The devil in music

Discussion in 'General Baptist Discussions' started by npetreley, Aug 1, 2007.

  1. npetreley

    npetreley
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    I studied music theory and composition for about 10 years, so I'm intimately familiar with something called the devil's triad, the tritone, or the "devil in music". It's a diminished 5th, such as the interval between C and G-flat. It has a dissonant sound, although the original sound was quite different than what we hear now (due to the way tunings in instruments have changed). It is best describe, however, as "restless". Our ears "want" it to be resolved into a consonance.

    Modern ears don't hear it quite the same way as people did hundreds of years ago, because the interval is used quite commonly now. There are such things as diminished chords that are very common, and they don't necessarily convey as restless a sound or as dissonant a sound as they once did. I can think of one song that repeats several dissonant chords as the basis for the song, and some of the lyrics are, "people get happy whistling a melody". Obviously, this is not a demonic or even a sad song.

    Anyway, I couldn't find a formal writeup of the phenomenon, but I thought some of you might be interested in this portion of the wikipedia entry on it. It says it was considered the devil in music from the 18th century, but if I recall my music history training, it was considered the devil's triad well before that (if I recall correctly, at least as far back as the 13th century, if not earlier).

    If you spend any time studying the progression of music from about the year 1,000 AD, you'll see that while music has gotten increasingly dissonant, our ears have adjusted to it so much that early music is so plain as to be almost unlistenable except by those who cultivate a taste for it, and modern music with all its dissonance sounds downright consonant to most people.

     
  2. Hopeful

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    Okay, let me state emphatically that "I don't know nuttin' bout music." BUT, I find this history absolutely fascinating. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, play no instrument, and can't even whistle. BUT, I love music (many different styles), and I believe that it is a powerful form of communication and a gift from God, and a tremendous means with which to worship Him.

    If I'm understanding this correctly, the sounds we hear are "acquired tastes" (subject to constant change and adaptation), and the association with evil is a "learned one". Is that right?
     
  3. npetreley

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    Whether or not it's learned, it's still subjective. Think of it this way. 1,000 years ago, the dissonant sound of the devil's triad wasn't "learned" to be dissonant. It just sounded that way to them because they weren't used to the sound of those two notes together.

    Here's just how incredibly simple music was. Music of 1,000 years ago (I'm talking church music) was pretty much just a melody (called a cantus firmus). Even the melody conformed to very simple rules. If you skip up a few notes, like from C to F, you would normally fill in the gap you created by going backward, like C -> F, then E, D, C, as a really simple example. The gap from C -> F didn't sound good unless you filled it with the backward scale.

    As people experimented more, they started doing things like singing melodies in parallel octives. So in the above example, you'd have C/C (one octave apart) -> F/F, E/E, D/D, C/C. Then, as people experimented more, you'd have people singing in parallel, only the notes would be separated by what's called a 5th. So you'd have F/C -> Bb/F, followed by A/E, G/D, F/C. So we're still singing the cantus firmus, but we've added more complexity by adding other voices at different distances apart from the original tune.

    Fast forward, and things get much more complex. People started mixing up melodies, using things like "imitation" (the second melody is just like the first, only it starts later -- think "row, row, row your boat" - we're already up to Pachelbel and then Bach by now). Then they'd add harmony to the melody (think Hayden or Mozart).

    But while things were very simple, something like the devil's triad would sound TERRIBLE. People would have screamed if you tried writing a melody that went from C -> G-flat, because that's the horrible devil's triad! If I could sing it for you over the BB, you'd see what I mean. ;)

    But the more complex music becomes, the more natural that same combination of notes sounds. So I could use the same "devil's triad" in modern music and (depending on how I did it) you'd never even notice it was there. In fact, if you listen to any music today, I bet you hear the devil's triad thousands of times a day. It appears in the most common chord progression there is, 5 (minor 7) to 1. The reason you won't notice it is because it's combined with other notes that make it work naturally.

    Now, there's a whole 'nother aspect of music that I haven't addressed which is more of the "learned" response. The above is just about this particular combination of notes called the devil's triad, or "the devil in music".

    .
    One off-topic note. I really appreciate your response! I never got to be a music teacher, which is what I wanted to do, so this is the first I've been able to enjoy teaching anything about music in about 20 years. ;)
    .
     
    #3 npetreley, Aug 1, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 1, 2007
  4. abcgrad94

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    I've never heard of this one! I sure hope no one associates "the Devil's triad" with the word "sinful."

    In college when I took music classes, we did learn about the different beats and how some are harmful if they "go against" the natural heartbeat. The school I attended used this as a basis to teach against rock music, because the emphasis on the off beat messed up (or interfered with) the heartbeat of the listener (according to their data, anyway.)

    I know of a church that will not let a certain song be sung because it contains a "jazz note." Is this the Devil's triad you're talking about, npetreley? If so, I don't see how it could be evil to sing or play a song based on one chord or note?! Not saying that you are implying that.
     
