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My story with music begins when I was very young. This was the age long before CDs or MP3 players. This was the age of the radio and a few cassettes. About age seven or eight, I can remember feeling strongly that the spirit accompanying the popular music of the day (the late 70s, early 80s) was corrupt. I am not referring to the words or lyrics, but the music itself.
As I grew older, the near universal sentiment was opposed to such notions. Teachers and religious leaders often promoted the music and were strongly in favor of such entertainment. To a young child, and later to a young adult, this was utterly confusing. I would like to reiterate that these impressions were NOT connected with the lyrics of these popular tunes. This inspiration was warning me of a more subtle communicator: the beat, rhythm and other dynamics of the composition itself. This perplexity, almost smothered, continued in the back of my mind until I returned home from my mission in 1991. Having a very inquiring mind, and some strong promptings, I took my questions back off the shelf and began searching for answers. I wanted to know if the leadership of the Church had spoken on this subject and if they had, what had they said? Thus began an extraordinary journey.
- “Issues with Answers” – President David O. McKay’s advice to BYU students: no “electronic bands” and no “loud beat”.
- President Ezra Taft Benson – “Have you been listening to the music that many young folks are hearing today? Some of it is nerve-jamming in nature and much of it has been deliberately designed to promote revolution, dope, immorality, and a gap between parent and child. And some of this music has invaded our Church cultural halls.”
- President Harold B. Lee – “. . . there’s damnable rock music that appeals to the lower senses of man, where the offbeat [rock beat] is just as vile and abrasive to human thought as it can be.”https://josephsmithfoundation.org/music-the-forgotten-language-of-the-heart-3/#boydkpacker
- President Spencer W. Kimball – “Musical sounds can be put together in such a way that they can express feelings . . .”
- President Packer – “Music can, by its tempo, by its beat, by its intensity, dull the spiritual sensitivity of men.”
- “D&C 8:2 — The Mind and Heart” – Is music the language of the heart?
- and more!
As a musician, I feel and understand this topic deeply. I agree wholeheartedly with Brother Stoddard’s thoughts on music. I have talked to teens who no longer care for good music. All they want is a ‘good beat’. Who cares if the lyrics are crude?
I have often found that music I was listening to was dragging me down through the lyrics, beat, etc. Satan’s lies are much harder to dispel from your mind when they are hooked to music. And nowadays with the world’s morals rapidly deteriorating, dirty music is much more prevalent. Music artists sing crudely of immodesty, immorality, drugs, and alcohol. Album covers display crude and offensive pictures. Bad language is everywhere.
But music has two sides. Just like other media, it can lift us up or tear us down. Wholesome music brings the Spirit; which speaks to the heart and can carry messages of strength, courage, respect, purity, and Christlike love. Good examples are hymns, classical music, youth/new era/efy songs, etc. Unwholesome music brings only Satan’s minions; who tempt the natural man, carrying messages of immorality and violence. This type of music is most often glorified through rock, punk, pop, etc.
Music will either enhance or desensitize us by the feeling/spirit it invites. ‘Hard’ music will literally harden our hearts and soft music will soften our hearts. Peaceful songs give us peace. Courageous songs give us courage. Likewise, lustful songs give us lust and angry songs give us anger.
I, like Brother Stoddard, find that music is not really the lyrics. The lyrics do matter–they do end up in our brain just like everything else–but they are not the music. The real music is the beat and intensity. For The Strength Of Youth says: “Do not listen to music that encourages immorality or glorifies violence through its lyrics, beat, or intensity.”
Music is definitely not amoral. Dirty music can be harmful to us. We must be cautious about the spirit we invite into our lives through the music we listen to. We need to choose wholesome music that will lift us rather than drag us down.
I love, love, love this article. I think it’s one of the very best articles for parents, students, families and all,on this topic. I have always known music plays an important role in our life and can influence us for good or evil. Growing up, I was surrounded with Michael Ballam stories. My mother would attend BYU Education Week and return with all of his products and teach us what he taught. We always learned about the healing aspect of music, and what it can do to the brain if a child is struggling. Music was just something we lived and breathed as my mother always was working on the environment of the home. However, little did we know it was the beat that is the destructive force, not just the lyrics, as each of my siblings personally have stumbled, as we would turn to music in our teen years.
In the last years, as I, now am raising my own family and raising teenagers, this article has really helped save a few of my children from stumbling further and keeping our family on track. We experimented on this topic and took the council from all the prophets and put it to the test. I can testify that music is very healing not only physically as I learned from Brother Ballam, but spiritually. I had a child who was suicidal and just by using music as the “councilor” (we did not outsource him to a specialist) turned him a 180. The quotes from the prophet are a wonderful tool to arm your children with. The story of BYU and David O McKay is helpful to put things into perspective. Understanding what happens when that beat is listened to, can also help parents help their children.
