MIT Libraries: Collection Services

Music Classification

The following classification system for classical, jazz, and popular music* has been in place apparently since music cataloging began at MIT, though it was never documented until 1995. The system collocates items first by format and composer, rather than by instrumentation as found in LC's M class for printed music and music literature. However, LC classification is used for scores that are complete editions or collections, and for music literature (primarily books). For details, see the MIT Music Library Guide to Call Numbers. For videos that are primarily performances, the local system is used, while videos that could be considered music literature (including biographies of performers) are LC-classed in M. Dance videos are LC-classed in GV.

*World music has its own unique classification, detailed in the World Music section below.



First element: format


= audiocassette



= score

Mu pts

= score with parts, or score considered "performable" (solo instrument, piano-vocal)


= phonorecord (LP)


= compact disc


= reel-to-reel audiotape


= videocassette


= videodisc

Second element: main entry

Cutter-Sanborn cutter to main entry (composer, principal performer, or title main entry according to AACR2r).

Exception: Main entry for videorecordings of musical performances is almost always title according to current rules; follow this rule in creating catalog record, but create call number cutter as if the piece were a sound recording.


Sound recording of Puccini's Tosca.

Catalog record:

100 1

Puccini, Giacomo, 1858-1924

245 10


Call number:
PhonCD P961 tos 

Videodisc of a performance of Tosca.

Catalog record:

245 00


700 1

Puccini, Giacomo, 1858-1924.Tosca.

Call number:
Vdis P961 tos 

Sound recording of works by more than one composer, played by Heifetz.

Catalog record:

100 1

Heifetz, Jascha, 1901- prf

245 10

Works by Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn

Call number:
PhonCD H363 TchMen 

Videodisc of a Heifetz performance of works by more than one composer.

Catalog record:

245 00

Jascha Heifetz in concert.

700 1

Heifetz, Jascha, 1901- prf

Call number:
Vdis H363 jas

Third element: title

1. If uniform title (240 field) is not present, title cutter is based on the first three or four letters of title in 245 field. If necessary to distinguish cutter from others already in shelflist, cutter may be varied by adding initial lettters from other distinguishing words in title.

2. If uniform title (240 field) is present, the following abbreviations are used to create a cutter based on the uniform title. The list is not definitive, but should provide enough of a pattern for other uniform titles that may be encountered. When in doubt, make these call numbers as short as possible--there is a limit to how much meaning they can contain. Keep it simple. Abbreviations in parentheses are variants found in shelflist.

2.A. Type of composition


= ca


= co


= et


= fu


= ma


= mot


= no


= pr


= qua (q)


= qui


= sel (see "Fourth element" below")


= so


= su


= song


= sy


= tr


= w


2.B. If uniform title is an individual work, add abbreviations for instruments if they appear in uniform title, added in the order given in uniform title. Example: Violin concerto = covb. There may be some overlap in abbreviations used, which is alright; abbreviations may be varied if conflicts arise. Again, keep it simple.


= br


= c


= fl


= h (ha)


= h (ha, hp)


= h


= o (org)


= p


= s


= tb


= tr (t)


= v

viola da gamba

= va


= vb


= vc

2.C. Add number of work (1, 2, 3, etc.) if applicable. Example: Cello concerto no. 2 = covc2. 

3. = uniform titles ending in "music". In general, three letters + mu


= chamu


= elemu


= hpsmu


= insmu (instmu)


= keymu

motion picture music

= mpmu


= orcmu


= orgmu


= piamu

string quartet

= quas

violin, piano

= vbpmu


= vc

Fourth element: miscellaneous additional information

 1. Selections = sel

"sel" appears as the third element if the uniform title is nothing more than "Selections." "sel" is added as fourth element to any other third element type 1-2.C above, if "Selections" appears in uniform title (240 subfield k).


"sel" is not added to third element type 3 above, even if "Selections" appears in the uniform title.
Example: 240 10 Organ music. Selections = orgmu, not orgmu sel 

2. Piano-vocal arrangement; arrangement.

vocal score (i.e. piano reduction)
or any piano-vocal score

= pv


= ar

Back to Classical, top of section.
Back to Music Classification, top of page.


