My Thoughts on Music

Music is a big subject. Everyone, even down to the smallest child, loves music of some kind and almost everyone has a strong opinion about it. Music is also very influential; it was said by William Congreve that, “Music has charms to sooth a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak”. I believe music can also be used as a passageway by the Devil to get into our hearts and minds. People who listen to dark music often, start thinking dark thoughts which can lead to the committing of all sorts of dark deeds, though the converse is also true. This is why we must be so careful about what we let in through the “ear gate” into our hearts and minds. Music is, however, a gift from God, it is man who has twisted it into something evil, Luther, the fiery German reformer said, “He who does not find music an inexpressible miracle of the Lord is truly a clod and is not worthy to be considered a man!” This is rather a strong statement, but I agree with him, music is an enormous part of everyone’s lives and is worth studying. Now if we were to try to count all the different kinds of music, we would be at it all day because there are as many kinds of music as there are different kinds of people in the world. There are, however, about ten main categories into which most music fits: Rock, Pop, Classical, Bluegrass, Folk, hip-hop, Rhythm and blues, Jazz, Barbershop, and Country.

Rock is hard for me, personally, to classify. I used to say that it is anything with a syncopated beat, but often Pop also has syncopation. Now I would say that Rock is anything in which the beat is so loudly emphasized that you can hardly hear any other part. Rock also includes heavy metal, which is a sub category all its own, but it has an extremely predominant syncopation, which is usually so loud that it shakes the people and things around it. I think you all have heard it and know what I mean.

Pop does not have as emphasized a beat. The principal emphasis is the vocalist. However the melody is often hard to follow and is not carried by anything other than the singer’s voice (This is true for rock as well).

Classical is a certain kind of music that was written at a certain time period. Most of it was written from the end of the sixteen hundreds to the beginning of the eighteen hundreds, and was written by composers such as Bach, Mozart, Hayden, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mendelssohn Purcell, Handel and many others. It has a variety of moods to it but is music in which there is no emphasized beat at all, while most of it is purely instrumental, some of the composers would write chorals and operas which were meant to be sung. Classical also includes sacred music, which is yet another sub category, including hymns and songs written in four part harmony for congregations and church choirs.

Bluegrass is strictly American. Most Bluegrass bands include a guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, sometimes a string bass and sometimes a harmonica. Also there can be two, three, or four vocalists in what is called a “stack.” a baritone or bass sings at the “bottom”, a tenor on the “top”, and one or two singing between those two pitches, or if a female is added, she would be the top of the “stack”. The music is often described as having a “high and lonesome” sound, and is usually sung with a nice “southern twang.” Most of you have probably heard it. The music itself originated from a mix of Appalachian, Scottish and Irish Jigs, English sea shanties etc. Usually, you either love it or you hate it.

Folk music can be divided into two types. The first is normally very old and nobody knows who the composer is. It belongs to a particular people or culture and is sung by the common people who have sung and played it for many generations; many nursery rhymes fall into this category. The other type of folk music is music that is written to sound like the first type. But the composer is known. Many times it’s just the old folk music played or sung in a different way. To summarize: “[Folk] is the music of the ordinary people played, or sung, by ordinary people. It is for anyone to play however they like!”

Hip-hop music is a genre that is most often known as rap: a vocalist chanting to a heavy beat. This is a very popular genre of music and one of the main components of what is considered “Hip Hop culture”. Which I will not describe as it will lead off topic.

Rhythm and Blues, often abbreviated to R&B and Rnb, is a genre of popular African-American music that originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African-Americans, at a time when “urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat” was becoming more popular.

Jazz is music in which the saxophone is the predominant instrument and often drums as well. It originated in the early 20th century from a mixture of African and European music traditions. There are many different styles of Jazz some include New Orleans Jazz, which originated around 1910, punk Jazz, Ethno Jazz, Rock Jazz, Afro-Cuban Jazz and Latin Jazz.

