Music Theory I: Worship Music & Introduction

Music has always been a servant.  In films, the score serves the story, supporting images with emotional weight.  In history, nations have employed music to rally nationalistic fervor, offering courage to their soldiers and citizens.  In the church, music is meant to facilitate the worship service, functioning as a conduit for the Body to connect and communicate with God.

In church and Christian culture today, Worship Music is the name given to the genre that is generally directed towards God and can be incorporated into worship services.  Worship music is a term containing tension.  It is greater than mere music because it must aspire to the service of God and His people.  However, it is still an art and is subject to the confines of that art, apart from the context of worship.  At the most basic level, Worship Music is still "just" music and worship pastors, leaders, staff, and volunteers would do well to study the art in order to be more effective in their role as musicians.

As one that works with worship bands often, I can get lost in the mundane: the fact that we're playing the same song for the 151st time or that the guitarist has only been playing guitar for a year.  It is important for me to have something to offer my team in the throws of rehearsal, constantly pushing them to become better musicians. I've found that simply being able to recall basic aspects of music is a tremendous help and opens up a world of rehearsal possibilities.

Simply, music is the art that orders sound, or pitch, in time to create beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.

Music has many potential elements that interact to create the sounds that are heard.  The fundamental elements of music are sound, rhythm, and form.

Sound, that stuff that musicians are in the business of sculpting, is a tremendously vast field.  It includes pitch (both indefinite, not containing a specific note, and definite pitches), melody, harmony, timbre.  Definite pitches are more than just note names.  They must also deal with timbre, as well as ideas of duration, tonality, tessitura, tuning, and temperament.  Timbre, the character or quality of a musical sound or voice deals with the fundamental sound and the sonic spectrum that arises from that note, overtones, harmonics, envelope, tone color, and articulation.  Timbre is different than its pitch and intensity, which deals with dynamics and articulation.

Rhythm deals with the aspects of energy, pulse, beat, density, duration, articulation, tempo, meter, and accent.  Rhythm is key because it applies directly the time portion of sonic sculpture, sounds placed in time according to their relative duration and relative accentuation.

Form deals with the creation as a whole: space, proportion, motion, energy, scale, texture (homophony, polyphony, heterophony, and simultaneity), structure (motive, subphrase, phrase, phrase group, period, section, development, variation), style, and aesthetics.  The principles of art are not bound to a particular medium.  To better understand form in music, study other disciplines like sculpture and painting.

There is beauty in the basics.  Having these aspects in the front of my mind helps me offer something fresh in the midst of the creative process.  As we strive to create better Worship Music, let's not forget to pursue creating better music.