The Need for Music Literacy Education

Chrysalis L. Wright, PhD
University of Central Florida

K. Megan Hopper, PhD
Illinois State University

Francesca Dillman Carpentier, PhD
University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, PhD
Ohio State University

Mary Gregerson, PhD


Dionne Stephens, PhD
Florida International University

With advances in technology and access to music from a variety of avenues, Americans listen to music an average of four hours each day (Recording Industry Association of America [RIAA], 2016), with 85% of those aged 8-18 listening daily (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005). These statistics support the need for music media literacy at a young age and continuing through the lifespan. For decades, parents and policy-makers have observed with concern the increasing amount of sexual content in popular music (Chastagner, 1999). The formation of the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC) in the 1980’s, its challenges to the music industry, and its victory with the implementation of the Parental Advisory Label are testament to the concern about detrimental effects of exposure to potentially harmful messages in music (Gore, 1987).

Many popular music lyrics and videos contain demeaning messages of men controlling women, sex as a top priority for men, female objectification, sexual violence against women, sexual exploitation, degradation of women, women being defined by having a man, and women as not valuing themselves, such as enduring abusive relationships (Aubrey, Hopper, & Mbure, 2011; Bretthauer, Zimmerman, & Banning, 2007; Primack, Gold, Schwarz, & Dalton, 2008; Flynn, Craig, Anderson, & Holody, 2016). The impact of these messages has been examined with respect to sex-role stereotyping and attitudes toward women (Carpentier, 2014), dating and sexual behaviors (Wright & Qureshi, 2015), misogynistic beliefs (van Oosten, Peter, & Valkenburg, 2015), rape beliefs (Burgess & Burpo, 2012), perceptions of potential dating partners (Carpentier, Knobloch-Westerwick, & Blumhoff, 2007), sexual beliefs (Aubrey et al., 2011), sexual scripts (Stephens & Few, 2007), violence against women (Johnson, Jackson, & Gatto, 1995), and state self-objectification, mood, and body satisfaction (Prichard & Tiggemann, 2012). These studies indicate that messages in popular music may negatively influence any listeners’ perceptions of and interactions with women, reducing women to sexual accessories for others.

Artist Self-Censorship

In lieu of attracting more stringent regulatory measures, many recording artists have participated in self-censorship, making radio-safe versions of their songs by altering or bleeping out explicit content. However, research suggests these lyrical censorship strategies are ineffective; listeners might generate some of the censored words on their own using the context of the song as a guide (Kelly, Goldman, Briggs, & Chambers, 2009). Additionally, labeling media for mature audiences, providing age recommendations, and/or content disclaimers may be ineffective (Frederick, Sandhu, Scott, & Akbari 2016) or may unintentionally attract youth to age-inappropriate media (Jockel, Blake, & Schlutz, 2013).

Media Literacy

Media literacy and education, longstanding Division 46 goals, are ideal for promoting awareness and best consumer practices about music consumption. Literacy related to music must include aspects of understanding, analysis, and reflection on the content based on a consumer’s stage in development. Additionally, media literacy should include parents’ and educators’ protective practices on behalf of children.


Gore, M. E. (1987). Raising PG kids in an X-rated society. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Kelly, M. R., Goldman, B. A., Briggs, J. E., & Chambers, J. W. (2009). Ironic effects of censorship: Generating censored lyrics enhances memory. In M. R. Kelley, M. R. Kelley (Eds.), Applied memory (pp. 1-19). Hauppauge, NY, US: Nova Science Publishers.

One thought on “The Need for Music Literacy Education

  1. Pingback: “Media Smarts”: Examining Online Music Literacy | THE AMPLIFIER MAGAZINE

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