Protest Music

Protest Music

Start the lesson by having students discuss or think about some or all the following questions:

  • What issues are important to you?
  • What injustices do you see happening in your world/life?
  • What do you do when you don’t agree with something? What are some other things people do when they don’t agree with something happening in the world?

Discuss with students that when you do or say something to speak out against or try and change something you disagree with, that’s called protesting.

One way that people protest is by writing music. Oftentimes, this music has words to help portray the message, but not always.

Part One – Music and Lyrics

Musicians often use the powerful combination of music and lyrics to help illustrate their point. The following songs are musical protests created to share a message with listeners.

First, listen to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?

Discuss with your students:

  • What does he seem to be protesting against?
    • Police brutality
    • War (specifically the Vietnam War in his case)
  • Do you think his approach in this song was pretty aggressive or more gentle?

Listen to Where is the Love? by the Black Eyed Peas


  • What are they protesting against?
  • How do the two songs compare? How are they different or the same with their musical style, words, message, etc.?

Part Two – Music Alone

Listen to protest music without words.

Listen to a typical rendition of America the Beautiful, like this one.

Watch this video by clarinetist Anthony McGill.


  • Could you tell that his version was trying to protest or make a statement?
  • What did he change about the song in his version?
  • What musical elements (tempo, timbre, etc.) give this version its overall mournful mood?
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