The Right Kind of Music: The Difference Between Good and Bad Music
This post is about my research on fundamentalist Christian music. Read more about it here!
The second major premise of fundamentalist music philosophy is that listeners can learn to tell the difference between good and bad music. (The first is that music is moral.)
So, not only is music moral in a good/bad kind of way, but YOU can figure out what category any given piece of music goes into.
How would you do this? How could you distinguish good from bad?
Here's how: observe that piece’s effects on listeners’ emotions and bodies, and, if it has lyrics, analyze those for moral and spiritual content.
But wouldn’t my interpretation be different from yours?
It might seem that paying attention to music’s effects on listeners (and possibly scrutinizing lyrics) would yield wildly different interpretations on whether the music in question is good or bad. And yes, most fundamentalists grant there is a some room for differences of opinion when it comes down to some specifics. But in general, fundamentalists do not think personal interpretation plays much of a role here.
Rather, they are operating from a perspective that relies on Common Sense Realism as spread in America via higher education, inductive reasoning (especially the Baconian Scientific Method), and a hermeneutics of “plain reading.”
Read more about fundamentalists' philosophical roots here!
Obviously, those are three huge areas of study but the intellectual upshot is this: fundamentalists treat the world as something that can be understood by any reasonable, unbiased person who is willing to learn about it inductively.
What Good and Bad Music Is Like
So assume a reasonable, unbiased person using an inductive method to gather information about music based off of elements like lyrics, melody, rhythm, performance practices, and stylistic origins and associations.
Fundamentalists say that person would arrive at these basic conclusions:
- Good lyrics have generally moral content (and are explicitly Christian if sacred), while bad ones promote violence and immorality (or are ambiguously Christian if sacred).
- Good musical elements stem from Western classical and folk music traditions, while bad musical elements are found in pop music styles.
- Good performance practices are subdued and self-effacing (such as you might see in professional performances of orchestral and choral classical music), while bad performance practices include dancing (especially sexually-coded movements) and self-aggrandizement.
- Good stylistic origins and associations include ones that are European, upper-class, educated, chaste, and Christian, but bad ones include African, poor, uneducated, and sexual origins and associations.
Want to know the whole point of distinguishing between good and bad music? Check out this post.