I took piano lessons from age 5-15, and so music has been a good part of my life. But if you think about it, what is music actually? We all sort of know about it, understand it exists, participate in it when we sing or hear a song, but what’s going on “under the covers”, so to speak?
I would suggest that it is all God’s specific doing, and that it is inherent and literally built in to creation by the Creator. Let me try to explain…
Sound is based on waves of vibrations in the air, like a Sine wave, where the wave starts at a mid point, goes up to a point, and goes down below the midpoint an equal distance, and this repeats over and over. The characteristics of the wave give the distinctions of the sounds: the higher the wave apexes from the middle, the louder the sound is, which is called amplitude, where we get “amplify”, or make louder; the closer together each wave is to the next one in the cycle, the higher the sound, which is called frequency (ie. how many times a wave happens per unit of time). If we were to pipe sounds into an oscilloscope, you could see these represented, and watch the changes as the sound changed.
This in itself shows a constant in creation. But there’s more…
Most believe it was Pythagoras (yes, that Pythagoras) that discovered an interesting “phenomenon”. Two different tones together could be categorized mathematically in 2:1 ratios (ie. the frequency of the upper tone being 2 times that of the lower tone) and 3:2 ratios (the frequency of the upper tone making 3 vibrations in the same amount of time that the lower tone makes 2). Then, if you crawl up tones using the 3:2 ratio, on the 12th iteration, you land basically, with some slight mathematical variance, on the 7th iteration if you had crawled up using the 2:1 ratio, thus ending the cycles of each before starting a new round (this is where we get the 7-note scales and the 12-note chromatic scale, for you musically-inclined folks).
(More details are in lots of places on the internet, but here’s a starting place if you would like: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagorean_tuning. And for anyone interested, the handling of the mathematical variance mentioned above in tuning instruments in more modern times is discussed in equal temperament or well temperament.)
Notice anything about the numbers in the above description? 12 and 7? In the Bible, 12 represents God’s power and authority, or governmental foundation, or the number of completion; and 7 is the number representing completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual).
Coincidence? These are mathematically built in to nature, and shows an extraordinary degree of order. If I had nothing else, for me personally, this would show some intelligence put nature together. This is absolutely amazing to me!
Further, the base structure when notes are played together is called a “chord”, and the base structure of that consists of 3 notes, and 3 in the Bible also represents completeness.
But now, looking beyond that, I believe there are many spiritual representations in music, and how it’s used.
First, God would have us sing to Him. Many, many verses, but here are a couple:
Ps 105:2 – “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works.”
Ps 135:3 – “Praise the Lord; for the Lord is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant.“
In fact, the Psalms are really songs. Sue and I sing them each night in family worship, using a Psalter (here’s the last set of Psalms we recorded to help people learn them: Psalm Singing – August 2020).
Usually in any song, there is the melody, or the tune we might all know, and the other parts sung with the melody that form chords which sound good together, which are called harmony parts, all working together to make the music, and to make it sound better. I think one can glean a couple things from this:
- This is similar to the body of Christ, His people, working together in…wait for it…harmony (see this definition). 🙂
1 Cor 12:12-14 – “12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many.“
- Not everyone in the Church has the same function, and yet they are all important for the complete picture:
1 Cor 12:15-20 – “15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.“
Another thing that I think can be observed: when an orchestra with multiple kinds of instruments, and multiples of those, play together, there is usually a conductor. His job is:
- To help lead and keep everyone together as they make their way in unity and not chaotically to the end, and the orchestra follows the conductor’s lead
- To help with the interpretation of the original composer’s intent
- To set the speed (or “tempo”) of how fast the music is played, with the idea it’s not about how quickly you get to the end, but how you get there
To me, this is similar to the Church, where:
- Pastors and leaders help guide Christ’s flock through their earthly pilgrimage to the end, helping keep away from chaos and instead in unity, and the people follow their lead as it conforms to scripture:
Heb 13:17 – “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.“
- Pastors and leaders should rightly divide God’s word (the composition) as to how God would have it interpreted:
2 Tim 2:15 – “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.“
- Our Christian walk is not about how quickly we get to the end, but how our pilgrims’ progress in this life is to be travelled as the Lord would have for us, in the manner in which He would have us get there:
1 Cor 9:24 – “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.”
Heb 12:1 – “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,“
Finally, here is a quote from Martin Luther:
Music is hateful and intolerable to the devil. I truly believe, and do not mind saying, that there is no art like music, next to theology. It is the only art, next to theology, that can calm the agitations of the soul, which plainly shows that the devil, the source of anxiety and sadness, flees from the sound of music as he does from religious worship. That is why the Scriptures are full of psalms and hymns, in which praise is given to God. That is why, when we gather round God’s throne in heaven, we shall sing His glory. Music is the perfect way to express our love and devotion to God. It is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.
All in all, I believe music is a gift architected into creation by the Lord, thus revealing Himself in nature, and is to be used for His glory and means by which we worship Him, and which is also graciously something we can enjoy as we praise and give thanksgiving to so great a God!