Barbershop is a Quartet made up of four men, a tenor, a lead, a baritone and a bass. The lead carries the melody, the tenor sings harmony above him, the bass sings at the bottom, and the baritone sings between the lead and the bass. The tunes are usually easy to follow and the words are understandable, which in today’s musical world is unusual. The name comes from the Elizabethan era when barbers did not just cut hair but also pulled teeth and performed minor surgeries. People would go there just to sit around and hear the latest news and often men would sing or play instruments while they waited. At first they would just sing in unison and then they started harmonizing by ear. As it started to sound really nice they began to sing it elsewhere besides in barbershops but they took the name with them.

Country music is a genre of American popular music that began in the rural regions of the southern United States in the 1920s. It takes its roots from southeastern American Folk music and Western Music. Blues modes have been used extensively throughout its recorded history. Country music often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms and harmonies accompanied by mostly string instruments such as banjos, electric guitars and acoustic guitars, fiddles and, also, harmonicas. The name of country music gained popularity in the 1940s over the term hillbilly music, which was generally a Southern term. “Country music” is used today to describe many styles and subgenres such as: Appalachian Folk (which is also a sub-category of Folk), Cowboy\Western music, Christian Country music, Swamp music, Bluegrass and many, many more.

So now that you have a, hopefully, helpful outline of some of the basic kinds of music, we must go on to a more serious question. What kind of music should Christians be listening to? (As a note I am only speaking to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you are not one, then you have more important issues to be dealing with than music). To start I want to say that I am not going to tell you what you should and should not listen to. That is between you and the Lord, I am however going to give you some guidelines that the Scripture gives and also some interesting observations made about music over the years, to help you in your decision.

A while ago I heard of an experiment done on some plants. I thought it was very interesting and that was when I started thinking more seriously on this subject. The experiment went like this: A plant was taken and put into a room with nothing in it except speakers. For a month the experimenters played only classical music in the room. The plant grew and flourished and its vines entwined about the speakers and became very beautiful. The next month they played heavy metal with the same plant in the exact same room. The plant drew back from the speakers, shrank noticeably and by the end of the month it looked rather sickly. But when the classical music was again played, the plant rejuvenated and regained its former beauty. So why do I share this illustration? People are not plants. But it seems that in someway we are. We are “plants” made in the image of God. So if the insignificant plant which knows nothing except to follow God’s design for it is hurt by the Rock, how much more are we, creatures made in the image of God, hurt by it? I am not saying you can’t listen to heavy metal, but it is something to think about. By now I am sure that all of you can tell that I am biased. Indeed I am. Everyone is biased in some way or another, whether they think they are or not. And that is why I gave that illustration at first to give an idea of how it affects something that can’t reason in any way. One verse I like to bring up on this subject is Philippians 4:8 “ Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is honorable, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence, and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” So ask your self honestly, “is the music I listen to, True? Is it Right? Is it Pure? Is it Lovely? Is it Honorable? Is it of Good repute?

First of all, is it true? This one refers to any words the music might have. For example, if a song is proclaiming that, God thought of “me” above all, is that really true? Didn’t He die for a lot of others besides me? Didn’t He also do it for His own glory? So when we sing that when Jesus died on the cross, “he thought of me above all”, are we really proclaiming the truth? This is something to consider; just because you are singing it, doesn’t make it acceptable.

Secondly, is it Right? This one also refers to the words. Yes, it might be true that we are going to bow down and worship God but is it really necessary to repeat it a hundred times just because we are singing it? One hundred times is an exaggeration, but if we were praying, would we repeat the same line seven times in a row? I hope not. And when we sing, it should be as a prayer only in more poetic form. Does it make it more poetic to repeat the same line over and over again? I’m not sure. Then you might ask, “What about refrains?” That is certainly a valid question; in this case it really depends on what it’s saying. I am more concerned about the one liners like, “We will bow down and worship you” or “blessed be the name”, over and over again. Yes, if you want to emphasize a certain point, repetition can be good, but sometimes we can overemphasize.

