People across time have loved music, and although the harmonies have changed, the general messages have not. Some may think the content of today’s music is worse, but although it may use more descriptive language, music has always described the evils of the time. Racism, religion and sexual issues have always been expressed through music. Each generation loves to listen. Music is in our cars and on our phones. We listen through headphones or while hanging around the house. We even shop to music—specially selected songs or radio stations are often played in stores. I for one have a hard time not dancing down the aisles or lingering in the store when a good song comes on! And the stores know that. They understand we will shop longer and buy more if we are in tune with the music they are playing. What we listen to influences our lives more than we may think. We need to be aware of the subconscious effect music can have on our attitudes, because it can have a positive or negative effect upon us.
Most of us have had the experience of hearing a song from the past and having an emotional reaction. It may make us happy, sad or even upset. Sometimes it is due to the words of a song and sometimes it is because of the memories it stirs up. For example, a song might be played when you are with a lot of friends having a great time. Later, the song comes on the radio and it instantly brings back the memory of that special day.1
I had this kind of experience during my first Feast of Tabernacles. It was the first service on the first day. I had previously sung the hymn “God Speaks to Us” at regular Sabbath services and loved the words. But now I was with about 1,000 other people, and there were musical accompanists playing along. When the music began and the horns started blasting, I began to choke up—as I started to sing the words, I wept. It was all so beautiful and touching to me. God is awesome, and we were keeping His Feast and singing His praises (Psalms 95:1 Psalms 95:1O come, let us sing to the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
American King James Version×). Perhaps you have been at a wedding, the Feast or something similar, when suddenly someone begins to sing a popular song from camp, and within seconds everyone gathers together and is singing in unison. I know I have. Music can stir us up and bring us together!
There are some religions that actually ban their members from listening to most music and prohibit dancing. I remember watching a TV program that followed a family who believed this way. Their very small child opened a music box in a store and a lovely tune began to play. He instinctively started to sway his body. No one had taught him to dance; it came naturally to him. Of course, he was promptly reprimanded for his actions. It made me sad to think anyone thought dancing was wrong. We know that King David danced for joy, with the trumpets blaring, while bringing the ark of God back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14 2 Samuel 6:14And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.
American King James Version×). He also spent much of his time under King Saul playing lovely music. We know too that the angels sing praises to God, and Scripture says when Christ returns they will all “sing a new song” (Job 38:7 Job 38:7When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
American King James Version×; Revelation 14:3 Revelation 14:3And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
American King James Version×).
Classical music has long been touted as helping young children be better learners. A Stanford University study claims that the quiet spaces between music are a time of great clarity for concentrating and processing information.2 Various other studies show that while some music has a very calming effect, other varieties can make us tense and upset. I never really liked classical music as a teen; it seemed boring to me. But I discovered that when I am stressed, it calms me. It really is an amazing thing to experience, to feel your body relax and your mind calm. Try it sometime—it might surprise you too.
The U.S. National Medical Library posted an article in its Frontiers in Psychology website about a double-blind study showing how playing instrumental music during surgery lowers cortisol levels. In other words, it makes people less stressed during surgery.3 Other studies show that music can improve the lives of those with dementia.4 Learning to play an instrument also can let them express their emotions, and it creates opportunities for socialization. The action of singing, especially in a group, seems to help people relax and feel more comfortable. There are many positives that come from good music and songs.
When music is not a positive influence
There is a downside to music, however. As I mentioned, some music can make us sad, tense or even angry. Sadness is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be. A song that moves us to tears because it is so touching or brings back loving memories is a wonderful thing, but a song that makes us feel depressed can be a danger. Music that makes us angry or hateful towards others can also be a real problem. As God’s children, we must all be careful about what we allow our minds to ponder.
I did not grow up in the Church, so I did not pay much attention to what I listened to. I liked pop music, but with friends I listened to whatever they were listening to. After coming into the Church, however, I would sometimes hear the beginning of a song and think, “Oh this is one of my favorites!” Then as I sang along to the lyrics I really began to hear the words to the song, and I would realize it was not a great song at all. Sometimes the lyrics were about committing adultery, fooling around or some other evil. Evidently, I had not really listened to the words before, or I just had not paid attention. I was shocked at how often I had to change the channel or delete a song from my old playlist.
I just heard on the news recently the theory that any kind of music is calming and good for us, but this has proven to be wrong again and again. I was watching a TV program a while back about children who commit murder. I was surprised by how many said they were influenced by the music they were listening to. Other destructive behavior has also been blamed on music by criminals who’ve been arrested. Some music has lyrics that talk about beating up women, racial crimes, drug use or hating God. (This doesn’t mean that every person who listens to a certain kind of music is going to commit a crime. But we should consider God in every part of our lives, including the music and media we consume.)
Our Creator loves to hear us sing songs of praise to Him! There are many songs we can sing and listen to that make us want to dance, sing or feel calm and uplifted. I have certainly changed my listening habits. Sometimes something slips by when I am not paying attention, but once I catch it, I correct myself. I try to remember Philippians 4:8 Philippians 4:8Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
American King James Version×, which reads, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (New International Version).