There are many everyday examples of the power of music.
A mother sings a
soft, soothing lullaby, and a baby falls peacefully asleep.
A student arrives
at home full of tension from a stressful school day, and a few minutes of light
flute or string music drains the tension and leaves her relaxed but alert.
A man is tired in
the morning and dreads the hours of work ahead of him, but a peppy march stirs
him with energy for the day.
A young boy bursts
through the front door full of anger, but when he hears Tchaikovsky’s Fifth
Symphony playing on the stereo, his anger is released.
Young students may
be restless and find it difficult to settle down to study. A recording of a Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto,
a Scarlatti Sonata, or Handel’s Water Music may help the mind to focus, plan,
and execute its thoughts.
A woman wakes in
the middle of the night, restless and unable to go back to sleep. She reaches down and pushes the play button
on her cassette recorder. In a few
minutes, she drifts off to sleep to the sounds of piano and flute improvisation
mingled with sounds of ocean waves.
A woman with a
severe headache listens to a recording of American Indian wooden flute for 30 minutes and goes on her way refreshed, with headache
forgotten and gone.
A teacher leaves
the classroom at the end of a rather difficult day feeling dull, lethargic, and
slightly depressed. In her car, she
reaches over to turn on the radio, which provides buoyant strains of Mozart. In less than a minute’s time, she is smiling
and enthusiastic about the rest of her day.
Waking up to a
clock radio that is playing beautiful, quiet music, which brings one slowly
into a new day, can be helpful. If
string or flute music puts you back to sleep, try something a bit peppier.
Happy music that is
light and airy played during meals will promote good digestion.
Good and Bad Music
It is simply
undeniable that music has strong effects on the human being, influencing both
mind and body. There is, therefore, good
and bad music. Good music is music that
has the desired effect in any given situation.
Bad music is that which has a different effect from
the one desired in any given situation.
All music is not appropriate in every situation.
As I have given
seminars over the years on the effects of music, one thing has become
particularly clear. People do not
realize what the effects of music on them actually are. It is quite typical for people to vehemently
declare that a certain piece of music is relaxing, when the results on the
screens of testing instruments show before an entire audience precisely the
opposite effects. Instead of relaxation,
we note such things as increased skin stress, rise in heart rate and blood
pressure, decreased skin temperature, and increased brainwave activity. Music has a great effect on each and every
one of us, but very often we are mistaken about what that effect is.
The effects of
music are psychophysiological and measurable by
medical and psychological means. The
effects of music are symptoms, just like other psychophysiological
symptoms of wellness and illness. We do
not disagree with the results of laboratory tests when we go in for a
checkup. Nor should we think that we
know better how music affects us personally than do those who
have experimented, measured, and analyzed the effects of music on thousands of
people and drawn scientifically-based conclusions.
God’s Music Power
Music is a very
special gift of God, which He gave to us out of love. It is one of the beautiful gifts that is meant for our enjoyment.
In addition to
being beautiful, God made music powerful: “As the children of Israel, journeying through the wilderness,
cheered their way by the music of sacred song, so God bids His children today
gladden their pilgrim life. . . .
Song has wonderful power. It has
power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures; power to quicken thought and to
awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of action, and to banish the gloom and
foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort.” Evangelism, 496.
entitled “Song Evangelism” in the book Evangelism
includes many examples of the power of music.
An examination of some of these may be beneficial.
strongly confirms one example that was first published in 1903. “There are few
means more effective for fixing words in the memory than repeating them in
Music plays a role
in winning souls. “It is one of the most
effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth.
. . . There is great pathos
and music in the human voice, and if the learner will make determined efforts,
he will acquire habits of talking and singing that will be to him a power to
win souls to Christ.” Ibid.,
496, 500, 504.
Use music against
discouragement. “Song is a weapon that
we can always use against discouragement. . . . If there was much more praising the Lord, and
far less doleful recitation of discouragements, many more victories would be
Use music to resist
temptation. “When Christ was a child
like these children here, He was tempted to sin, but He did not yield to
temptation. As He grew older He was
tempted, but the songs His mother had taught Him to sing came into His mind,
and He would lift His voice in praise.