Third. Is it Pure? This relates to both words and music. Does the music you are listening to cause you to think impure thoughts? If so, it is probably better to toss it out.

Fourth. Is it Lovely? Now you have to be honest here. Does the music you listen to make you think of words like, “ beautiful”, “grand”, “lovely”, “awe inspiring” ? Or does it cause you to think of words like “cool”, “fun”, “bouncy”, “makes me feel good”? Honestly reassess this and don’t just tell yourself that since it is comfortable it is also lovely.

Fifth. Is it Honorable? This is also one criterion that can be applied to both the words and the music. Is the music you are listening honoring to God, your parents, your civil rulers? If the music that you listen to is rebellious sounding or makes you feel rebellious, or mocks anyone who is in authority over you, then you probably should not listen to it. So much of today's music is a reflection of the rebellious culture and is meant to make you dishonor those whom God has put over you and even God himself. So do be careful about this area.

Sixth. Is it of good repute? Does the music you listen to have a good reputation? Is it spoken well of by honorable people in your life. This is one of the many problems that I personally have against rock. Many of the godly people around me have associated rock and drums with the dark heathen cultures and the zoned out teenagers who go slouching around with their music blaring. This is something to take into consideration. If you think your music is fine, but everyone around you has a problem with it, there might really be a problem. Even if there is not something inherently wrong with the music itself, but it is associated with something dark or evil, perhaps it's better not to listen to it.

Through all this I want you to remember that we are all different and all have different tastes. Christians are not meant to be cookie cut outs of one another and just as there is not a Christian uniform, there is also not necessarily a "Christian music". So just because your friends only listen to sacred music, it doesn't mean you have to as well, their opinion does not matter as much as God's does.

Finally, I want to ask you one last question. If Jesus were your guest, is there any kind of music that you like to listen to that you would be ashamed to play right there in front of Him? Remember, He really is present, though we often forget it.

So tell me. What do you think about this?

When Worldliness Is Next to Godliness

The following post is shared on Mrs. Stacy McDonald's blog  and is extremely insightful as to music and its affect on people. It will certainly  make you think.


