Back in 2005, when I worked on an english songbook with other members of my church, we spent some time discussing the principles of good music, and what “dissonance” or “disharmony” was in music.

I favored harmonies that were simple and basic, thirds, fourths, and fifths, and maybe the occasional seventh. Others thought that more complex chords were also okay if used moderately. I also favored songs in which the melody played “on the beat” as much as possible. Some others felt that the occasional off-beat or “swing” was okay.

We didn’t form any hard fast rules, but took some care to work together and tolerate differences for the promotion of a greater cause.

A few years later, I discovered this chart in the book, Notes on Music, by Louis and Carol Torres. I thought this chart, and the principles in their book, were very close to those that I’ve reached also, in my struggle to come away from a rock music background. I share this for the use of other musicians who may be also looking for guidelines.

I’ve also posted chapter 2 of their book on this website, which includes this diagram: Rhythm Rules.

The Elements of Music and Performance

Element

Harmonic Use

Disharmonic Use

Melody

Pleasing Melody
(can stand alone)

Little or No Melody
(needs help)

Tone Color

Pleasant & Clear

Harsh, Dirty

Harmony

Clean,
Harmonious Chords,
Correct Intonation

Cluttered,
Lots of Dissonant Chords,
Incorrect Intonation
(Sloppy)

Rhythm

Clustered About and
Fully Sympathetic to
Main Beat,
Variety

Frequent or Perpetual
Syncopation or Polyrhythms,
Monotonous

Tempo

Between 60 & 120
(mostly 70-80)
Beats Per Minute,
Phrased

Too Slow or Too Fast,
Nonexistent (floating)

Words

Biblically Sound,
Positive

Biblically Unsound,
Negative,
Repetitious,
Sentimental

Presentation

Natural,
Unaffected,
From the Heart

Dramatic,
Contrived,
Exaggerated

There are a number of statements from Ellen White, where she refers to music, especially the music of heaven. She uses the words harmony and melody quite often to describe their singing:

Evangelism, p. 507:
Music forms a part of God’s worship in the courts above. We should endeavor in our songs of praise to approach as nearly as possible to the harmony of the heavenly choirs. I have often been pained to hear untrained voices, pitched to the highest key, literally shrieking the sacred words of some hymn of praise. How inappropriate those sharp, rasping voices for the solemn, joyous worship of God. I long to stop my ears, or flee from the place, and I rejoice when the painful exercise is ended.

Those who make singing a part of divine worship should select hymns with music appropriate to the occasion, not funeral notes, but cheerful, yet solemn melodies. The voice can and should be modulated, softened, and subdued.

I like her description of the voice as “modulated, softened, and subdued.” This kind of control is rarely seen in church singing today. We live in very insensitive times, in which we are constantly bombarded with more and more stimulating things, because our senses have become too dull with the previous stimulation. This is causing us to be very insensitive. In music, we have a chance to exercise sensitivity again, by softening and subduing our voice. In that way, we don’t need to yell to make an impression, a slight change in the tone or volume would be sufficient.

Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 146:
I have been shown the order, the perfect order, of heaven, and have been enraptured as I listened to the perfect music there. After coming out of vision, the singing here has sounded very harsh and discordant. I have seen companies of angels, who stood in a hollow square, everyone having a harp of gold. At the end of the harp was an instrument to turn to set the harp or change the tunes. Their fingers did not sweep over the strings carelessly, but they touched different strings to produce different sounds. There is one angel who always leads, who first touches the harp and strikes the note, then all join in the rich, perfect music of heaven. It cannot be described. It is melody, heavenly, divine, while from every countenance beams the image of Jesus, shining with glory unspeakable.

I also greatly appreciate her description of the harp playing by the angels. They don’t “sweep over the strings carelessly” like so many of us do on our guitars. Instead, they “touch different strings to produce different sounds.” Once again, we see a very controlled and subdued playing, where the slightest change has significance. This is impossible to attain as long as we slam down on our guitar strings in a strumming style.

Evangelism, p. 505:
Music can be a great power for good; yet we do not make the most of this branch of worship. The singing is generally done from impulse or to meet special cases, and at other times those who sing are left to blunder along, and the music loses its proper effect upon the minds of those present. Music should have beauty, pathos, and power. Let the voices be lifted in songs of praise and devotion. Call to your aid, if practicable, instrumental music, and let the glorious harmony ascend to God, an acceptable offering.

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