And before His companions were aware of it, they would be singing with
Him. God wants us to use every facility
which Heaven has provided for resisting the enemy.” Ibid., 488.
instead of giving utterance to our feelings, let us by faith lift up a song of
thanksgiving to God.” Ibid.,
Music can prevent
idolatry. “The service of song was made
a regular part of religious worship, and David composed psalms, not only for
the use of the priests in the sanctuary service, but also to be sung by the
people in their journeys to the national altar at the annual feasts. The influence thus exerted was far-reaching,
and it resulted in freeing the nation from idolatry.” Ibid., 497.
There is also
instruction to sing the law.
“Accordingly, Moses directed the Israelites to set the words of the law
to music. While the older children
played on instruments, the younger ones marched, singing in concert the song of
God’s commandments. In later years they
retained in their minds the words of the law which they learned during their
childhood. If it was essential for Moses
to embody the commandments in sacred song, so that as they marched in the
wilderness, the children could learn to sing the law verse by verse, how
essential it is at this time to teach our children God’s word!” Ibid., 499, 500.
Music will provide
a connection with God. “There must be a
living connection with God in prayer, a living connection with God in songs of
praise and thanksgiving. . . .
Let us do everything in our power to make music in our homes, that God may come in.” Ibid., 498, 500. This is the greatest,
most important power of music. “The
highest mission of music is to serve as a link between God and man. It builds a bridge over which angelic hosts
can come closer to mankind.” Hal Lingerman, Life
Streams, The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois, 1988, 63. . . .
heaven’s gladness to man. “With songs of
thanksgiving He [Jesus] cheered His hours of labor, and brought heaven’s
gladness to the toil-worn and disheartened.”
Evangelism, 498, 499.
We glorify God by
singing. “God is glorified by songs of
praise from a pure heart filled with love and devotion to Him.” Ibid., 510.
God sings in
joyfulness over us. “He will rejoice
over thee with joy; he will rest in His love, he will joy over thee with
singing.” Zephaniah 3:17. “The Father Himself
joys over the rescued one with singing.
What a holy ecstasy of joy is expressed in this parable!” Ibid., 500.
Following is a list
summarizing God’s powerful benefits of music:
l Impresses truth on the heart.
l Subdues rude and
l Quickens thought.
l Awakens sympathy.
l Promotes harmony of
l Banishes gloom and
l Frees a nation from
l Provides a connecting
link with God.
l Uplifts thoughts to
high and noble themes.
l Inspires and elevates the soul.
l Wins souls.
l Drives the enemy
Language of Music
There is a
longstanding discussion among musicians and others as to whether or not music
is a universal language. The
participants in this discussion all recognize that music is a language. Some think people understand music only in
the context of their own culture. Some
people claim that music has no intrinsic meaning or moral effect but is amoral. Others claim that music has much meaning, and
different music have diverse effects, such as happy, sad, uplifting,
exhilarating, etc., concluding that music has many differing and definite
meanings. . . .
Music has a strong
influence on human beings. Therefore, we
need to learn to control music, to use it for the effects we want to promote in
ourselves at any given time. Some music
may be good for one situation and bad for another. If we consider why music has the power it
does, we will be better able to choose the kind of music we need to reach our
desired goals. . . .
Music Carries Message
“If we think of
music as a kind of lubricant and sweetener to get the words ‘across,’ we
grossly underestimate the nature of music.
If we are really concerned with a musical witness, we must make sure
that religious texts have something to say, and then use only music (medium)
that is conformable to that which is being sung. If the gospel is to be witnessed to, the art
form itself must effectively reflect it.
The words (theology) and music (art) must match.” Calvin Johansson, Music and Ministry, Hendrickson
Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1990, 42. . . .
The music carries
the message. Therefore, it must have
inherently the characteristics of what the words mean. How does it do this? Consider emotional content.
David Tame discusses
physical and emotional effects of music.