When Worldliness Is Next to Godliness

The following article by Selah Helms was originally published in Family Reformation magazine in 2004, but it is just as relevant today (if not more so). Please take a moment to prayerfully read and discuss this topic with your families.
My teenagers’ peers constantly discuss the movie Bruce Almighty, the rock groups Switchfoot and Evanescence, country music, sexy actors, and personal appearance. In these cultural elements, young people seem to live, move, and have their being. In fact, my own teenagers tell me that hardly anyone they know listens to anything but rock and country music. All this occurs among some of the most conservative Christians in the most conservative churches.
Although I am past forty, I remember what my peers and I once talked about. Yes, there were kids who were “into” appearance, culture, and popularity, but I could still find plenty who weren’t. Not so long ago, the youth who attended church together kept each other accountable for memorizing Scripture, sang hymns and visited in nursing homes, witnessed to passersby at community colleges or parks, and handed out tracts.
However, today these activities are passé even in many conservative churches. They are also absent from the desires of many “Christian” teenagers. Over the past ten or twenty years, as the controversy over rock music in the church has largely died down, its prevalence has exploded to the point that few now even question whether any type of music could be harmful to our spiritual well-being.
The reasons why pop culture has so possessed our teenagers could fill volumes, as could the reasons for such differing views on what our Christian liberty permits. Rather than laying down a list of rules that would only invite argument, we’ll look at general principles that will guide us in shepherding our teenagers’ hearts as they interact with a decaying culture. In order to do this, we must step outside our culture and look at it as objectively as possible.
First, we must recognize that our society reeks of relativism when it comes to cultural judgments. Perhaps at no time in history before the Sixties generation did relativism so dominate the cultural conversation as it does today. If a work of art touches me in some way, then it must be pretty. If a piece of music “blesses” me, then it must be good music. If I don’t think I’m being harmed by what I see on screen, then the movie must be acceptable. Notice that in all these evaluations I am the point of reference, rather than an objective standard of truth or beauty.
Setting self as the standard for cultural judgments paves the way for decadence. As Ken Myers says, “As Christians, we insist that there are permanent standards for culture. Culture is the human effort to give structure to life. But human nature does not exist as a law unto itself” (All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes). Sadly, many Christians have abandoned their responsibility to fight cultural relativism and have fallen prey to their subjective views.
The ancients understood this concept better than we do. Aristotle believed that the purpose of education is to teach the student what he should like and what he should dislike. Such an education must teach what is beautiful and virtuous as well as what is ugly and evil in art, literature, and music. An Aristotelian view assumes the existence of standards of goodness and beauty beyond our own judgment:
[I]n rhythms and tunes there are likenesses particularly close to the genuine natures of anger and gentleness, and further of courage and moderation . . . and of the other things pertaining to character. This is clear from the facts: we are altered in soul when we listen to such things. (Aristotle, The Politics)
To paraphrase, good music—even apart from its lyrics—influences a person for good; bad music—even if its lyrics are good—influences him for evil. Plato’s Republic suggests this as well:
Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful.
Plato thus taught that examining the music of a given individual or culture reveals spiritual temperature.
In contrast, most Christians today subscribe to the relativistic idea that music is amoral, with no inherent good or evil in tempo or combination of notes, only in lyrics. Hence the oxymoron: “Christian rap” or “Christian hip-hop.” Our inconsistencies betray us. Since most of us still believe that books can be anti-Christian and that a picture can be pornographic, why can’t we see that music itself is an art form, suggesting attitudes and bringing either good or evil to our souls? Can music that exudes emotions of violence and rebellion link arms with the Christian message?
Peter Kreeft, speaking to a modern college student through a Socratic character, says, “If music is a divine thing, it can become a demonic thing. It seems to me that you do an injustice and irreverence to the greatness of music by not allowing that it can ever be evil” (The Best Things in Life). Many cultures throughout history have believed that music bypasses the brain and speaks directly to the heart, shaping and molding emotions of gratitude or arrogance, gentleness or violence.
We must also realize the addictive nature of pop culture. Our world of instant gratification tells teenagers to have their fun and have it now. When I am hooked on sugar and refined foods, I gradually tend to want more and more of them and less and less of healthy foods. Vegetables and wholesome foods begin to appear bland and boring, and a few sweets lead to a sweet tooth. In contrast, when I abstain from sugar, real foods seem perfectly appealing.
Junk food thus dulls our appetites to the pleasure of quality nourishment. The same happens in cultural exposure. Too much junk culture makes quality art and music seem dull and boring. Classical culture requires something of us: it requires us to grow. We must thus exert ourselves to enjoy it by avoiding cultural junk that destroys our appetites for quality alternatives and by focusing on the superior flavor of the genuinely beautiful, pure, and true.
Ken Myers lists the distinctions between pop culture and healthy culture this way:
