Our title is taken from Amos 6:5 incorporating the marginal rendering. The same prophet records, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (ch 5:25). There is a spirit in our society, described by Paul as “the course of this world … the prince of the power of the air”. It is “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph 2:2) and is fed by a form called “music”. Some suggest that they are not affected one way or the other by music. Others concede that although the words of modern “rock” music are sometimes not wholesome, “the music is all right”—it has no bad effects. There is a willingness to believe it is harmless. This article clearly shows that this is not so. It is imperative that both parents and children recognise the
harm that such music has caused, as the first step in removing this evil influence from our homes and cars. This first article concentrates on the physical effects. In the next issue our authors will go further to demonstrate the way various types of music influence our morality.

Throughout history, the power of music to affect the emotions and lives of individuals has been well recognised. Not only are there numerous Biblical examples of music and its effects, but even worldly philosophers acknowledge the power of music. For example, the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BC) observed, “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”. What has been intuitively known for centuries has, in more recent times, been analysed and documented in detail. Scientific research has now provided some insights into the significant effect of particular kinds of music on individuals.

  The Physical Phenomenon of Music

 When played, music consists simply of a series of waves or vibrations in the air which enter the ear, where they are converted to electrical impulses. These signals are conveyed to the brain, which responds in various ways depending upon their type and intensity—sometimes memory is activated, sometimes emotions are evoked, sometimes behaviour is affected. In discussing music and its effects, it is worth noting that we are not just considering the impact of the words. The music itself, quite apart from the words, can have a powerful effect on us in conveying images or moods—for example, sadness, pathos, happiness, excitement.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that the sound waves which make up music penetrate and affect not only the ear, but the whole body as well. We generally only become aware of this when music is very loud, because the vibrations can be felt physically. However, especially when there is extended exposure to music, this physical effect of music on our bodies can be very significant even if we are not consciously aware of it.

The Beneficial Effects of Music

 The beneficial uses and effects of particular kinds of music have long been recognised. One of many scriptural examples is when David was called to play music to soothe Saul’s mental agitation (1 Sam 16:16–17,23). Our own experience confirms that it is easier to learn the words of a song with music than it is to learn the words by themselves. This phenomenon is not only used with young children and in radio and TV advertising, but is currently being seriously employed in educational circles to enhance learning at all levels. It has been found that the music of the Baroque and slightly later period (Bach, Handel, Mozart) is particularly effective in improving brain function and helping children to learn. Music is also used therapeutically to relieve pain and to overcome trauma and psychological difficulties.

The Harmful Effects of Music

 Judged on the basis of its physical and emotional effect on humans, the use of music can sometimes be described as “harmful”. In ancient Babylon, music was used with deliberate intent to induce the people gathered in the plain of Dura to “let go” and worship a golden image (Dan 3:5,7,10,15). Today, there is a significant and growing body of evidence to suggest that much of what is called “rock” music is actually physically and emotionally harmful. Consider the following.

About ten years ago, two US researchers (Dr Harvey Bird & Dr Gervasia Schreckenberg) who were interested in the effects of music on brain function, set up a series of controlled experiments on laboratory mice. They took three groups of essentially identical mice and subjected one group to harmonic (classical) music at low volume twenty four hours a day. A second group was exposed to disharmonic music (eg modern “rock”, with an accentuated off-beat, musically non-synchronised) at low volume twenty four hours a day, whilst the third group was kept in silence as a control group. The experiment was conducted over several months. At various times the mice were tested by putting them through a standard laboratory maze in which the animals were to find food. This was to measure their cognitive ability—that is, their ability to remember the correct path in the maze over time. The first and third groups improved their ability to solve the maze over time, with an edge being given to those which had been played classical music. However, those mice in the second group “had a very difficult time with the maze that increased over time to the point where they were totally disoriented and unable to complete the maze”. Even when given a break from the music exposure for three weeks, they were still unable to find the food in the maze. It certainly appears that different types of music can have a profoundly different effect on mental functioning. This finding has been reinforced in numerous ways in similar and other research.

In his book entitled “Your Body Doesn’t Lie”, Dr John Diamond describes the results of his research into the effects of various kinds of music on muscle movement and strength. He writes: “Using hundreds of subjects, I found that listening to rock music frequently causes all the muscles of the body to go weak.… Every major muscle in the body relates to an organ. This means that all the organs in our body are being affected by a large proportion of the popular music we are exposed to each day”1. In contrast, classical music had no weakening effect on the body. Further investigation revealed some interesting results. After listening to several minutes of rock music, his subjects often regained their muscle strength. This phenomenon, known as “switching”, is a process in which messages travelling across the brain get switched and go through the wrong pathways, causing perceptual difficulties and stress. Diamond explains, “… once switching becomes ingrained, a serious problem is introduced. It is as if the body can no longer distinguish what is beneficial and what is harmful. In fact, the body now actually chooses that which is destructive over that which is therapeutic”. It is frightening to think that this music has almost an addictive power to induce individuals to crave for more of it.

