Music in the New Testament Church

4. The structure of music

This section will consider a simple explanation of the general components of music. Those who are seeking to become a musician in the Lord’s house will need to study far more deeply in the theory of music. These four basic sections will however be sufficient to focus the believer’s attention on the possible use and misuse of melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre.


As the essential foundation of any piece of music, the melody is strongly creative in its appeal to the imagination and the spiritual nature of humankind. Good song melody is able to stand-alone and the words sung without instrumental support. This stand-alone quality is a good test to apply to many of the recent popular songs. Music written without words can also stand-alone, if the melody is sound.

The basic evaluation for music is “how adequate/good/worthwhile is the melody.?”

(Isa 23:16 NRSV) Take a harp, go about the city, you forgotten prostitute! Make sweet melody, sing many songs, that you may be remembered.
(Eph 5:19 NRSV) as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,

As with all of our walk before the Lord there is need for balance in the melody of music. This melodious balance is found in tension and relaxation, or rise and fall. We experience this rise in tension as the melody moves up and as a relaxation when the melody falls and moves down. Imbalance between these two elements is felt in the emotions. Too much tension and a sense of frustration and lack of fulfilment builds up in the listener. If pressed these emotions may give rise to over passionate responses. Similarly, too much fall may bring on feelings of despair and depression.

The great music of the ages is filled with tension and relaxation and its beauty is enhanced by the writers mastery of the balance between these two forces.

Mountains, hills, valleys and plains in landscape and in music save us from monotonous, dull and joy stifling experience, in our walk both natural and spiritual.


In simple terms an arrangement of notes or chords that are intended to support or harmonise with the melody.


(Mat 18:19-20 NRSV) Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. [20] For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (The word “agree” here means “to harmonise together” or to make a symphony.)

Harmony appeals to mankind in the realm of the mind or soul. Our minds delight in the complexity of chords and the patterns of complex sounds that are often used to surround the melody. Perhaps it satisfies humankind’s need to improve everything? Which of course is quite in order providing we improve, not seek to dominate by doing things our way, rather than Gods way. In music the harmony must remain submissive to melody and not seek to subordinate the melody line. Enthusiastic arrangers sometimes do this and the result is a cacophony of harmonic sound and no one can hear or recognise the musical message of the melody.

To avoid the possibility of dominating the melody, harmony or balance between consonance and dissonance becomes important. Consonance means agreement of sounds, a congruity or pleasing combination. The music falls sweetly to the ears. Note that it can be overdone and become showy, saccharin or lapse into sentimentalism. Dissonance means disagreeable in sound, harshness. It usually leaves a sense of being incomplete. Strong dissonance is jarring emotionally and a sense of confusion is experienced.

The delicate flow between these two characteristics may be used to orchestrate the emotional response to the melody. Consideration and use of this flow can develop music into a powerful instrument for either righteous or unrighteous behaviour. It is in this area that the argument that regards music as amoral has doubtful validity.

Harmony is usually expressed as chords or groups of notes that follow a pattern of consonance or dissonance.

Minor chords (dissonance) are generally used to support emotions of sadness, melancholy and tragedy. Trials and suffering, wars, death, famine are characteristic of minor key harmony.

Major keys in contrast support emotions of joy, gladness, and exultation.


There is little argument in regard to the appeal of rhythm. Most of humankind responds to rhythmic sound and motion. This is hardly a surprise as we are physically rhythmic. Heartbeats dominate the physical body and all of our functions move to rhythmical patterns. Our bodies respond to the “beat” of music

In music the rhythm is the regular (or irregular) grouping of weak or strong beats of sound, or light and heavy tones providing a particular tonal beat to the music. Melody produces rhythm but the resultant beat must remain subservient to the basic melody.

As with the other components of music balance is vital to musical rhythm. No beat at all and the music is without life Heavy pulsating rhythm blots out the melody and harmony and the emotional response falls to a “body only” response The mind and spirit is largely bypassed.

In “healthy” music the beat is concealed in the harmony with the melody dominating.

Balance within rhythm, that is between repetition and variation, allows the beat to move with the melody and avoids unwanted focus on beat alone. .

(1 Th 5:23 NRSV) May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This verse exemplifies the order for mankind in keeping a righteous balance. Spirit first, then soul (mind) and lastly body. It could well be used to speak of music also. First melody, then harmony and lastly rhythm so that the true message and grace of the musical creation may bless those who hear it. Much that is heard in our society reverses this order. The resultant music speaks to the body first and more often than not results in emotions that tend towards sensuality and disorder.

(Gal 5:24-25 NRSV) And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. [25] If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.


The distinctive property of a complex sound is its timbre. With voice or instrument we are able to hear a distinctive difference between each presentation of a musical composition as it is given by a different voice, a different instrument, a different artist, and even different artists playing the same instrument. This is the quality of timbre. A great artist of the violin for example can make the instrument sing with great beauty and touch the soul life of the individual listener. Scripture teaches that out of the abundance of the heart (spirit) the mouth speaks and this teaching has an application in the consideration of timbre. The nature of the spiritual foundation and spiritual state of the individual will find its expression through the timbre of the music as it is presented. The cry to the Lord to create in me a clean heart and a right spirit is basic and fundamental for all who minister in music of any kind since the timbre of their music will clearly reflects this inner state. It is far more important to present what the inner heart is saying than to give a perfect technical performance.

(Luke 6:45 NRSV) The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
(Psa 51:10 NRSV) Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.