recent years, there has been a tremendous amount of controversy
regarding what kind of music is suitable for listening, especially for
people who are trying to live a Godly life. This controversy has
arisen, in part, because of rapid advances in technology which have
made it possible to produce sounds which never existed before, and also
because it has become possible to create faster and more complex
rhythms. This essay provides a few guidelines intended to help people
choose what music is suitable for themselves and their children.
Possibly the most important aspect of music, which determines to a great extent just how wholesome it is for anyone to hear, is INTENTION. When looking to the Bible, we can find passing references to worldly and holy music. Worldly music is intended for sheer enjoyment. On a deeper level, worldly music can also be used to enhance anything which is not good for us, meaning sins. Holy music is always intended to be uplifting to the listener, and to put everyone willing to be uplifted, into a pattern of thought which will bring them closer to God. A lot of music falls somewhere in between, being all right for people but not necessarily inspiring. Interestingly enough, ancient holy music has been found, through extensive research and testing, to be good for bodily health as well.
humans were created, we grew up with certain natural sounds in the
environment. These included thumps on trees or other objects, wind
whistling through reeds, and strings being plucked. From these came the
first instruments, generally drums, flutes, and harps. Of course the
development of various instruments is a complex study all to itself,
but it is accurate to say that all other instruments in one way or
another evolved from these three. We can rest assured that sounds which
are close to these natural sounds will tend to be more relaxing, and
that the more a sound diverges from these natural sounds, the more
irritating it may be.
In recent years, since about 1850, we have been subjected to an increasing number of machine sounds which were not part of God's original natural environment. As these sounds have come into our consciousness, many composers have integrated them into music. This might be a way to attempt to handle the upsets these sounds cause on a social level. By putting these unnatural, disruptive sounds into music, we can perhaps justify their existence in our world, no matter how irritating they may be.
analysis of music shows other characteristics which can determine
whether or not something is suitable for listening. Melody is extremely
important. In ancient times, several disciplines developed which
organized various possible melody patterns into classifications which
would determine time of day, season, and health effects of music. These
arose in every part of the world. In India,the Raga system was built
up, which organizes over 80,000 different patterns into very specific
uses. This system is a lifetime study in itself, and has proven much
too complicated for most musicians to use effectively. Similar systems
were put together in Japan and China, but are not used much today in
those regions. Much Middle Eastern music is based on India's Raga
system, with a significant loss of knowledge concerning the original
purposes of each scale.
In Europe, around 650 B.C.,
Pythagoras constructed a simple and easily usable system of music. He
taught this in a religious school on the island of Sicily which lasted
for about 900 years. While the religious doctrines taught in this
school have mostly been long forgotten, the musical system has proven
so workable, that it is still used today as the basis for most European
and American music. It was first used on the harp. Pythagoras used
seven modes, or scales, around which all melodies can be constructed.
Each of these seven modes had a special purpose, and current research
indicates that these modes still affect people on a physical level just
as they were said to do in ancient times. Two of the modes are
dangerous and should only be used for limited purposes. In fact, one
has been associated with serious mental illness when used too much by
any musician. The rest are always safe to use.
institutional church of Europe decided to destroy all music used within
the Roman Empire, because it was associated with such wickedness. They
did, however, keep the Pythagorean system intact, and around 500 A.D.
set up strict rules for the usage of this system. This resulted in two
modes, which are called major and minor scales, coming down to us in
modern times. The system was further modified by Johann Sebastian Bach,
in order to allow many instruments to harmonize together. Now, many
musicians are experimenting with the other modes, since the
institutional church rules have largely been forgotten. Since much of
this experimentation is completely out of the original context,
listeners should be a bit cautious.
It would be good for more musicians to know about the original Pythagorean system, and its uses. This material is contained in a separate document on this web site, called Seven Keys to Health.
is a fascinating field of study in itself. Every piece of music has a
rhythm, which drives it along through time. Different types of rhythms
are easy to tell apart. Each pattern has a particular physical effect.
There are a few rhythms which have been proven by extensive research
and testing to have a bad effect on the human body. From a Christian
perspective, two are of special concern.
The first is
commonly called the "Heavy Metal" beat. It is found most often within
that genre of music, but can be detected in many other types as well.
Some Country, Easy Listening, and even Gospel music can be found to be
infected with this beat. The basic pattern is a reverse of the human
heartbeat, and goes thump-thump-THUMP. You can hear it in its purest
form in the song "We Will Rock You" by Queen, which has often been
played at American sporting events.
This beat actually
causes physical muscle weakness in the body of anyone who hears it.
Many researchers, including myself, have proven this since the original
data came out in the late 1970's. It doesn't matter what kind of music
contains it. The bad effect will always occur. So why does anyone
listen to this in the first place? We could call it the "roller
coaster" phenomenon. When this beat is heard, the body reacts a little
bit, and it can feel a bit thrilling. Once in a while, this is probably
not bad. But if one were to listen to music built around this beat all
the time, symptoms of psychosis would set in. It's just like being
stuck on that roller coaster -- it's fun for a while, but being on the
ride for too long is a miserable experience.
Another beat pattern which should be mentioned is called "Legba". While not as damaging as the "Heavy Metal" beat, it can cause some problems if it is used too often, and if its potential effect is not recognized. You will find this beat in many places, but most easily in much of Chuck Berry's music. It has been associated with sexual sins. (Note the pattern of Mr. Berry's legal troubles over many years.) You also find it in a lot of Brazilian music, and occasionally in other genres. As a demonstration, it was used in the song of that title on my own album "Balance Within" -- and you will notice that it is in a particular context, between two other dance pieces which serve to modify the effect of the beat.
Best Listening Choices
all of Classical music has been proven through many decades of
experience, to be good for the human body. Many works were also
composed specifically for religious purposes, and any of these are
absolutely acceptable for Christian family and individual listening.
There are only a very few exceptional pieces within the body of
Classical music which are not good for people, and these can be counted
on your hands.
Since Gospel music in general is
composed with the intention of glorifying God, much of it should also
be suitable for listening. However, over the past 30 years there has
been some tendency for a few Gospel artists to imitate more worldly
forms of music. This is a great concern for many ministers. There has
always been some interplay between worldly and Christian music, with
influences crossing over on both sides. But music which is too
influenced by purely secular forms such as Heavy Metal can create an
atmosphere that produces some weakness of faith. This has been noted by
many pastors, and we should pay attention to their warnings.
about 1975, there has been an emergence of a musical form called "New
Age". Most of it is instrumental, and it can be good listening.
Discernment is necessary with any of this. The term "New Age" was
imposed by the music industry, and may have been an attempt to make it
unacceptable to many people in the general public. Actually, a more
accurate term, which should have been applied a long time ago, is
"Extended Classical". In most of this music, the Pythagorean system has
been retained, or a careful application of Raga principles from India
has been made. It legitimately is an extension of the same principles
that produced all of European and American Classical music -- extending
it by including influences from folk music from anywhere in the world,
and into electronic technology for recording and performance. While
some of it does indeed link up with the New Age spiritual movement,
which is a terrible influence for any good Christian, the majority is
simply the work of people who sincerely are trying to create something
beautiful and wholesome. Extended Classical thus provides a good
counterbalance to popular music when used for family listening.
Absolute rules for musical consumption are difficult to develop. Hopefully the guidelines provided by this essay have clarified some of the essential issues facing all of us in these turbulent times. Elsewhere on this web site, there are reviews of specific pieces which may prove helpful: Music Reviews Section. For a more detailed article on musical characteristics and health, which explains some of the specific research methods used, go to Music and Natural Resonance.