One of the most astounding parts of the research by Bird and Schreckenberg was discovered when the mice were later dissected and examined. It was found that those mice in the second group (exposed to “rock”-type music) had abnormal structural changes in their brain cells. The neurons in the brain had grown wildly in all directions without making connections to other neurons. There were also abnormally high amounts of a chemical called mRNA which affects memory function. No such changes were found in either of the other two groups of mice. This was evidence that particular kinds of music can produce physical changes in the brain. The results of their research were published in Bulletin of New Jersey Academy of Sciences (Vol 32, No 2, pp77–86). Dr Bird later commented on the findings: “What we are seeing here is the effects of disharmonious music on mammalian brains. And insofar as human beings have mammalian brains, we cannot preclude the possibility that disharmony may affect human brains as well”.

There is a simple explanation of these effects from what we know about the nature of living things. Human and other animal bodies have many natural rhythms including the heartbeat, breathing, brain wave patterns and so on. Since all music also has rhythm, when the beat or rhythm of music matches or upsets body rhythms, a reaction is caused. Waltz music, for example, matches the rhythm of the heartbeat producing a sympathetic reaction where body and music are in harmony. However, most rock music produces an adverse reaction to body rhythms. Dr Schreckenberg explains: “We believe that the mice were trying to compensate for this constant bombardment of disharmonic noise. They were struggling against the chaos… Everything in life goes in a rhythm. All biochemical reactions are rhythmic. If that harmony is disrupted, then it can have detrimental effects”. The concept of external stimuli on our bodies having an effect on our brains is not new to neuroscientists. One such scientist, Dr K A Klivington, has said: “Structure and function [of the brain] are inseparable. We know that environments shape brains; all sorts of experiments have demonstrated that it happens. There are some studies currently being done that show profound differences in the structure of the brain depending on what is taken in by the senses”2. In the light of this, we ought to carefully choose the kind of environment that we and our children are exposed to.

Some Features of Modern Rock Music

 When most music is analysed technically, it is found to be composed of a series of tensions and resolutions. In classical and traditional music, tensions are deliberately introduced into the music by a variety of techniques (eg discordant notes, variations in rhythm, volume, timbre of instruments, rise and fall of notes) and then resolved by returning to normal harmony, rhythm, volume etc. One of the significant differences between classical music and modern rock music is that rock music creates tensions (eg through syncopation) but these remain unresolved throughout the music. When this happens, “we begin to lose any real sense of tension and resolution, and there only remains a sense of ill-defined unrest”. The net effect on the human body is a continuing state of hype, and bodily tension and intensity.

One of the most obvious features of most modern music and particularly “rock” is the strong dominant beat. D W Skubik, a researcher from the Australian National University, has studied some of the physiological effects of music—in particular, rock music. He found that measurable changes in the body’s muscular system, brain wave patterns and hormone levels are produced by rhythm where drums are prominent or provide the basic beat. In response to the tempo of the beat and the volume of the music, the brain goes into a state of stress. This, in turn, causes the brain to prepare the body for pain by releasing natural opioids (morphine-like chemicals). This action by the brain can become addictive over time as Skubik states, “one soon needs to have opioids to feel good”. Further to this, Skubik maintains that in addition to these natural opioids, the body also releases sex hormones in response to music with a strong dominant beat. The research findings above partly explain why  rock music appeals strongly to young people, why many teenagers today seem to have an “addiction” to it and also why the growth of immorality and lack of restraint have been synonymous with the pop/rock scene since its inception. The key point to emphasise here is that it is the music itself that is harmful, even without the lyrics.

Conclusion

 There is little doubt that some types of music have a physically harmful effect on our bodies. The issue of rock music and its effects is one which has been ignored for too long. Modern rock music (along with its developments “hard rock”, “punk rock”, “heavy metal”, and “rap”) is not just another passing fad in music taste of the young. Much of this music is physically, emotionally and morally damaging especially to young people in their formative years. The second part of this article (to be published in the next issue of The Lampstand) will address the moral, emotional and social issues associated with rock music and what parents can do about them.

  References

1 Diamond, J. Your Body Doesn’t Lie Warner Books, 1979 p. 159-163

2 Healy, J M Endangered Minds Touchstone, 1990. p.51

3 Tame, D. The Secret Power of Music Destiny Books, 1984. pp 141–145

4 Ibid p 141

5 MacLaughlin, T Music and Communication p 38

6 Skubik, D W The Neurophysiology of Rock ANU

Research School of Social Sciences, 1987 p 1

Further Reading

 MacKay, G How Music Affects Your Kids :What Parents Need to Know Green Light Technologies, 1995

Tame, D The Secret Power of Music Destiny Books, 1984

Kilpatrick, W Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong Touchstone, 1993

Bloom, A The Closing of the American Mind Simon & Schuster, 1987 pp 68-81