Consonant and dissonant chords, different intervals, and other features
of music all exert effects on pulse and respiration. Blood pressure is lowered by sustained chords
and raised by crisp, repeated ones. The
larynx tightens during a descending series of chords. The larynx is influenced by man’s emotions
and thought processes. Music affects the
body in two distinct ways: directly, as the effect of sound upon the cells and
organs, and by affecting the emotions, which in turn influence bodily
processes. (The Secret Power of Music, Destiny
Books, Rochester, Vermont, 1984,
proposes that words are mere symbols of real things, ideas, etc., only symbols
of real inner feelings. On the other hand,
music conveys the very emotional essence or reality. In other words, music actually conveys the
emotion itself, not just a symbol of it.
Music Molds Character
What effect does
this have? Tame makes an interesting
claim: “Who can doubt that music influences our emotions? It is surely true that music is only listened
to in the first place because it makes us feel something. But now this is very interesting, for if
music gives us feelings, then these feelings—of uplift, joy, energy, melancholy,
violence, sensuality, calm, devotion, and so forth—can certainly be said to be
experiences. And the experiences which
we have in life are a vitally important factor in the molding of our character. . . . Music molds character.” Ibid.
Ellen White is even
more emphatic. She says, “The low,
common, pleasure parties, gatherings for eating and drinking, singing and
playing on instruments of music, are inspired by a spirit that is from
beneath.” Special Testimonies on Education, 211. After naming several other things, she
continues, “The greatest evil of it all is the permanent effect these things
have upon the character.” Ibid.
A Universal Language
Scott is clearly in
agreement. “It [music] is so insidious
that it suggests while the listener remains unaware of the fact. All that he realizes is that it awakens
certain emotions, and that in degree those same emotions are always awakened by
the same or similar musical compositions.
Music, therefore, is constantly suggesting to him states of emotions and
reproducing them in him, and as emotional habits are as readily formed as, or
even more readily than, other habits, they eventually become a part of his
character. It is obvious that Aristotle
was aware of this when he wrote that ‘by music a man becomes accustomed to
feeling the right emotions.’ ” Cyril Scott, Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages, The Aquarian
Press, Welling-borough, Northamptonshire, England, 1958.
cit.) believes that music must contain both the emotion and the intellect, and
neither should be stressed at the expense of the other. He says that the gospel song is emotional
through and through with no concern for intellectual qualities. Victorian hymns and anthems are strongly
cloying, sentimental, and sweet. Much
late nineteenth and twentieth century American church music centers on the
emotional and the main feature of pop-gospel rock is an emotionalistic
Tame (op. cit., 155) also claims a moral effect for music. All of this leads to the conclusion that the
communication of musical language is more than the formal intellectual type of
communication, but it also communicates feelings and emotions. . . .
We find that the
same emotions are found internationally and that music communicates actual, not
symbolic, emotions directly. This
appears to be a strong foundation for the statement, “Music is a universal
How Music Does This
How can music do
Cooke analyzed extensively many musical examples “to establish the terms of its
vocabulary and to explain how these terms may legitimately be said to express
the emotions they appear to.” The Language of Music, Oxford University Press, London, England, 1959,
He started with the base material, notes of definite pitch, and showed
“that musical works are built out of the tensions between such notes. These tensions can be set up in three
dimensions—pitch, time, and volume: and the setting up of
such tensions, and the colouring of them by the
characterizing agents of tone-colour and texture,
constitute the whole apparatus of musical expression.” Ibid., 34. The basis of the
tonal tensions is the harmonic. A single
note sets up a harmony of its own, and this harmonic series has been the
(unconscious) basis of Western European harmony and the tonal system. This is the source of the tonal tension.
. . . Cooke found that
specific things in the different elements produce specific emotions
. . . .
“The louder the
music gets, the more emphasis is given to what is being expressed; and naturally,
the converse holds good—the softer, the less emphasis. . . . When we
get to pp or pppp (as soft as possible), the composer
achieves the emphasis of secrecy, forcing what he has to say upon our attention
by making us strain our ears. . . .”