Popular culture focuses on the new, discourages reflection, [is] pursued casually to “kill” time, gives us what we want, tells us what we already know, celebrates fame, appeals to sentimentality, relies on spectacle, tend[s] to violence and prurience, leaves us where it found us, reflects the desires of the self, tends toward relativism, [is] used.
Healthy culture (traditional, high culture) by contrast, focuses on the timeless, encourages reflection, [is] pursued with deliberation, offers us what we could not have imagined, celebrates ability, appeals to appropriate, proportioned emotions, relies on formal dynamics and the power of symbol, transforms sensibilities, encourages understanding of others, tends toward submission to standards, [is] received.
This list gives us a good measuring rod for evaluating culture as we come to it alongside our teens.
Allan Bloom, professor at the University of Chicago, compares consumption of pop culture to drug addiction:“[Rock music] ruins the imagination of young people and makes it very difficult for them to have a passionate relationship to the art and thought that are the substance of liberal [arts] education”
(The Closing of the American Mind). According to Bloom, rock music is like a drug that repeatedly induces an artificial emotional high until the burnt-out student finds it difficult to be enthusiastic or excited about life’s genuine pleasures. “Their energy is sapped, and they do not expect their life’s activity to produce anything but a living.” So, overdosed on pop culture, young people become jaded, losing the ability to enjoy life’s simple and wholesome pleasures.
Finally, and most importantly, Christians need to consider the true purpose of Christian liberty. Paul says that many things may be permissible, but not everything is constructive or beneficial (I Corinthians 6:12). Christians who fear legalism go to great lengths to enjoy their liberty, sometimes to the point of crossing boundaries and thereby damaging rather than edifying their spiritual lives.
We must remember the Lord’s injunction: “Only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13b, NKJV). God gives us Christian liberty in order to free us to serve the cause of Christ. If a “liberty” causes us to be more worldly and shallow, less ministry-oriented, less heavenly minded, we have missed the boat.
Here, we find a good standard by which to measure our movies and music: does the work inspire an intense yearning for love, humility, submission, holiness, gentleness and spiritual vitality? Does it make rebellion appear “cool” or repulsive? When we watched The Lord of the Rings as a family, we were challenged to the depths of our emotions to fight evil even when it seemed evil would win and to hold out hope when everything looked hopeless by obediently doing our part in our own life story.
Conversely, when we watched Pirates of the Caribbean, we were struck by the portrayal of a murdering, thieving pirate as a cool, fun guy who would fit perfectly into a teenage social clique. This kind of portrayal subtly wears our spirits down to the point where we minimize wrong and lose our repugnance toward evil.
Myers reminds us:
“[T]he erosion of character, the spoiling of innocent pleasures, and the cheapening of life itself that often accompany modern popular culture can occur so subtly that we believe nothing has happened.”
Therefore, my husband and I have come up with a checklist for evaluating the effects of popular culture on our teens:
1. Does my teenager regard spiritual exercises (reading the Word, going to church) as dull and boring?
2. Does my teen talk more about movies and music than spiritual things? Where is his/her heart?
3. Does my teen disdain wholesome, simple fun as beneath him/her?
4. Does he/she feel that he/she can only be communicated with through certain forms? (E.g., “This is my music. This is what speaks to me.”)
5. Does my teen feel that popularity in a crowd that exalts pop culture is a must- have?
6. Does the music my teen listens to exhibit irreverence or a casual attitude toward Christianity (not to mention sex or violence)?
7. Does my teen disdain high culture in any way?
8. Does my teen constantly push the boundaries, trying to go deeper and deeper into pop culture?
9. Does pop culture significantly shape the way my teen dresses, acts and talks?
10. Does my teenager find rough, coarse, or rebellious people attractive?
If the answer to more than one or two of these is “yes,” the teenager’s heart has been drawn into the world. A fast from cultural junk food, along with lots of family discussion that prayerfully and intelligently evaluates art forms, can help purify his heart. We can minimize subjective judgment when we distance ourselves enough from the culture to evaluate it. The books quoted in this article can greatly enhance family studies.
Pastor John Piper relates that in his youth, the question many teenagers ask, “What is permissible?” paled, in his own mind, in comparison to the question, “How can I not waste my life?” (Don’t Waste Your Life). Teenagers need a cause beyond themselves to ward off the belief that entertainment and popular culture are the chief ends of life.
Our teenagers should—and can be, with the right spiritual direction—consumed with godly cause. Even in this powerfully possessive culture, we can help our teenagers comprehend that their chief end is to glorify and serve God and enjoy Him in wholesome ways.
Selah Helms is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four. She has co-authored two books (Small Talks on Big Questions, volumes 1 and 2) that teach children the catechism using historical accounts. In a co-op setting, she studies through classic works with several other families.

All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes by Ken Myers (Crossway, 1989).
The Best Things in Life by Peter Kreeft (InterVarsity Press, 1984).
The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom (Simon & Schuster, 1987).
Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper (Crossway, 2003).
The Politics by Aristotle
The Republic by Plato