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Times They are a Changin’: Music and Change

Music has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years, progressing from simple instruments such as a bowed stick with a single string or primitive drums, to our modern symphony orchestras.

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Times They Are a Changin

Baez and Dylan

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan

Music has been a source of celebration, inspiration and comfort in times of sorrow and oppression and encouragement to engage in political uprising, as well as a means of criticism of social injustice. In a sentence, it is a basic part of our lives and is frequently associated with life’s changes, be it changes in mood or condition. Let us take a look at some of its uses.

Religious Ceremonies

Among primitive people, music was often used in religious ceremonies as part of an appeal to the gods in hopes of gaining their protection and provision of necessary conditions for a good harvest or hunt. When the gods were kind and the harvest and hunt were good, music helped celebrate the success and thanked the gods for their protection and kindness.

Source of Comfort

Music has also been a source of comfort. One example is American slaves’ work songs which helped them endure the harsh conditions in the cotton fields. These songs later evolved into the blues which helped the same people through the tough times that followed slavery. The blues tells about the pain of poverty, loneliness, lost love and just feeling blue. Gospel music later evolved from the same type of music and was and is a means of expressing joy and devotion in the face of the blacks’ struggle to endure their hardships and find meaning in religion. Anyone who has experienced religion in a black church knows how much joy and spirit can come from gospel music.

Political Movements

Music can also play an important part in political movements through expressing criticism of those in power, raising the hopes of the oppressed and encouraging their fight against oppression. The classic example is “We Shall Overcome,” a theme song for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. During the same period, mainly white folk singers such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan used music as a means of social criticism. Baez’s and Dylan’s goals were different, but both contributed to a growing awareness of social problems. Baez sang in hopes of bringing about social change and was active in political rallies. Bob Dylan’s songs were more directed at making individuals aware of their situation and leaving it up to each individual to decide what to do. “The Times They are A-Changin’” is a good example where he points out that if you “don’t heed the call” of the change, then you will be swept away by the tide of change.

Some folk singers who were critical of society were even willing to die rather than be silenced. The classic example is Victor Jar, the Chilean protest song writer. He refused to silence his protest against the fascist dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and finally paid for his criticism with his life. Music can also become a slogan for revolution as was the case with Scorpion’s “Wind of Change,” which became the theme song of the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia, a revolution which finally brought down Communism.

Thus music is not only entertainment, much as it is today, but has given inspiration, comfort, and support to political movements which, as in the case of Civil Rights and anti-communist movements, have helped bring about change.

Tasks and Activities

Listening suggestions

  • The Scorpions: “Wind of Change”The Scorpions: “Wind of Change”
  • Bob Dylan’s albums: “The Times They are A-Changin’” and “Bringing It All Back”
  • Joan Baez’s albums: “Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time” and “Blessed Are…”
  • Victor Jara’s albums: “Desde longuén hasta siempre” and “Vientos del Pueblo”


How important is music in your life? Write an essay in which you describe your tastes in music.


  1. Unlike politicians musicians and bands seem to gain popularity in the wake of scandals. Why is this so?
  2. Do you feel that lyrics are important in a song? Do you reflect upon the lyrics yourself? Why, why not?


Present your favourite band or songs in a PowerPoint/Impress presentation. Include audio and video clips if you have any available.

Your presentation should include

  • background
  • breakthrough
  • profile/genre
  • hits
  • personal experiences
  • recommendations
Sist oppdatert 28.05.2018
Skrevet av Drew Rodgers


Cultural Aspects