In music, time
expresses the speed and rhythm of feelings and events: the state of mental,
emotional, or physical animation. In
music there is duple and triple time—one strong beat and one weak beat, and one
strong beat and two weak beats. As a
general rule, duple rhythm is more rigid and controlled; triple rhythm is more
relaxed and abandoned.
throws emphasis on a given note in the scheme of tonal tensions and thus
qualifies the emotional expression of a burst of anguish. This is where syncopation can play a large
role, especially in rock music.
Tempo is the speed
at which a piece of music goes—the faster, the more animation. “The effect of tempo on emotional expression
is clearly all-important, since every basic emotion can be experienced at many
different levels of animation.” Ibid., 99.
Joy may be tumultuous, easy-going, or serene, depending on the
tempo. Despair may be hysterical or
resigned. Even or jerky tempos also make
Pitch also has an
effect on emotions. Primarily, pitch can
rise and fall. To rise in pitch in the
major is normally to express an outgoing feeling of pleasure, assertiveness,
expressions of courage, battle music, etc.
To fall in pitch in the major is normally to express an incoming feeling
of pleasure, such as an acceptance of soothing comfort. To rise in pitch in the minor is normally to
express an outgoing feeling of pain, possibly excited, aggressive affirmation
of or a portent against, a painful feeling.
To fall in pitch in the minor is normally to express an incoming feeling
of pain: fierce despair, slow and loud; subjection to fate, also slow and loud.
Emotions Inherent in Music
These are a few
examples of what the basic terms of musical vocabulary communicate to us.
. . . The presence of emotions
in the elements still remains when they are put in the context of a piece of
music. Cooke says, “Music is no more
incapable of being emotionally intelligible because it is bound by the laws of
musical construction than poetry is because it is bound by the laws of verbal
grammatical construction.” Ibid., 211. . . .
The reason music
has such strong effects on us is because the emotions are inherent in the
music. Research confirms this.
. . . McCraty
et al. supplied four types of music to 144 subjects. “With grune rock
music, significant increases were found in hostility, sadness, tension and
fatigue, and significant reductions were observed in caring, relaxation, mental
clarity, and vigor. After listening to
designer music (music designed to have specific effects on the listener),
significant increases in caring, relaxation, mental clarity, and vigor were
measured; significant decreases were found in hostility, fatigue, sadness, and
tension.” “The Effects of Different
Types of Music on Mood, Tension, and Mental Clarity,” Alternative Therapy Health Medicine (4), 75–84. . . .
In depth, musical
analysis by Cooke (op. cit.) shows that the specific elements of music produce
specific emotions. . . .
Extensive research demonstrates that the same emotions are produced in
scientific research worldwide. Tame (op.
cit.) says that when listening to music, musical communication takes place
directly through the specific emotions entering the listener. This confirms the theory that music is a
universal language. This also explains
why there is good and bad music, why music is not amoral, why some music has
deleterious effects. This explains the
effects of the devil’s counterfeit musics, such as
rock, country, and contemporary Christian.
If people understood this, it would make a difference in the arguments
about what music is appropriate for church worship. This is true of all music. It will be either beneficial or harmful. One needs to
exercise caution in choosing music for one’s home, for one’s church, and for
any environment in which one spends time.
Music can qualify or disqualify for heaven.
Reprinted from The Lord is My Song, Print-Quik, Inc., Madison, Tennessee, 2002, 51–63, and summarized from a 2003 Steps to Life camp meeting presentation.
Juanita McElwain earned her PhD in Music Therapy from Florida State University. She has taught
music on all levels from preschool to college graduate. She has worked as a music therapy clinician
with the mentally challenged. Her areas
of expertise in research include the effects of music on brain waves and the
effects of music on headache. She has
given numerous seminars on the power of music, which include good and bad
effects of music—rock music, sensual music, music in worship and mind control
through music—throughout the United States and in Europe. She and her husband are presently retired in West Virginia. She may be
contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.