What is Music? / Brief History of Church Music

Prerequisites: none

What is this “music” thing?”

If you were to sit a group of people down and ask them each what they think music is, you would get a wildly variant range of answers, but there would be a certain few criteria that appear more often:

  • Aesthetically pleasing in one way or another
  • Follows some sort of structure
  • Can be performed
  • Most commonly experienced aurally

However, you’re going to find that not all of these things are going to be true: there are exceptions that bend the rules while others break them.


Which of these is not music?

Answer: C

Just kidding. They all are. They might not fit all the bullet points above, but they’re all considered music. In fact, “Gesang der Junglinge” was considered the first masterpiece in electronic music.

From a theoretical standpoint, music must have at least one of the following seven features (at least in Western classical music):

  1. Melody
  2. Harmony
  3. Rhythm
  4. Dynamics
  5. Timbre (or instrumentation)
  6. Texture (how those instruments are used)
  7. Form (or arrangement)

Music in the Church

The music theory of contemporary Christian music coincides almost perfectly with that of the Common Practice Period, which spanned from 1600-1900. This was back when the organization of music was starting to become solidified and traditional music theory rules were being followed.

These rules and structures were almost entirely created by Johann Sebastian Bach, who didn’t sit down and write them down; rather, he would just compose music that was pleasing to him. Then music theorists went back and analyzed his work, and discovered that most of them followed this these basic rules of theory.

On top of this, Bach composed a new piece of music for church every week.

But you say, “Jason! The 1900s are over! It’s not 1900 anymore!” And this is true. Music theory has evolved a lot over the past hundred years, with the advent of jazz, metal and Djent. But for whatever reason, Christian music has gotten stuck in the past and has not gotten much more complex–I can only assume that this is to lower the barrier of entry, both for playing and listening to it. That is why I can give you this Music Theory 101 and have it all make sense in this context.

Further Learning

Common Practice Period
Elements of Music