Encouraging a higher standard for Christian music

The Problem with Scoops and Slides
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How do we determine whether or not a particular performance technique is good or bad? What is the ultimate standard whether or not a vocal or instrumental variation is appropriate for Christian music?I believe that we must determine the purpose behind using a particular performance technique, and compare that purpose with our definition of Christian music. Here is a short summary of what I believe Christian music is:

Christian music consists of a clear, distraction-free message that is Biblical in content and delivery, Holy Spirit-filled, that is directed to the Lord, is performed as a means of edifying, teaching and admonishing fellow believers, and is testimony to the lost.

How then does this compare with the purposes of various vocal techniques that are used by contemporary musicians, such as scoops, slides, excessive syncopation, trills, ornamentation, straight tones, riffs, portamento, etc.?

I see several reasons why a singer would utilize these techniques.

  1. To draw attention to the vocal prowess of the performer
  2. To manipulate the emotions of the listener
  3. To imitate another singer
  4. To communicate sensuality
  5. To create a particular atmosphere
  6. To fit into a particular style or genre of music
  7. To relate to a certain group of people

I believe that these techniques tend to violate at least three clear Biblical principles:

  • Do not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16)
  • Do not exhibit pride (Pro. 8:13)
  • Abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22)

Christian music should never be mistaken for negative styles of music, such as the music of immorality or rebellion.

Properly used performance techniques are like spices. When used discreetly, they may be helpful in certain rare applications. All aspects of musical performance should be analyzed to see if they meet the following criteria: they should

  • Enhance
  • Beautify
  • Illustrate
  • Support
  • Clarify
  • Intensify
  • Strengthen
  • Reinforce

the message of the text.

In other words, if a particular performance technique is a help in communicating a godly message, it is perfectly acceptable to use it. If it is a distraction from the message of the song, for whatever reason, that performance technique should be avoided.

The problem with most vocal ornamentations is that they are almost exclusively used for the wrong reasons. Scooping and sliding and riffing are mostly manipulative, sensual, and self-promotional in nature and should not be used.

Music that clearly communicates a strong, positive, Biblical message will emphasize the text by using proper emphasis, word color, effective phrasing, and appropriate dynamic and tempo changes. Our music needs to be passionate, heartfelt and excellent, not manipulative, showy, or sleazy, in order to reach the intended audience.

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