  5. J.D.

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    The difference between serious music and pop music is informed listeners who understand the art of conveying a message by the sounds. Dissonence represents tension, or in some cases, evil, as does minor scales; also chromatics. Atonality and arythmitcs represent the etherial, spirit, ghostly imagination (for example Claud Debussey), tonal harmony represents resolution, peace, and unity. Jazz with its tonal overlays represent indefinite resolutions.

    The same principles carry over into pop music but with a less discerning audience.

    The music, not just the lyrics, mean something; and its importance should not be overlooked.

    http://www.oldtruth.com/blog.cfm/id.2.pid.641
     
  6. Hopeful

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    Well, thanks for tacking this note at the end of your post, because as I was halfway through reading it, I thought, "Wow, does he teach music? Coz I'm kinda understanding this!" And that's amazing! (I'm REALLY musically-challenged!) You would have made a very good music teacher, IMO!:wavey:
     
  7. Pipedude

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    Usually those "jazz" notes in old southern gospel numbers would have been a flatted 3rd of a scale, not a flatted 5th as the OP described
    It's a note that wouldn't occur in ordinary western music, but was adapted from jazz. If I rejected a song because it sounded like jazz, it would be because I though that jazz and church didn't mix.

    (Does anybody here know the original definition of the word "jazz"?)
     
  8. Hopeful

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    Even though I really am in the dark about most of this, I do find it interesting and have a lot of questions (probably dumb ones, but that's never stopped me from asking before! :laugh: ) I took a "Fine Arts Appreciation" class several years ago, and there was a kind of very simple drive-by presentation of the history of music. Until that time, I had no clue how much musical development revolved around actual CHURCH history. Apparently, the development and presentation of music progressed WITH the Church--who knew?? (the "who" being those folks similar to the musically unschooled individual who's typing this) :)

    So, some of the stuff you've said here actually builds on what little I learned :)laugh: ) in that class.

    While this is actually Greek to me (and I don't read Greek, BTW), I think I do understand the concept you're presenting. Simple; few notes; little movement??
    I can certainly see why that devil's triad thing would be easily recognizable--and very aurally uncomfortable.
     
  9. Hopeful

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    I actually DO remember studying this in that class. It blew me away that this concept of "many voices"/complexity can be traced to a definite starting point in history. What I learned was that someone had to develop this concept. And while I personally don't have a clue how to read a scale, much less figure out how to "sing in parallel in ANY distance apart from the original tune", I do know that I can "hear" that, and I enjoy it.
     
  10. rbell

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    Most of what you put here was first taught in the Pythagorean school...based, of course, on Pythagoras, an ancient Greek pagan philosopher.

    Not exactly an exclusively Christian base.

    Also, upon individual examination of music, this idea begins to break down. Two wonderful hymns in minor keys: "Come ye sinners, poor and needy," and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." (Many others, these were just at tongue's tip).
     
  11. Hopeful

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    The "Row, row, row your boat" example--I understand that!!! :laugh: :laugh:
    But, seriously, this makes sense to me. I have several friends who ARE musically inclined, and they probably COULD catch that devil's triad in there, because they certainly notice "stuff" in music that I do not. And that's a point I'll address in another post in a minute.
    Thanks for the music history lesson!:wavey:
     
  12. Hopeful

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    Oh, but one more thing, npetreley....be VERY glad that THIS is not possible....

    because if that was an option, and y'all accidentally heard ME sing over the BB---well, then EVERYONE would understand what "devil in the music" really sounded like.

    :laugh: :laugh:
     
  13. npetreley

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    Strictly speaking, this really isn't 100% true. Take, for example, the whole tone scale that is perfect for dream sequences. I can play something in a whole tone scale that you would recognize immediately as dream sequence music. But did you make that connection because of the music, or because it's such a popular way to do dream sequences that you've heard it used that way a dozen times? I would argue both. The whole tone scale lends itself to something "ethereal", so it gets used that way a lot. But it isn't necessarily ethereal. I can also play something for you in a whole tone scale that doesn't sound anything like a dream sequence.

    Yes, you can manipulate moods with music, but can you create moral/immoral thoughts with music? I have yet to see that demonstrated.
     
  14. J.D.

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    Minor keys express the suffering that Christians experience in their journey through this hostile world. You know, the one that Luther wrote about "is this cruel world a friend of grace, to move us on to God?". The key, the measure, the melody, the harmony; these are all chosen to convey the desired message. It is meaningful.

    For example, the hymn "Be Still My Soul", is in a minor key, but resolves in the last measure to the major. Why? To convey the transistion of the trouble soul from fear to comfort.

    The music matters.
     
  15. J.D.

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    Sorry, Npet, I don't think we're going to agree on this one. One of the most vivid impressions in my musical life was the first time I heard Debussey. I described it, even then (before I was a Christian), as a "beautiful evil", sultry, seductive. And I believe that's exactly the effect that Debussay intended.

    But I can agree that when we get into these arguments over music, hypocrisy reigns. I like bluegrass music, but dispise post-70's metal/punk/spike rock music. So even though I don't like bluegrass IN CHURCH, I don't get worked up about it like I do when it's hip hop or rock that's the subject.

