The "RILM Abstracts of Music -- Subjects" allows users to browse and search RILM's hierarchical subject heading indexing. Users may browse three levels of index term and choose to search terms at all levels.
Subject Headings are basically the "official" terms that the database uses to label the subjects of a given article. Not all articles in the database may be labelled this way, but it certainly helps when you need to make sure that all your results are relevant.
By browsing through you can kind of deduce how certain topics are labeled. It is not a foolproof method, but it can be quite helpful!
Finding the Right Subject Headings
The best way to approach find relevant subject headings for your search is to do a basic search for the topic that of interest, and then looking at the record(s) that look the most relevant to you.
For example if you were interested in performance and recording information about Gregorian Chant and this article looked good...
Then you would pull up the record and check out the Subject Headings...
Then you can include thse in your search as well! An important thing to note is that the subject headings act best when you only include the first segment in your search...
And if you change the drop-down menu to "Subject" it can focus your search even more.
Another good way to deal with Subject Headings when you know the broader topic is to browse through the Subject Index!
Browsing the Subject Indexes
To get to browse the Subject Headings, all you have to do is click on the "Subjects" tab at the top of the search page.
For example if you are interested in a topic like Gregorian Chant, you need to browse the broader term for it. In the case of Gregorian Chant, you would want to look up "Chant" first, and then click on that to start narrowing your focus.
There are a couple of things to be aware of when you are browsing topics in RILM's indexes.
The subject is "Left-Anchored" which means that it alphabetizes the results based on the first word (if there is more than one word in a phrase).
Under some of the topics there are the options to "Explode" or "Expand."
"Explode" basically just means run with the Subject Heading just the way it is. This is good when you want to browse the available literature of a larger area.
"Expand" lets you look at even narrower and more specific topics under the heading. In this case "Expand" would give you results like:
This can be useful for approaching a subject from a certain angle, as well as limiting your results in a relevant way. If you realize at this point that these are too narrow, you can use the "Previous Level" button to go back to the broader topic area.
Browsing the Name Indexes
If you want to look for a person as a subject you need to go to the "Names" tab (next to the "Subjects" at the top of the search screen).
The principle behind searching the Names Index is pretty much the same as it is for searching Subjects.
Since the search bar does not work like the Google searches, you need to make sure that you put the person's last name (surname) first and then if you want you can add the first name (forename).
If you had tried to searching for "Hector Berlioz" the results would have looked like this:
One other thing to be aware of when you are browsing the names in the index is that the spelling of names that have been transliterated in this database may not match the standard transliterations.
One example of this is with the composer "Shostakovich."
If you look for "Shostakovich" in the Index, you will come up with a result like this:
In order to find Shostakovich in this index, we actually have to try a little search in the RILM itself.
All we need to do is do a basic search with "Shostakovich" (and if you want a general version of the topic that you are interested in).
Then pick an early record that seems pretty relevant (or the first one if you are just trying to figure out how to spell Shostakovich's name).
Now all you have to do is look at the Subjects to figure out how to spell his name. The accent marks (or diacritics) don't matter when you are searching in the indexes (so typing "Sostakovic" is the same as "Šostakovič").
Now you can search for "Sostakovic" in the Names Indexes...
And if you want to, you can go through different levels of specificity of topic with Shostakovich:
This type of search can be really useful when you want to make sure that the material that you find is as relevant to the topic of choice as possible, however not all material that is relevant may be categorized the same way even if it is dealing with the same subject so be aware that some relevant results will probably be missing.
That said this can be a useful way of quickly finding material with a close focus on a particular subject!