Lesson 1: Writing Songs

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Lesson 1

Take Action- Writing Songs

Learning How Songs Inspire


After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the impact of songs
  • Read lyrics critically, identifying the political purposes of songs
  • Analyze how word choice and melody contribute to a song’s meaning

The Grammy Museum has an introductory lesson in their Songs of Conscience, Songs of Freedom Curriculum that introduces students to four purposes of political songs: To Inform, To Unite, To Inspire and To Confront. This lesson builds on that introduction, guiding students through the process of listening to and analyzing songs that inform, unite, inspire and confront.
Guiding Questions:
  • How do songs inform? Unite? Inspire? Confront?
  • What makes a socially conscious song effective?
  • What do I notice about songs with different purposes?
Recommended Time:
2 or more class periods

Lessons design:
Day One:
  • Explain to students that they will continue analyzing socially conscious songs from the initial Grammy Museum lesson to determine purpose. In addition to categorizing songs, they will also be thinking about how word choice and melody contribute to a song’s meaning.

  • Remind students that their task is to identify whether a song is intended to inform, to unite, to inspire or to confront, and review the songs previously discussed.

  • Share the lyrics of “Glory” by John Legend and Common, (or another song you have selected for this lesson). Explain that students will not yet be listening to the song so that they can focus specifically on the lyrics alone, without music.

  • After reading through the lyrics for “Glory” once, model how you would categorize the song by purpose by reading through the text again. Underline words and/or phrases that have a powerful impact, writing down the emotions you think the lyrics seek to inspire from the audience. For example, the opening lyric, “One day, when the glory comes / It will be ours, it will be ours” creates hopeful emotions.

  • Model how you would use the “Creating Meaning and Purpose with Words and Music” handout to synthesize your thinking from annotations.

  • In pairs or small groups, students will read and annotate the rest of the song (and others) by completing the graphic organizer to categorize and analyze songs. Make a point of noting that many songs can fit in multiple categories.

Day Two:
  • Explain that you will be looking at how music / melody carries an emotional weight that adds to the meaning and purpose of song lyrics.

  • Remind students about “Glory” or the song you started with in the previous lesson, reviewing your thinking about the song’s purpose and how word choice contributes to meaning.

  • Ask students to identify what musical genres they know. As students contribute genres to the list, chart them, aiming to solicit a list including hip-hop, rap, country, folk, gospel, heavy metal, and electronic. If students are unsure, you can get them started by suggesting a few examples.

  • Ask students to turn and talk about what genre they expect the song to be / what they expect the song to sound like.

  • After discussing and sharing your own expectations, play a recording of the song.

  • Model your own thinking about how the music / melody contributes to the meaning and purpose. For example, the opening of “Glory” features a strong repeated rhythm played on the piano. The deep tone of the music and how John Legend sings with conviction adds to the hopeful vision of the lyrics. (Consider listening to the song in small sections multiple times to fully consider the impact of music throughout.)

  • Use the “Creating Meaning and Purpose with Words and Music” handout to synthesize your thinking from annotations.

  • Working with the same partners / groups from the previous day, have students start by revisiting the lyrics they read, identifying what genre they think each song will be, and what they expect each song to sound like.

  • Students will then listen to and analyze the songs, using the handout to capture their thinking.
Rock Your World is a program of Creative Visions
Rock Your World is a Program of Creative Visions, a 501(c) (3) organization that supports creative activists - individuals who use the power of media and arts to create positive change in the world.
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