terms, coupled with the ability to choose which database indexes will be searched. An example of the advanced search space in RILM (the most important database fro journal articles on music) with search terms entered and indexes chosen:


Advance Search Space in RILM

This search will retrieve all articles in the journal Early Music which have something to do with gesture.

The advanced search space is in fact a portal to other complementary work spaces in most databases which include tools such as browse indexes, lists of authorized headings, search histories, help screens, and detailed lists of sources covered by the database. The advanced work space and its complementary work spaces constitute the most important part of a given database’s user interface and understanding them is the key to using a database efficiently and with the most predictable results.

Many academic databases appear to users as mysterious black boxes which ingest search terms and spit out results with varying degrees of relevance. The more you understand and know how to use the advanced search space of a database, the more transparent its working will become to you. Your guiding principle when first working with a database is to move from the database appearing as something opaque to something transparent. Opaque to transparent – this is the overall purpose of this tutorial and the touchstone you should use to measure your progress in using online academic databases.


This tutorial is set up as a series of four sections and a fifth reference section. These sections are accessed by the tabs at the top of this tutorial. You should work through the first four sections in order:

Section 1: Understanding the advanced search space.

Section 2: Searching techniques and strategies. After each technique, a suggested exercise will be given. You should do these immediately after reading about the technique – these techniques require practice on your part.

Section 3: Techniques for evaluating database content and interface. After each, a suggested exercise which you should do immediately.

Section 4: Creating your own personal portfolio of databases. This is a foundation of graduate study. Besides examples of portfolios, there is a template you should fill out.

Section 5: Reference: Basic library procedures related to accessing CWRU databases or acquiring copies of books or articles.

Questions about this tutorial may be directed to Stephen Toombs ( Any CWRU or CIM graduate student who would like to meet to discuss this tutorial is welcome to do so. Please make an appointment via email or phone (216-368-2403).


Jacey Kepich