Life Songs: The Old and the New

Life Songs: The Old and the New

There are many kinds of songs and genres, and it hit me that the kinds of songs we learn can mimic the kind of life we live. Not always, of course, but consider these kinds of songs from the Bible (not exhaustive):

The Good Kind
  1. Songs of excitement and joy (Gen 31:27, 1 Chr 13:8, Ps 47:1, Ps 68:4, Ps 107:22)
  2. Songs of triumph/victory (Ex 15:1-2, Judges 5:12, 1 Sam 18:6, 2 Sam 6:5)
  3. Songs to teach/remember (Deut 31, Eph 5:19)
  4. Songs to express deliverance (2 Sam 22:1, Ps 118:14-15, Is 26:1)
  5. Songs to express thanks (Neh 12:46, Ps 28:7, Jer 30:19, Eph 5:19, Col 3:16)
  6. Songs as a prayer (Ps 42:8)
  7. Marriage Songs (Ps 78:63)
  8. Love songs (Is 5:1, Song of Solomon)
The Not-So-Good Kind
  1. Songs to ridicule (Job 30:9, Ps 137:3)
  2. “Oh, Bless your heart, honey, don’t Worry!” songs (Prov 25:20)
  3. Song of fools (Eccl 7:5)
  4. Fearful songs (Eccl 12:4-5)
  5. The silent song: a “used-to-be-a-song” void (Is 16:10, Ezek 26:13)
  6. Song of the prostitute (Is 23:15)
  7. Song of the ruthless (Is 25:5)
  8. Lustful songs (Ezek 33:32)
  9. That’s “noise,” not “song” (Amos 5:23)
  10. Idle songs (Amos 6:5)
  11. Taunt songs (Micah 2:4)
  12. Drunken songs (Ps 69:12)

[Yikes. Didn’t know all those were there, too]

The “New Song”

There is another category in Scripture – the “new song.” I’ve often wondered what this is, but when you consider the not-so-good kind of songs above, it begins to make a little more sense.

Here are a several represented in Scripture:

They all speak of singing a “new song” to the Lord. Psalm 144 is one of David’s songs. This one is popular because he asks a great question:

“What is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?”

That is a great question. He knows his true condition: “like a breath” (v. 4), and calls on God to come in all His glory (vv. 5-6) that he might be rescued from many waters, and from foreigners (v. 7). He doesn’t describe “many waters,” but he does define foreigners in verse 8:

“…whose mouths speak lies and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.”

These people sung the not-so-good kind of songs.

To contrast, David immediately adds, [on the other hand] will sing a new song to you, O God.

That is, I will not sing those not-so-good kind of songs like the foreigners do. They are foreign to Your goodness. They are foreign to Your love. They are foreign to Your people.

They live the kind of song they sing.

The Old and the New

To sing a new song is to live a different life. To sing a new song is to have a new hope. To sing a new song is to offer words of wisdom and grace.

A new song “befits the upright” (Ps 33:1), “for the word of the Lord is upright” (Ps 33:4).

In other words, it implies a new authority.

Romans 6, Ephesians 4, and Colossians 3 all talk about the “Old Self” versus the “New Self.” We have been given one in place of the other.

Old song out.

New song in…so live according to the new song.

Paul could have said “new song” in Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You will die for singing the old song, but in Christ Jesus, we have been given a new, eternal, song.

It is this kind of song we now sing: eternal life.

Right. The good kind.

What does this have to do with real music, and lessons and stuff?

I’m glad you asked. If you have been given a new song, remember that it takes time to really learn to sing it loud and proud. It takes time to play it well, right?

I mean, name one skill in your life that you mastered immediately. If your new life is like a new song to sing or play, we should be okay with taking time to master it as well, right?

The song is in our heart, yes, but God is still working out what He has put in (Phil 1:12-13). Speaking of Philippians 1, read the context (vv. 12-18). The point is that, like Psalm 33, we shine as we hold fast to the Word. We have to be reminded to not sing the old song: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” he says (v. 14).

So playing a real, audible song on an instrument takes time. One cannot master it immediately. Students have to be reminded of what the song doesn’t sound like.

Over time, I want to offer this kind of lesson to my students.

Casting Crowns has a song called “Lifesong” that I really like. I think they’re saying the same thing. Here’s a little part of it:

So may the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to you

Music lessons are not just another subject to cover in school, or a good thing to do because someone said you should. They are life lessons. They help answer the question, “How should I live my life?”

A Christian music teacher has the amazing opportunity to listen well and say, “Let me help you love the Great Musician and play His song well. Let’s take your instrument now and learn to adorn the air with the life of a beautifully played song – one that conforms to the beautiful boundaries set by our wonderful Creator.”

Cacophony existed before the world was formed. Unity and harmony after.

Let’s learn to play music that conforms to the latter – music that blesses.

Sin has caused cacophonous chaos. God has granted glorious grace to continue to move from the old to the new.

Let’s play with style and grace, and not settle with chaos.


Music Lessons and Leadership

Music Lessons and Leadership

Part of the reason I like to do a guitar class (as opposed to individual lessons) is because it helps train students to play with a group. It trains them to really listen to one another as they play together.

When people play together, they lead.

Even bands who perform are leading – they persuade with their music. Very often, performers call on the audience to interact and participate. They are leading.

As Christians, leadership is particularly important. What do performing Christians persuade their hearers to do? What do they call their audience to think on and participate in? What is most important? Is their music quality directly proportional to how well their music persuades?