I recommend this article to every family as it will help you with depressed, apathetic, or rebellious kids. It healed my family, and I know it can heal yours too. I recommend this article to every youth leader who has any influence over the music for activities to hearken to the words of the prophets; “Youth leaders, are you holding aloft our standards, or have you compromised them for the lowest common denominator in order to appease the deceived or vile within the Church?” (Benson). I beg of you to not compromise standards as parents and as leaders- many spiritual souls are at risk under our stewardships.
President J. Reuben Clark said:
So what does it mean when we play/sing bad music?
I’m a youth who has always loved music. When I was younger, my friends and I listened to all the new songs from the most popular artists, and to all the songs on the hit radio. I don’t think that I really comprehended the effect that the music was having on me, until I wasn’t around it for awhile. A couple of years ago, while on a trip, we heard these godly principles being taught and what holy music was, why we should listen to only the best, etc. On the car ride home, my siblings and I were talking to our parents about what we had just learned about music. The conversation went something like:
“What? so we just listen to Mo-Tab all day? No thanks.” or “We listen to Christian music all the time! The beat’s not bad!” We did not find the sacred music appealing at all. I really think that we knew the truth now and the Spirit was trying to convict us of our sin. About a week later, my mother suggested us just taking 1 week without listening to any music with a back-beat. It was hard. Interestingly, that one week changed us. Really, it came down to whether we were going to obey a commandment from God or not. We never went back to the bad music and I am so glad that we made that decision. Sacred music is now very appealing to us and brings the Spirit in our home. I look around at what my peers are going through and the way the the adversary can get to them throughout the music that they are listening to. It’s SO powerful. Rock was designed to promote immorality and rebellion, and it does that job well. But sacred music belongs to heaven and being around it can sharpen our discernment and spirituality.
Harold B. Lee
Spencer W. Kimball
The application of these principles has drastically changed our family for the better.
I had learned for myself when I spent some time away from popular music and made a habit of listening only to music that was uplifting in beat and lyrics. The beat wasn’t what I was avoiding, but it was not a part of the music I chose during this time. It was more noticeable when I turned on the radio again after not listening to it, and how it made me feel.
I love this article. It helped me so much as a mother to clarify the feelings I was having about music and that it actually isn’t just about the lyrics. I understand better now which music I am trying to avoid for myself and my family, and now that I have helped them to hear it, they tell me when a song has an inappropriate beat.
It is impossible to avoid this music, we are surrounded by it, but it seems that becoming sensitive to it and being able to identify it helps to fight the ill effects.
As we fill our home and lives with good music, there is greater harmony and love in all of our relationships.
Thank you so much for this article. It may just save lives eternally.
I like this a lot. Music is a beautiful thing, but the world will tell you otherwise.
Very important to read this entire article. Is this a subject that we have totally ignored/rejected what the Prophets have taught? I notice in several quotes from Prophets and apostles in the article, the phrase is used that certain music is “repellant to the spirit of God.” I’ll give one striking example of this. Missionaries are only allowed to listen to spiritually uplifting music, so that they can have the Holy Ghost in their daily lives as they bear witness of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. I have heard returned missionaries state that they had never felt the influence of the Holy Ghost until they were on their missions. Is that because the music our youth are constantly listening to repels the Holy Ghost/ the spirit of God? Therefore, while they are serving the Lord on their missions, and strictly obeying the mission rules to not listen to music that drives away the Holy Ghost, they are blessed with the spirit of God in their lives, and thus have strong testimonies of the Gospel. Then, when they return home from their missions, they go back to the type of music they were listening to before their missions, which repels the Holy Ghost/the spirit of God, and their testimonies weaken, and many fall away from the Church.
Do we really want the Holy Ghost as a constant companion in our lives? If we do, we need to very carefully select the type of music we listen to, so that it is not “repellant to the spirit of God.”
I disagree with this article. I have found many kinds of rock music to be very inspiring and motivating. I also don’t put a lot of stock in the quotes given… we could find a lot of quotes from the 1950s to 1980s on a wide variety of subjects that we would find objectively false, offensive, or misguided now. There’s a reason the conference talks prior to 1971 are not on the church app! There’s also a reason there are not quotes listed that came after about 1980. I am a 100% active member of the church–I just don’t agree with this position.
With respect I also disagree. Many cultures feel music differently and an off beat is not inherently evil. I have been in a jazz concert where the vocalist was improvising about the savior and the rain and lightning was falling all around us but not on the audience. I was sitting in a sea of brown faces and the energy, community and love for the Lord in the group was something I will never forget. We need to be careful to not limit God to our musical tastes and experience. Art always has and always will always push boundaries and find new ways to create. Creativity is a form of Godliness.