The Influence of Music

I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music.”

- Psalm 101:1

For almost as long as human beings have gathered to create civilizations, people have worried about how music shapes children and teenagers. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato, for example, once made a statement that could easily be found in our own day on the lips of people criticizing the musical tastes of our young people. He said that “this new music is promoting the moral degeneracy of our adolescents.” Apparently, concerns about lyrics, new syncopations, melodies, and beats are not limited to the present era.

In reality, this should not surprise us at all, given the influence of music on men and women. Most people, at least in the West, use music to enhance and reflect the most important things that ever happen to them. Songs and melodies are carefully chosen for wedding ceremonies. Couples typically have a tune that is so associated with their courtship that they call it “their song” even though they had no hand in its composition. We associate Christmas carols with Christmas and patriotic songs with Independence Day. We use music to change our moods. Most significant, we use music to praise our God in private and corporate worship.

When it comes to music, the principles of proportionality, harmony, simplicity, and complexity are especially evident. There is an endless number of sounds that we might hear on any given day—the pounding of a jackhammer, a robin’s singing, glass breaking, or a symphony played by an orchestra. Yet not every sound or noise qualifies as music. Jackhammers make a sound, but not one that shows variation in progression or tone (proportionality). We might be able to measure the tone of shattering glass as C sharp, but this sound is not music because it does not occur in a defined sequence, be it simple or complex.

Music actually follows mathematical rules that govern harmony and set it apart from other noises. The numerical relationship of one chord to another determines whether we hear harmony or cacophony. Musicians may not always be able to define their scores mathematically, but their compositions are only noise if they do not follow the mathematical rules of music. In fact, our ears do not hear music at all if a sequence of sounds completely violates the rules of aesthetics.

Coram Deo

Our God is a God of order, so it is no surprise that the music we use to praise Him would reflect some kind of structure. We are not always conscious of the ordering principles in the art that we enjoy, but part of the reason that we see something as beautiful is that it conforms to some kind of proportional structure. Because we are made in the image of the God of order, we cannot help but appreciate order in every art form.

Passages for Further Study

1 Chronicles 23:2–6
Zephaniah 3:17
Ephesians 5:18–21
Revelation 15:2–4

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