Written by: Gioel Gioacchino; Edited By: Anna Wohlrab

Think of the 10 songs that define what it means to be young in your community/country.

What do these songs tell us about self-identity and culture?

Our experience using this technique:

In Cuba, we were really curious to know more about the music that would get everybody excited, and that would tell young people’s stories. We asked our co-researchers to think of 10 songs that capture Cuban youth the best. We got a brilliant list of hits that you can check out here. Our colleagues’ explanation on why each song mattered was the incentive for a great conversation about the participant’s identity and experiences as young people.

Research and Development:

What are we trying to understand about the community?
We are trying to understand how young people engage with music as a form of cultural expression. The songs they pick and the whys behind that selection are a fun way to discover what matters and speaks to young people.
Why is it important for the community’s development?
Music adds texture to our every-day life. It colours our relationship to public spaces, and it can shape the meaning of our individual and collective experience. Music can move us, cure us, make us cry, and bring us closer together.  As a universal form of cultural expression, it conveys values, dreams, emotions, and ideas. A genre, or even a single song, can capture an entire generation. That’s why it is worth looking into it.
At what stage(s) of the research cycle is this method used?

Data collection, community building.


What do I need?

You don’t need much to do this exercise. Participants can sing/hum songs to one another as they are making their list. You might want to have speakers at hand so that you can play some of the songs that hit home for everyone. Have fun with it!

How long does it take?
One to two hours.
  1. Depending on the size of the group, you might want to divide participants in two or more teams and ask them to come up with a list of the top ten songs that represent young people in their community. Give the team(s) around 15 minutes to come up with their list.
  2. Ask each team to select a few lines of each song’s lyrics that are particularly significant to them. Ask them why these particular lines stood out to them.
  3. Ask each team to share the songs they selected by singing/dancing/humming/ interpreting each tune. The other team(s) guess the songs.
  4. Once the first team is done, the second team shares their list and the other team guesses.
  5. Ask the group to reach a consensus about their top 10 song and how/why they capture the experience of young people today. This should generate a rich discussion, so make sure someone is taking notes (or use a voice record).
  6. You can ask the group if they want to publish the top ten list in a blog/tumblr/facebook post.

Benefits and Challenges

What are the benefits of using this technique?
It is easy to connect and bond over music. By understanding why those songs and their lyrics matter, participants can identify with each other’s experience(s).
What are the challenges of using this technique?

Sometimes, there can be a difference between the songs that speak to young people and the songs that move young people. Ask participants to think beyond the  ‘songs of the moment’ or the song that would feature at any dance party. This being said, welcome each song that is proposed. If songs with controversial lyrics are chosen, encourage the group to engage with the lyrics. What are the lyrics about? Why does it matter? Does the song make someone in the room feel uncomfortable? Avoid judgement on any musical genre.


How to adapt the technique
We love using this exercise to learn about different cultures. If you are in a diverse group, you can ask participants to choose one or two songs per group/nationality, and use them as a way to explain a certain culture/sub-culture.
Audiovisual material :

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