Not Morally Neutral


Some say that music is never bad or good, but just something pleasant to be experienced.

In defense of that idea, Maurice Zam, former director of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, wrote:

"Let us emancipate ourselves from the myth that music has anything to do with morals. Music is as amoral as the sound of a babbling brook or the whistling wind. The tones E, D, and C can be sung to the words, 'I love you,' 'I hate you,' or 'three blind mice.' "—Maurice Zam, quoted in Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1993.

Dana Key heartily agrees. He says it is not the sound of the music itself, but only the lyrics—the words—that count.

"The 'goodness' or 'badness' of instrumental music is based on the performers' competence and skill. If the music is played without skill it is bad. If it is performed skillfully, it is good."—Dana Key with Steve Rabey, Don't Stop the Music, p. 69.

Writing in Moody Monthly, Don and Dave Wyrtzen, declared:

"The morality or immorality of the sounds needs to be located in the hearts of the composer, the performer, and the listener, not in the music itself."—Don and Dave Wyrtzen, Moody Monthly, September 1985.

The Wyrtzens are saying that the music itself is always wonderful; the only thing that can be bad is the hearts of those who play or hear it.

They continue:

"If music is neutral with the morality rooted in the message, the artist intends to convey rather than the form itself, there is no such thing as a particular satanic sound."—Ibid.

Thomas Dorsey, the well-known Gospel musician, put it this way:

"The message is not in the music but in the words of the song. It matters not what kind of movement it has, if the words are Jesus, Heaven, Faith, and Life, then you have a song with which God is pleased."—Thomas A. Dorsey, quoted in Oral L. Moses, "The Nineteenth-Century Spiritual Text: A Source for Modern Gospel," in Feel the Spirit: Studies in Nineteenth-Century Afro-American Music, ed. George R. Keck and Sherrill V. Martin, p. 50.

You have just read the major argument in defense of rock music. Regardless of how it is played and what the words say, how bewildering the sounds and wild the music,—it is claimed that the music is always good, with no moral effect upon the listener, either positive or negative.

It is of interest that among those who primarily maintain this are the ones publishing, promoting, performing, and making money on what has become known in the world as "rock music," and in the churches as "contemporary Christian music" (CCM).

But there are other musicians, highly trained in the field, who present a clearer picture of the situation:

"Dr. William J. Schafer tells us that 'rock music is communication without words, regardless of what ideology is inserted into the music.' And Professor Frank Garlock says, 'The words only let you know what the music already says . . The music is its own message and it can completely change the message of the words.'

"To those who would propose the argument that music in itself is neutral and that it is the words that make it either moral or immoral, Dr. Max Schoen in his book The Psychology of Music says, 'Music is the most powerful stimulus known among the perceptive senses. The medical, psychiatric and other evidences for the non-neutrality of music is so overwhelming that it frankly amazes me that anyone should seriously say otherwise.' "—Dr. Ruben Gonzalez, History of Rock Music.

Dr. Howard Hanson, famed composer and for­mer head of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, wrote:

"Music is made up of many ingredients and, according to the proportion of these components, it can be soothing or invigorating, ennobling or vulgarizing, philosophical or orgiastic. It has powers for evil as well as good."—Dr. Howard Han­son, American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 40, 1943, p. 317.

Dr. Adam Knieste, a musicologist who has given careful study to the effects of music on human behavior, describes it this way:

"Music is a two-edged sword. It's really a powerful drug. Music can poison you, lift your spirits or make you sick without knowing why. Whereas mellow tones can relax you, in contrast, loud, grinding music can cause blood pressure to rise, leading to headaches and an anxious feeling."—Dr. Adam Knieste, quoted by David Chagall, in Family Weekly, January 30, 1983, p. 14.

Elsewhere in the same article, Chagall quotes Eddy Manson, Oscar-winning composer, on the powerful relationship between music and sex: "Even the sex drive is kindled by the right music" (p. 15).

Writing in a Northwestern University Press publication, Alan Merriam, a cultural anthropologist, declares:

"There is probably no other human cultural activity which is so all-pervasive and which reaches into, and shapes—and often controls—so much of human behavior."—Alan P. Merriam, The Anthropology of Music, 1964, p. 218.

Donald Grout, a musical researcher, explained how music can change people:

"Music . . directly affects the passions or states of the soul—gentleness, anger, courage, temperance, and their opposites and other quality. When one listens to music that imitates a certain passion, he becomes imbued with the same passion. If over a long time he habitually listens to the kind of music that arouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form.In short, if one listens to the wrong kind of person—he will become the wrong kind of person."—Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music, rev. ed., 1973, p. 7.

The ancients understood this also. About 500 B.C., Confucius wrote:

"If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well-governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer . . Character is the backbone of our human culture, and music is the flowering of the character."—Confucius, quoted in The Wisdom of Confucius, ed. Lin Yutang, 1938, p. 272.

Plato said that good music should be encouraged and bad music—which led to bad thoughts and actions—should be outlawed (Gretchen L. Finney, Musical Backgrounds for English Literature, p. 52).

