Skip to Main Content

Glossary for Performing Arts Primary Sources

Use this glossary of simple definitions and visual examples to enhance your experience using rare materials and special collections in the Library of Congress Music Division.


Victor Kraft, photographer. Aaron Copland outdoors reading; at Tanglewood studio. Circa 1931-1960. Aaron Copland Collection. Library of Congress Music Division.

This research guide is available to help users understand the descriptive terms in the Music Division's collection guides and discovery tools: finding aids, digital collections, online catalog records, and card catalog records.

The goals of this research guide are:

  • to empower users with the vocabulary to ask for, find, and identify the Music Division primary sources External they need
  • to help users make connections between the collections they read about, the resources within them, and the words used to describe them
  • to encourage users to explore the Library of Congress Digital Collections
  • to enable users to have the richest possible research experience with our materials

The umbrella term for these goals is primary source literacy External.

Using This Guide

This guide is organized alphabetically by term. Entries for terms have a combination of the following:

  • DEFINITION: shortened, hybrid definitions taken from multiple sources on the More Resources page of this guide
  • RELATED TERMS: words used similarly or more specific terms within a broader idea; many link to other definitions in this guide
  • NOTES & EXAMPLES: more details about each term, including links to examples of Music Division special collections and items in the LC Online Catalog
  • IMAGES: single images or scrolling image galleries of digitized Music Division items that are concrete examples of the term

You can browse the guide or jump to a specific term using the linked Index of Terms.

This research guide is not a glossary of music, dance, or theater terms. A selection of the most frequently used terms in Music Division collection guides are included. To learn vocabulary specific to these performing arts disciplines, explore the More Resources page of this guide.

If you have questions about any of these terms or collections, Ask a Librarian!

About the Performing Arts Reading Room

The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.