Review of the book Music Research: A Handbook by L. Sampsel, Oxford University Press Inc., New York, 2008

by Dr. Soubhik Chakraborty
Department of Applied Mathematics
Birla Institute of Technology
Mesra, Ranchi-835215

Some research is like looking for a black cat in a dark room that may not even be there [1]. In music research, the situation is even more intricate, with too many such dark rooms. Considering its interdisciplinary nature, music is connected to physics, psychology, neuroscience, mathematics, statistics, computer science, linguistics, and semiotics. Given that no one can master all of these fields, Sampsel's book is just the kind of text a music researcher would love to see on the shelf.

Although the primary target audience is master's-level students, doctoral and undergraduate students will also find plenty of food for thought. More than a mere bibliography, the book is appropriate for music classes. Several notable features make this a standout book.

Part 1, chapters 1 to 14, presents essential music research tools. Sampsel includes details on the music research process; general and specific music encyclopedias and dictionaries; music dissertations, theses, and conference papers; and music resources, such as the Internet, discographies, and directories. Although she emphasizes English titles, major French, German, Spanish, and Italian titles are also included.

The entries are annotated with helpful reviews and references, and the book's companion Web site ( includes supplemental links to other accessories, including core music journals, major professional music associations, and bibliographic updates. For students, the book includes evaluation checklists and suggested reading lists at the end of every chapter.

Part 2, chapters 15 and 16, explains how to write a thesis or a project report in music research. For students who want to submit their papers to journals, Sampsel includes helpful notes on the major writing styles--Chicago, American Psychological Association (APA), and Modern Language Association (MLA). Last but not least, the book provides a glossary and index section so that readers can search by either author or subject.

However, there are a number of major omissions that should be included in a future edition. First, the book is only helpful to researchers in Western music, and not those in Indian or other Eastern music genres, except for its discussions of strategies that are common to both. Since raga, the nucleus of Indian classical music, is totally omitted, interested readers should refer to Jairazbhoy [2]. Furthermore, Sampsel fails to mention Mazzola's contribution [3] to mathematical music theory, Krumhansl's [4] and Patel's [5] highly acclaimed books, and Temperley's unique Bayesian peek into music research [6].

Nevertheless, Sampsel's effort is praiseworthy and the book should be generally well received by students and scholars. I recommend it for all libraries that encourage music research.


[1] Ghosh, J.K.; Mitra, S.K.; Parthasarathy, K.R. Glimpses of Indias statistical heritage. Wiley, New York, NY, 1993.

[2] Jairazbhoy, N.A. The rags of North Indian music: their structure and evolution. Popular Prakashan, Bombay, IN, 1995.

[3] Mazzola, G. The topos of music: geometric logic of concepts, theory, and performance. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, CH, 2002.

[4] Krumhansl, C.L. Cognitive foundations of musical pitch. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1990.

[5] Patel, A.D. Music, language, and the brain. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2008.

[6] Temperley, D. Music and probability. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007.