This lesson provides strategies for analyzing music videos and the messages, themes, lyrics and symbols they use. The lesson is influenced by the the work presented in  Press Pause: Critically Contextualizing Music Video in Visual Culture and Art Education by Pamela G. Taylor. Thank you Pamela!

Grade: 9-12 or College Level
Time:  3, 50 minute sessions (may vary depending on class)
This lesson introduces students to the process of critically examining music videos. Students will analyzing the symbols, content and lyrics present in a music video. This lesson asks students to become critical listeners and viewers and to discuss and share their thoughts with each other. The lesson can culminate with a class discussion, writing activity, or indiviual or group based video projects.
California Visual Art Standards:
1.5 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how it use influences the meaning of the work
3.3 Indentify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.
4.3 Formulate and support a position regarding the aesthetic value of a specific work of art and change or defend that position after considering the views of others.
4.5 Employ the conventions of art criticism in writing and speaking about works of art.
Student Learning Outcomes:
Analyze the symbols and concepts present in a music videos.
Analyze and interpret the lyrics in a song.
Use and understand words such as semiotics and aesthetics and use them in discussion and in writing.
1. A computer with an internet connection for watching videos and finding lyrics.
2. LCD projector of TV with A/V capabilitiy
3. Video camera and editing software
1. Teacher will introduce the word semioticsthe study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication and aesthetic judgementcritical reflection on art, culture and nature
2. Teacher will show students a music video. Teacher will play video in its entirety.
3. When the video is over the teacher will asks students to give examples of symbols, metaphor or other messages present in the work (semiotics). The examples will be written on board/screen and students and teacher will discuss details relating to the symbols.
4. Teacher will also share the lyrics for the song and discuss any literary devices used and the connection between lyrics and images in the video.
5. Next the Teacher will ask students to critically reflect on the video and dicuss whether or not it is effective, entertaining, informative, beautiful, confusing, etc. Next the teacher will asks students to formulate a position based on their own perspecitve and analysis of the video.
Students are to find 5 music videos and copy the links  for each or make a youtube playlist. Students can use any music videos but 1 must be a personal favorite, 1 must be a video they don’t understand, 1 must be a video they do not enjoy watching. Students also need to collect/find the lyrics for each of the videos.
1. Students will share links/youtube playlists with teacher. Teacher will pick one of these videos and ask the student to explain their reasons for choosing the video. Teacher and students will repeat this process with 2 more videos.
2. Students and teacher will discuss the video in terms of semiotics and aesthetic judgement using the questions provided below.
3. Students and teacher will also discuss the lyrics of the song and whether or not the visuals correspond to the lyrics and seek to find meanings and interpretations of the lyrics.
4. Teacher will make sure to note any forms of  sexism, racism and other forms of stereotyping that may be  found in the video.
Students are to choose one of the videos shown in class and answer three questions from the MUSIC VIDEO QUESTIONS provided below. Each question must be from a different sub category and answered in a short paragraph format. Students will also attach the lyrics to the song.
1. Teacher will asks introduce the basics of storyboarding.
2. Teacher will show students an example of how an existing music video uses storyboarding. Teacher will show a video and pause at pivotal moments and save these as screenshots. Then teacher will describe the camera angles, sets, characters and other details in these shots and develop a storyboard.
3. Teacher will then ask students to create a storyboard for any song they like, students may work in groups.
4. Students will work on creating a storyboard during class.
Students will prepare a full color storyboard of their idea. If possible they may use traditional drawing/painting tools or use Adobe Photoshop to create collages.
1. Teacher will asks students to create a music video. Using the previous discussions and written assignments as a guide, the students and teacher will work on developing the storyboard into a detail shot list.
2. Students will work on creating a music video based on their storyboard.
3. Depending on equipment available this video could be an animated digital video, a live action video, a green-screen enabled video or any combination of these.
4. Teacher will help facilitate the video production and provide feedback as necessary.
Students will begin and complete their music video.
1. Press Pause: Critically Contextualizing Music Video in Visual Culture and Art Education by Pamela G. Taylor.
2. The Semiotics of Music Videos by Heidi Peeters
3. A concise article of music video semiotics prepared by Gina Miller
4. Storyboarding Basics (Ohio University)
5. Student created 3D animation music video (Ohio University)
6. Example of a student music video self analysis
7. A semiotic analysis of a Taylor Swift video Student created presentation on stereotypes in music videos