First element: format



= phonorecord (LP)


= compact disc


= videocassette


= videodisc

Second element: the letter J or P 

Third and fourth elements: main entry and title 

1. Main entry is principal performer.
Third element is Cutter-Sanborn cutter to principal performer; fourth element is first three or more letters of title, or any other abbreviation of significant words in the title.


PhonCD J H717 leg

The legacy (1933-1958)

PhonCD J H717 sgbk

The Billie Holiday songbook

2. Title main entry.
Third element is Cutter-Sanborn cutter to first word of title; fourth element is first three or more letters of second word of title.


PhonCD J Sw64 tim

Swing time

PhonCD J V619 sto

The Verve story 1944-1994

As in classical videorecordings, jazz and popular videos would generally be cataloged as title main entry, but call numbers would be according to whatever the main entry would be for an analogous sound recording.


Main entry: Berry, Chuck
Title: The Great twenty-eight [sound recording]
Call number: Phon P B459 grea

Title: Hail! hail! rock 'n' roll [videorecording]
Added entry:Berry, Chuck.
Call number: Vcas P B459 hai

Back to Jazz and Popular, top of section.
Back to Music Classification, top of page.



Introduction to world music classification at MIT

The classification of world music CDs

For purposes of this outline, "world music" is a very general term for items MIT classes under "F", which includes United States folk music, folk and popular music of non-United States countries, and international collections of folk music. A key distinguishing feature of these bibliographic records in the catalog is the presence of geographic subject headings.

Problems with our previous local system

The older local system of classifying world music sound recordings grew out a scheme for classifying folk music LPs which were a relatively small part of the Music library's collection. This scheme cannot adequately accommodate the library's current emphasis on collecting materials in world music. Similarly, the Library of Congress's M class schedule is not developed in this area, and provides only a small range (M1627-1853) for "National music" under vocal music.

The main problems that had arisen in call numbers due to the large amount of world music items were:

Lengthy call numbers. In the past, subdivisions in classification were sometimes indicated by additional, separate elements in the call number rather than incorporated into a single number. This is particularly noticeable in United States music such as blues, where "x coll" and other unwieldy call number elements were used.

Too many work letters and double work letters needed to distinguish between titles. At one point, as a temporary solution to this problem, we began using a cutter for main entry instead; in some cases, however, this resulted in lengthier call numbers.

Call numbers subdivided by alphanumeric cutters by name of country over large regions. This actually created two problems: 1) country names sometimes change, resulting in the cutter losing the self-evident "meaning" it may have had to the browser (usually faculty); 2) alphanumeric systems do not collocate items geographically as well as numeric systems can (Venezuela would sit next to the Virgin Islands).

Lack of an authoritative class schedule or documentation of current practice. For world music headings new to the catalog, the cataloger sometimes resorted to consulting an atlas, then determining what larger continent a country is associated with (which can be especially problematic for islands, and much of the focus of world music study and teaching is on Pacific Island music). After making such a determination, additional non-standard cuttering methods were employed ("z coll", Cutter-Sanborn rather than LC tables).


Current practice is to classify world music based on the Class G schedule (Geography; Maps; Anthropology; Recreation) published by the Library of Congress. In the fall of 1997, we decided to reclass CDs in world music while the collection was still relatively small (about 500 items).

Using the G schedule has the advantage of assigning a constant number to each country; no matter what the name of the country is at the time of cataloging, if the name changes the same number will be used. The numbers in this schedule "sweep" the hemispheres so that geographic proximity of music is better reflected in collocation of recordings on the shelf.. The G schedule contains ample cross-references to assist the cataloger, and can also be drawn on to instruct the browser.

Although the G schedule is not usually applied to materials other than Maps and Atlases, using it for world music allows for a highly organized, predictable approach to classification. Within this approach, it would still be necessary to modify call numbers, especially in United States folk music. However, these modifications are relatively few, and are documented in the explanation below.

An Explanation of call numbers for world music, folk music, etc. 

All world music call numbers begin with format, followed by “F.” For example:


Items are then classed by region or country, based on numbers found in Library of Congress Classification schedule G, under "Maps", By region or country" (G3290-G9804). Folk music that cannot be identified with a particular region is classed under "Maps, World" (G3200-). All class numbers are followed by a single cutter for main entry (which may be varied by title for two works by the same performer).