Gordon Epperson agrees:

"Music is the expression . . of the emotions; an aural image of how the feelings feel, how they operate."—Gordon Epperson, The Musical Symbol: An Exploration in Aesthetics, 1990, p. 75.

Music has a powerful effect on the listener. Clynes calls the effect "sentics."

"It can touch the heart as directly as can a physical touch. A caress or an exclamation of joy in music needs not to be consciously translated into a touch, caress, or a physical 'jump for joy' to be perceived as of such a quality. It does so directly through perception."—Manfred Clynes, Sentics: The Touch of the Emotions, 1978, p. 41.

To find out how large groups of people would respond to the same music, Dr. Alexander Capruso, director of Syracuse University School of Music, tested over a thousand non-music students. Using several different types of recordings, he played them for groups of 100 or more at a time. To his surprise, he found that the mood of an entire group could be changed by changing the music.

Another researcher went even further. Using 90 different records, Bingham tested over 20,000 persons. The results, he found, were essentially the same as Dr. Capruso's.

There are four primary aspects to music: the music (the sounds), the lyrics (the words), the way it is played (the performance), and the effects it has on those who play it and listen to it. The total effect is powerful.

In this book, you are going to learn about the powerful effects of rock music and what causes them.

You will recall that we quoted Zam's statement, that three tones have no meaning in themselves; but it is only the words which produce the meaning. However, the tones E, D, and C never exist in isolation in a piece of music. The surrounding harmonies, rhythms, phrasing, accentuation, volume, etc.—make those three tones take on a variety of emotional colorations. This fact is where Zam's defense of the total innocence of music breaks down. Music is more than tones.

According to the way it is written, arranged, and played,—even music without words can have a wide variety of meanings!

A godly church hymn—presented with tones, inflections, and volume indicating fear, suspense, or hate—would totally destroy the message of the words!

While individual letters in an alphabet may be neutral, they take on powerful meanings when combined into words, phrases, and sentences; meanings which can be refined and decent or crude, vile, and vicious.

The same is true of music. When combined with certain other tones, arranged in certain ways, played with certain accents, in certain rhythmic formations, and sounded on certain instruments—the meaning of the music can vary widely.

On a very basic level, music influences our feelings and emotions. As an art form, it is unique—and made of many factors, including rhythm, harmony, texture, and melody. Depending on the presence, amount, and balance of these and other related components, music can be soothing or invigorating, ennobling or vulgarizing, philosophical or evil. Music can be a source of great blessing, or something which prompts people to rebellion and sinful behavior.

To hear music is to respond to it in some way. It enters our being on a subverbal level, and produces physiological changes and glandular secretions which can modify our emotions and feelings. Researchers call this an "affective response."

There can be changes in respiration, blood distribution within the body, and variations in blood sugar level. Pupillary reflexes change, brain-wave patterns are modified, and metabolism is affected. As these changes occur, a person may be stimulated or sedated, depending on the nature of the music.

It is significant that researchers have found that similar musical experiences produce nearly the same moods or emotional changes in different people within a given culture. The emotional changes may begin to develop certain thought patterns in us. Because thoughts encourage actions, music can modify our behavior.

Bob Larson, in his book, Rock and Roll: The Devil's Diversion, tells of one experiment: A missionary took back to Africa records of regular Christian music and acid rock.

He played both to members of the local tribe. When regular Christian hymns were played, the people responded with smiles and nods of approval and were generally calm and peaceful.

Then, without comment, he switched to the rock. Immediately their expressions changed. They became confused and agitated. Some grabbed their spears and were ready for war. Others sized up the situation and began throwing rocks at the record player.

—All this just by changing the music. The change in behavior was a natural reaction to the music.

Below are characteristics of music. Understanding them will help us better understand the difference between good and bad music.

First, here are the elements of good music:

1. Volume changes (soft to loud, etc.).
2. Tempo changes.
3. Rhythmic changes.
4. Melody clearly distinguishable.
5. Changing harmony.
6. Modulation (key changes).
7. Variety in development.
8. Organization.
9. Main emphasis on melody line and its development.
10. Rhythmic emphasis on the down beat.
11. Variations in intensity (tension - relaxation - tension - relaxation, etc.)

Second, here are key aspects of bad music:

1. Volume the same (generally too loud).
2. Tempo the same with little or no change.
3. Rhythm the same or too many at the same time.
4. Melody often lost in the midst of intense beat and/or volume.
5. Little harmony; much dissonance.
6. Same key throughout.
7. Repetition.
8. Jumbled; poorly organized.
9. Main emphasis on volume, beat, rhythm, rather than on the melody line.
10. Rhythmic emphasis on syncopation.
11. All tension.

Frondizi summed it up in these words:

"The essence of the moral reformer and of the creator in the field of the arts lies in not adjusting to the predominant norms, or tastes, but unfurling the flag of what 'ought to be' over and above people's preferences."—Risieri Frondizi, What is Value? An Introduction to Axiology, 2nd ed., 1971, p. 29.


"Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven."—Matthew 7:21

"This day the Lord thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and Judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul."—Deuteronomy 26:16

"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness."—Isaiah 41:10

"For the Word of God Is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and Is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."—Hebrews 4:12

"Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."—Acts 5:29

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