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World Music

This guide provides basic resources for the study of World Music (MH 308).

Hornbostel-Sachs System

Pong Lang xylophone (โปงลาง) on a frame; the instrument is from Northeast Thailand.Hornbostel–Sachs is a system of musical instrument classification created by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs in 1914 with the intent of being able to classify any musical instrument from any culture world-wide. It is modeled on the Dewey Decimal Classification system with five top-level categories:

  1. Idiophones: sound produced by the body of the instrument
  2. Membranophones: sound produced from a stretched membrane
  3. Chordophones: sound produced from the vibration of string(s)
  4. Aerophones:sound produced by vibrating air
  5. Electrophones (added by Sachs in 1940): instrument uses electric action, electric amplification, or sound is produced through electric means

Image Credit: Pong lang (Thai xylophone) by Ross Robinson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons, originally uploaded to Flickr.

Western Symphonic Classification

The Western Symphonic Classification, or Orchestra Classification is a system of organizing instruments found primarily in Europe that was modeled first on classification systems from Ancient Greece and then was developed more formally in treatises from the Early Middle Ages (Boethius: De musica) through the Renaissance (Martin Agricola: Musica instrumentalis Deudsch) and into the Baroque era (Filippo Bonanni: Gabinetto Armonico). There are four (and sometimes five) top-level categories, called "families" that organize roughly on sound production or instrument action, with narrower "families" underneath that organize like-instruments generally by tonal range.  The top-level categories are:

  • String Family (primarily bowed string instruments, sometimes plucked string instruments are included such as the harp or guitar)

  • Woodwind Family (instruments where the sound is produced by air set in motion by a reed)

  • Brass Family (instruments where the sound is produced by air set in motion by the lips)

  • Percussion Family (instruments that produce sound by being struck)

  • Keyboard Family (any instrument with a keyboard action)

  • Electronic Family (instruments that produce sound through electronic means)

Image Credit: Valves and Tubes. by Bernard Spragg. Public Domain Dedication (CC0).

Human Relations Area Files (HRAF)

The HRAF Collection of Ethnography, which was first built on paper in 1949 (converted to microfiche in the late 1950s), currently contains nearly one million pages of information on more than 350 cultures of the world, past and present. Each culture file contains a variety of source documents (books, articles, and manuscripts) that have been indexed and organized according to HRAF’s comprehensive culture and subject classification systems: The Outline of Cultural Material (OCM) and the Outline of World Cultures (OWC). (Definition from HRAF website)

You may run across identification numbers that reference these outlines.  For example, the Archives of Traditional Music, an audiovisual archive at IU-Bloomington known for its global collections of music and culture, uses the Outline of World Cultures when cataloging all of their sound recordings.  See this catalog record which includes in its local subjects E.F.1, E.F.5, E.F.6, E.F.9, and M.F.1 representing Yugoslavians, Montenegrins, Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, and Israelis (respectively) in the Outline of World Cultures.

What are LC Class Numbers and Subjects?

Items in the catalog are assigned Subject Headings in the catalog.  Subject Headings are meant to capture the most essential themes and content of the material (books, recordings, eResources, etc.).  When you search by subjects, you are able to find a smaller collection of items that share the same essential subject matter.  In catalog records, subjects are hyperlinked so that you can click on related subjects to browse related groups of items. You can also combine subjects in searches to get narrower results.


At Butler University, all of the libraries use the Library of Congress (LC) Classification System.  For those accustomed to the Dewey Decimal System, the LC System may look strange because it combines letters and numbers. Every LC call number begins with a letter or letters which designate the general subject of the material and knowing helpful classification numbers will help you browse the catalog and the stacks for related material.


A chart with a sample library of congress call number and explanations of how to interpret each part if you are browsing books in the stacks. Call numbers in the Library of Congress system are organized from general classification to more specific identifying information in each part. The sample call number is "PS3527 .E917 G7 1925 V.3." The first part, "PS3527," is the classification number. You read the letters in alphabetical order, so A comes before B, and P comes before PA, comes before PB.  PS would come between PR and PT.  The number is read in ascending numerical order.  One comes before two, which comes before three.  In this example, PS3527 would come between PS3526 and PS3528. The second part of the call number is the Cutter number.  These have a decimal point at the beginning, followed by an initial letter then a number.  Sometimes a call number can have two Cutter numbers, as our example does, ".E917" and "G7."  In both cases you would interpret the number as decimal numbers, so ".E917" would come between ".E91" and ".E92" and "G7" would come between "G69" and "G71." The third part of the call number is the publication date.  This is the year the book was published.  Editions of the same book, published in different years, are arranged in chronological order.  In our example, the book was published in 1925.  The last part of the call number is the enumeration. If a book has multiple volumes, parts, or copies, those are arranged in numerical order.  In our example, this is volume three, "V.3" which would be shelved between volumes 2 and 4.

Harm Mitigation in the Catalog

Items in the catalog are assigned Subject Headings in the catalog.  Subject Headings are meant to capture the most essential themes and content of the material (books, recordings, eResources, etc.).  The subject headings we use at Butler University are overseen by the Library of Congress, which is often slow to change, making some of the terms out of date.  

In an effort to make the Butler Libraries' catalog more inclusive we are working on a creating local subject headings to replace existing outdated and potentially harmful subject headings.  If you find a troubling subject term(s) in our catalog, please submit it through the below form with a suggestion(s) of an alternative term(s).  

Butler Libraries Subject Heading Request Form

When reading a catalog record, you can find Library of Congress Subject Headings after the ISBN:


Email Butler University Libraries
Irwin Library: 317-940-9227
Science Library: 317-940-9937

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