Class numbers may be subdivided based loosely on table III for area subdivisions. This generally applies only to music in the United States, although these subdivisions may be used elsewhere if needed. The main subdivisions used are: general; by subject area; and more rarely, by further geographic subdivision or city.



Folk music -- United States

(General, by main entry)


Blues (Music) -- United States

(By subject, A-Z)


Country music

(By subject, A-Z)

Note that each specific region or state in the U.S. has its own class number:


Popular music -- Louisiana

(By main entry, A-Z)


Cajun music

(By subject, A-Z, and main entry, A-Z)


Popular music -- Hawaii

(By main entry, A-Z)

For United States folk music, a decision must be made whether to class an item under the more general number for the United States or to further subdivide either by subject or region or both. Criteria for this decision include:

1) Are the subjects given very broad? Class these items under the general number for United States, unless a more specific region applies (e.g. New England, Kentucky). This includes subjects based on medium of performance. Examples: Folk music; Folk dance music; Popular music; Ballads, American; Folk songs; Fiddle music; Songs with guitar. For more examples, see Subject Heading List, below.

2) Are the subjects given rarely encountered? Class these items under the general number for United States, unless a more specific region applies. Example: Sacco-Vanzetti Trial, Dedham, Mass., 1921 -- Songs and music.

3) If a particular subject is implies a specific region or state, the subject is classed under that region rather than under the general United States number. In case of doubt, class under the more general number. Example: Cajun music is classed under the number for Louisiana.

It should be acknowledged that there will often be more than one applicable subject, and call numbers can only serve as a limited tool for collocating items on the shelf. An attempt will be made to subdivide by the broader of two or more subject headings given (except for the very broad headings listed above). When there is no inherent heirarchy of generality in the subjects provided, items will be classified by the first subject given, rather than resorting to a more general subject that applies to all subjects. This can be explained most easily using an example with geographic headings:

Folk music -- Rhode Island

Folk music -- Massachusetts

This item would be classed under the number for Rhode Island, rather than United States. The idea is that providing some specificity is preferable to accumulating large collections classed under the more general heading, even if the call number does not encompass everything in the item.

Call numbers for selected subject areas (United States)


African Americans -- Music
Spirituals (Songs)


Blues (Music)
Boogie woogie (Music)


Country music
Bluegrass music
Western swing (Music)


Cowboys -- Songs and music


Gospel music


Hymns, English
Baptists -- Southern States -- Hymns
Shape note singing


Irish Americans -- Music


Jews -- United States -- Music
Klezmer music
Songs, Yiddish -- United States


Mexican Americans -- Texas -- Music
Conjunto music
Tejano music


Military music -- United States
War-songs -- United States
World War, 1939-1945 -- United States -- Songs and music United States -- History -- Civil war, 1861-1865 -- Songs and music

G3701.P6 Political ballads and songs


Protest songs


Puerto Rican Americans


Shakers -- Songs and music
Shakers -- Hymns


Ukrainian Americans -- Music


Mountain whites (Southern States) -- Kentucky -- Music


Cajun music
Cajuns -- Louisiana -- Music
Folk songs, Cajun French -- Louisiana
Songs, Cajun French -- Louisiana
Zydeco music -- Louisiana


Hawaii -- Songs and music
Hawaiian-guitar music


Subject headings classed under General, under Region (United States)

These subject headings would be classed in G3700 (United States, general), or under class number for state or region if applicable.

Ballads, American

Band music

Banjo music

Brass band music


Dance music

Dance music, American

Dance-orchestra music

Fiddle tunes

Folk dance music

Folk music

Folk-songs, English -- United States

Marches (Band)

Minstrel music

Motion picture music

Music -- United States -- 19th century

Polkas (Accordian)

Polkas (Band)

Popular music

Reels (Music)

Sacred vocal ensembles

Songs with guitar

Songs with percussion

Street music and musicians

Waltzes (Band)

Wedding music

Back to World Music, top of section.
Back to Music Classification, top of page.

Please send us your comments!

Back to Music Cataloging page.
Back to the main Collection Services page.

Submitted by Ray Schmidt and last updated by Gordon Thomas on 061212.