Questions for Discussion:


Warm Up Questions

  • What does this video mean to you? What did you see in the video that made you come to this conclusion?
  • Does thie video bring any questions to mind?
  • What does this video say about you? Can you relate to the video?


  • Do you see any symbols in this video? What do they symbolize?
  • Why do you think that the artist used these symbols?
  • What culture do these symbols resonate with? Would they symbolize the same thing in another culture? Do they resonate with you?

Social and Cultural Issues

  • What does this video assume about its audience?
  • Is the artist for or against anything?
  • To what age group does this video appeal?
  • Is the video racist or sexist?
  • Does this video support any stereotypes?
  • What political or social issue does this video bring to mind?
  • Does the video use any historical video/film clips? How does it use the clips?

Formal Qualities and Analyses

  • What process do you think was used to create some of the images in the video? What software and editing program do you think they used?
  • Describe how the color in the video is used to portray certain emotions, feelings or meanings?
  • Write a visual description of a particular scene or image in the video.


  • What does this video say to you?
  • What does it say about the artist?
  • Is there anything of which this video reminds you? Is there anything in the video that reminds you of something you have studied in school?

Artist Intent

  • Do you see any works of art in this video? Do you believe the artist was influenced by someone else?
  • Do you see any product placement in the video? Is this video selling a certain product?
  • Do you think your interpretation of this video is what the artist intended? Does it matter?
  • Can we always know an artist’s intent? Is an artist’s intent, when available, always relevant to the meaning of the video? To a work of art?
  • Can an artist mean to express one thing, but then express more than that, or something different from that?
  • Should the artist’s stated intent be the final arbiter when determining the accuracy of an interpretation?


  • Do you like this video? Why or why not?
  • What are the most effective parts or aspects of this work of art?
  • How would you persuade others to appreciate this work of art as much as you do?
  • How could you convince someone to appreciate an artwork that they thin is not could? How could you counter this person’s argument?

Project Ideas:

  • Create a music video or animation for a song of your choice. Consider what we have discussed in class to make sure you are aware of the symbols you are using and how this affects the finished work.
  • Remake a preexisting video. Take a video that already exists and re-imagine the video and/or challenge the symbols used in the video.
  • Write a 3 page paper where you clearly examine a music video from start to finish. Discuss the characters, the role they play and what you believer is the message in the video. Include screenshots in your paper.
  • Find a video that you find offensive or challenging. Closely examine the reason why this video affects your sensibilities. Remix/reedit the video to solve the problems you have with it.
  • Find a video that you are inspired by. Examine the reasons why it inspires you, what elements can you recreate or use in your own work? Create a video based upon your research.
  • Create a presentation that compares/contrasts and identifies stereotypes in different music videos. How are women represented? How are men represented? How are LGTBQ people represented? Are there any people of color (non-white people) in the video? How are the people of color represented?

4 thoughts on “Analyzing Music Videos”

  1. This is excellent and very interesting to get students engaged and discussing their opinions and listening to the opinions of others as well as recognizing other cultures and their opinions and what others think from different backgrounds. Good!

  2. I would like to use your Discussion Questions in my classroom discussion and projects using Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog.

    1) May I use them?
    2) If yes, how do I properly cite you to give you credit for sharing your work?

    I really love your ideas, including an excellent variety of project choices to appeal to students’ personal interests. Thank you!

    1. Hi Jenny, YES please use the discussion questions!
      You can site this website in your work, also please note that I am influenced by the work of Pamela Taylor, her article is mentioned at the top of the post.
      Please share your work, if you can, i love Joss Whedon!
      Glad you find this useful. Thanks!

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