The international collection contains music originating from every continent
The British Library has made 28,000 rare recordings available free online.
The collection focuses on both traditional English music and recordings gathered from across the globe by British-based scholars.
The 2,000 hours of material ranges from a rendition of Any Old Iron in Birmingham, to performances by Ugandan royal musicians.
The recordings, which represent a fraction of the library's audio archives, are available on its website.
Janet Topp Fargion, curator of world and traditional music at the British Library, told the BBC News website there was a unique historical and cultural importance to the archive.
She said: "It's more than putting the flesh on the bones, there are recordings that don't exist in any other form. They give you sound, they give actual events."
Ms Topp Fargion said such recordings had a special ability "to transport you to a time and a place".
"We are being transported all over the world, back in time to different places, different cultures, different peoples," she added.
The archive also provides a record of specific genres that are now extinct, she said.
Examples include recordings of royal Ugandan musicians, whose craft was lost when the African country's king was exiled in 1966.
The oldest recording in the newly-released collection is from 1898.
Traditional English music recordings - many of which came from "under the beds, in the attics and office drawers" of private collectors - range from rowdy pub sessions, to the intimate settings of musicians' homes and professionally-produced radio programmes.
Included in the collection are popular ballads, children's skipping songs, music hall ballads, soldiers' songs and folk tales.
International recordings range from the sounds of stamping tubes and nose flutes to recordings of African rumba, calypso and blues.
The British Library Sound Archive is one of the largest sound archives in the world and holds over one million discs and 200,000 tapes.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.