I want to help give you the motivation and the resources and skills to play well and to lead well.  Playing well means nothing without being able to use your skills for others.  In addition, you cannot lead music well without being able to play well.  In music, especially as Christians, playing and leading are intertwined, for we must lead others toward our great God without distracting them from where their true focus must be (that’s another post for another day).

David was an excellent model of playing and leading together.  He was described in 1 Samuel 16:18 as one who is “skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” Expounding this verse, I want to inspire and equip people towards the following six things:

  1. For their musicianship to be noticeable and loved
  2. To have great boldness and bravery in life
  3. To be able to think strategically, practically and logically in a music leadership setting
  4. To be articulate and wise in their speech as they lead others
  5. To be confident, at peace and alert
  6. To be humble and aware of the Lord’s presence and authority

What kind of musician you are matters.


Getting over the Blank Canvas

Getting over the Blank Canvas

Sometimes playing music can start with as much of a blank canvas as painting. Even if there is a sheet of paper with notes or chords on it in front of you, players or groups still get this familiar sense: “Where do I start?”

For instance, a guitar player, bassist, drummer and a singer get together to play. If there is no set songs to play, it’s worse, but even if there are songs that have been chosen, they still must decide how to start.

Or, when a beginning guitar player picks up his or her guitar to play, they play around on chords, but how do you put them together? How should they strum?

A large part of this blog is to help get over this hurdle. I hope to offer tips that help get over this “blank canvas” feeling.

I enjoy the visual arts as well and have felt this many times. It comes with the territory…and you don’t realize how tall that mountain is until you get right up next to it. In other words, until you pick up your pencil, brush, guitar pick, drum sticks or get together as a band and begin to play, you don’t realize that the squatty thing in the distance was Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Every artist must learn to overcome this feeling. And you can too.

So here’s the first tip: Imitate

One of the best principles I’ve found for learning anything is to try to copy what someone else has done.

This is called “mimesis” in classical education circles. It’s why God wanted Moses to write the song in Deuteronomy 31-32. It’s why Jesus asked those men to follow Him. It’s why Paul and the other apostles told the churches to imitate God and Christ in love (cf. Eph 5:1-2). It’s why the apostles not only told the churches to imitate them (2 Thess 3:7-9), but to also consider the outcome of the way of life of their leaders and imitate them (Heb 13:7).

Back to music. This is fairly easy to do these days with guitar. Find a song. Find the chords. Play along.

(Simply type in the name of the song in google with “lyrics and chords” next to it and you should find something.)

I have led worship music for much of my life and these types of songs are wonderful to use.

Number two: Consistent and Simple is Best

Secondly, remember that it is more important to be consistent with something simple than to try to do too much. If you’re by yourself, it’s better to work yourself up to the more complex thing. If you’re with a band, the same applies – it’s better to work up to the more complex thing than try something too complicated…even if one person can do it so easily.

It’s a trap.

Just work on being consistent with something simple – on your skill level – first.

For instance, as a band, try this. Strip the chords to their bare bones by only playing the chords shown at major places (like the down beats – or maybe even just the 1 count).

As a beginner guitarist, try this: play a D chord until you have mastered it, and don’t move on until you can close your eyes and put your hand in the right place. Or if you’ve mastered the D chord, try using the D to practice switching to a chord you don’t know as well, and go back and forth. Master that.

Work on being consistent with something simple.

I know there are many things going on that can cause a musician to freeze up, quit in frustration, or simply get bored. Remember you are training yourself (even as a band), to hear well and play well. It’s ear training as well as muscle memory training.

Stay the course!


On Music and Leadership

Music is used for a huge variety of reasons.  Most of the time it is used to “move” people to feel a certain way.  Many have used it negatively – to manipulate; but many have used it positively – to motivate and stir up hope and faith.

Music is very powerful, even as a memory tool.  In Deuteronomy 31 and 32, Moses is commanded by God to write a song that Joshua was to use to help lead the people in righteousness.  They were to remember who God is and what He had done for them by singing this song over and over.  They were to remember the warnings issued to the wicked, lest they follow in their ways.  I believe music is most powerful when it is played skillfully in conjunction with truth – the kind of truth that God has revealed in His Word.

Therefore, we should not be trying to “move” people to feel a certain way, but to think in a certain way – to live by faith, despite what they see.  The music becomes the background or setting for this truth.  Like a great painting, it draws your attention in a particular way to a particular spot.  The intent here is to lead people to draw their attention to a planned “focal point” – the message (often in the lyrics). Ultimately, our Maker is the primary focus.

It should be noted that though not all want to lead, all do lead in one way or another.  My courses are intended to shape natural leadership skills I believe everyone has (cf Gen 1:26-28).  To balance this, I believe that though God created us to “have dominion” and “rule and subdue” the earth, He has also created us to serve with humility.  In fact, this is primary, for it has everything to do with how we worship.  We serve by leading.  This helps protect us from our efforts to draw attention to ourselves.

To be clear, I am not training you to be a rock star in these courses.  I will be training and equipping you to serve.

That said, from the very beginning I will be calling your instrument a “tool”.  Knowing the Lord uses us as His own tools, we must now see that what man has made is also a tool.  If you are learning guitar, it is only a tool.  If you are learning drums, it is only a tool.  We use hammers and wrenches to build houses and fences, right?  We must also see our musical instruments as supplementary tools for building God’s people.