Characteristics of Healthy Music

In 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.



After 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.



Deeper 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.

The old 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.



Here 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

Almost 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.

Since 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.