Music is a common part of our lives and of our society. We hear music everywhere, from full albums on our CD players and the latest hit singles on the radio to music in commercials, restaurants, elevators, etc.
The basic unit of music in our society is the song. Songs can range from long instrumental ballads and symphonies to short upbeat modern pieces with lyrics. Believe it or not, songs are considered media messages, and so the same media literacy rules apply to songs as to other forms of media.
Below are some things to consider to help us better understand the messages in songs.
Note: You can learn a lot more about this topic by buying our book, Practical Media Literacy: An essential guide to the critical thinking skills for our digital world. You would be supporting our work so that we can bring you more great resources.
1. What does the instrumentation tell us about the song? Is the instrumentation dense, with heavy guitars/drums/bass, forcing us to focus more on it than on the vocals? Or is the instrumentation sparse, perhaps only an acoustic guitar, forcing us to focus on the vocals? Is the tempo fast or slow? Is the instrumentation loud or soft? What emotion does the instrumentation make us feel? Calm? Anxious? Happy? Sad? Instrumentation affects us in a subconscious way.
2. What do the vocals and lyrics tell us about the song? Does the tone of the words fit with the way the singer sings them? Does the tone of the vocals agree with or contradict the instrumentation (do the instruments make you feel happy while the lyrics are sad, for example)? What is the message of the lyrics? Is the song political? How can you tell? Is the song romantic? How can you tell?
3. Who is the target market for the song? What values do the lyrics contain? Does the artist's image (how they portray themselves) affect how you feel about the song? Would you feel the same way about the song if it was sung by someone of a different age, race, or gender? How might someone of a different demographic (someone of a different gender, someone older or younger than you, someone who made more or less money than you, someone with different political values, someone of a different race) hear the song differently?
When analyzing a song, keep in mind that the vocals/lyrics and music are one unit. It's impossible to properly analyze a song by simply reading the lyrics.
Here are some songs that might be worth analyzing.
1965's "Eve Of Destruction" by Barry McGuire (external link to AllMusic.com)
1991's "Black or White" by Michael Jackson (external link to Wikipedia.com)
1990's "Vogue" by Madonna (external link to Wikipedia.com)
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