    What sets me off about hip hop and some other music styles is not only the music style but the culture it represents. Let's face it, and I'll name it, "black" culture is self-destructive, violent, immoral, racist, superstitious, anti-education, and lawless. Did I leave any thing out?

    Somebody should stand up against that evil culture, but because "tolerance" is the fad of this age, no one can speak against anyone else's culture, music, or behavior.

    I might be throwing the baby out with the bath water, but somebody needs to start throwing something out.

    And just to be fair and balanced, I'll take some shots at the country folks, of which I am. These folks will condemn the rock or hip hop in church while they sing their mushy Gaither songs in a yodeling voice with all sorts of fleshy sways and jerks so that they'll be sure to get the applause and an invite to do another "show". And it's all emotion-based, which fits in nicely with their adamant anti-intellectualism.

    So there, is there anyone left I haven't offended tonight? If so, I'll get them tomorrow night! :laugh:
     
  16. Hopeful

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    Okay, I'm trying to understand/follow all of this from a previously-referenced complete like of musical-inclination standpoint, so please bear with me.

    Your statement about "informed listeners"--am I understanding that you're saying that it is the listener and their ability--or lack thereof--to comprehend the music and its nuances as presented/performed is what "conveys the message" of the music itself? Because if so, this brings up my question in regard to the threads today about types of church music.....if I personally don't KNOW what the music (not the lyrics--just the music) is supposed to mean (I am certainly a member of the "less discerning audience", since I do not understand music from the vantage point of a musician)....how can the music be anything but "neutral" from a moral standpoint?

    Here's why I ask this--for that Fine Arts class I took, I had the opportunity to go to a wonderful performance of some works of Beethoven...which included the Fifth Symphony--performed on a night not too long after 9/11/2001. Since that symphony is so widely known and played, I "knew" the context of the music and understood much of what the composer intended to convey with it. So I FELT the rise and fall and the military precision and all the patriotic fervor the music stirred all by itself. It was the finale of the show that brought us all to our feet with thundering applause. It definitely evoked in me--and probably everyone present--all the emotion intended by Mr. Beethoven.

    BUT, there were other works performed that night that I did NOT know. One by a modern artist that I had never heard of. The lovely programme provided me with wonderful information about the music--it's intent, an explanation of the various movements, etc. BUT, I read all that AFTER I heard the piece performed. I can say in total honesty that if I had not read the programme, I would have had NO CLUE what the piece was intended to convey. NONE whatsoever. In fact, I didn't LIKE the piece..and the feelings it was intended to evoke in the listener were NOT present and accounted for in ME. It was intended to be light-hearted and "interesting". Instead, I found it to be rather unpleasant. So, without context to "understand" the music--and without lyrics to be plainly told what the "meaning" was....I did NOT sense it from the music itself.

    I guess my question from this is: Unless you ARE musically inclined, and unless you have a context in which to place music you hear--is music ALL BY ITSELF anything other than neutral? CAN the devil be in the music if he wasn't placed there by some other external cue/clue???? We DO have more complex music now--not just simple stuff from hundreds of years ago.
    I personally find some music too obviously "disrespectful" for worship music....but it's my opinion. If someone else from a different background takes that same sound and turns it into their own "hymn" of praise and true heartfelt worship, is that bad? If the INTENT of the music is accomplished/conveyed by a "conspiracy" of sorts between musician and listener, if that INTENT is good and moral and worshipful from the heart, in both the mind and heart of the "conspirators", would that not mean that the EFFECT of the music would also be good and moral and worshipful for both? And would not God be glorified by that?:saint:
     
  17. npetreley

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    If that's what he intended, then he failed on me. I find Debussy pleasant but boring. Certainly not seductive, sultry, or evil. There are certain givens in music, but the world doesn't revolve around the way you hear things. My sister and I did a paper on the gestalt perception of music, and one of the things we covered was how some people can't separate their impressions from the music itself. It happens, but the music isn't the cause.
     
  18. J.D.

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    I think we can at least agree that music is not neutral, and so it's effect is germane to the purpose and lyrics.

    All composers write for effect, no? Even those that have purely academic motives.

    Bach in the Baroque style, Beethoven in the transitional style, Mozart in the classic style, Debussy in the impressionist style; Every style reflective of the prevailing culture of the day; and each piece written to convey meanings within that culture.

    I've enjoyed this but it is time for me to :sleeping_2: . See ya later.

     
  19. J.D.

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    hello Hopeful, I didn't see your post until after I bid Npet good night. I will say this quickly but will follow up more later on. First, if you're looking at music as a fine art, and you should, you must interpret it as the composer intended it when he wrote it. BTW that's one of the rules of Bible interpretation. What it meant then is what it means now, although you can simply enjoy the music and not bother with all that, and let it mean what you want it to. So to fully understand Beethoven's music, you'll need to know somethings about the man Beethoven and the time he lived in.

    My contention is that music is never nuetral, and I assert that it is morally active, but it remains to be seen if I can prove that.

    Good night.
     
  20. rbell

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    keep in mind that many early 17th-century Puritans were vehemently opposed to polyphonic singing.

    Guess they lost that fight. Not many "unison only" proponents out there today.
     

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