Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Keep Music in Its Place?
“I THINK it’s built into us to like music,” says a youth named Jackie, “because it can express how you feel. It’s a pretty big part of your life when you are young.”
Jackie is right. While youths seem to be particularly drawn to music, a capacity to enjoy melody and harmony appears to be built into all of us. And you have only to hear the cheerful melody of a songbird or the soothing rhythm of lapping waves to know that music is a loving gift from our happy Creator. (1 Timothy 1:11; James 1:17) Nevertheless, it is a gift that is often misused. In fact, if music is not kept in its place, it can do you more harm than good.
Hooked on Music?
Good music can be healthy, beneficial. However, too much of even a good thing can be bad for you. A wise proverb warns: “Is it honey that you have found? Eat what is sufficient for you, that you may not take too much of it and have to vomit it up.” (Proverbs 25:16) Honey has well-known curative properties. Yet, “the eating of too much honey is not good” and can nauseate you. (Proverbs 25:27) The point? Good things should be enjoyed in moderation.
Music virtually dominates the lives of some youths, however. For example, a young woman named Jodie confesses that as a teenager, she “basically had music on all the time.” Do you likewise try to fill every waking moment with sound? Then what you may excuse as music appreciation may be more like music addiction.
A youth named Steve recalls: “I went to school with kids who even listened to music in class.” However, he admits: “Keeping Walkman [headphones] in their ears really hurt their study.” Similarly, do you find yourself playing distracting music even when doing your homework? And what about those times set aside for studying the Bible or preparing for Christian meetings? Is the beat of your favorite song playing in the background?
Take a look, too, at how much it costs you to keep up with all the latest music releases. How much of your earnings or allowance is presently being spent on records, cassette tapes, or compact discs? Could some of that money be put to better use?
What about family relationships? Are you involved in family conversations, present at family meals—or do you stay in your room listening to music? The Bible cautions: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.”—Proverbs 18:1.
Modifying Your Listening Habits
If music is taking too much of a bite out of your personal life, you would do well to consider the words at Ephesians 5:15, 16: “Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked.” This may involve setting yourself some limits and being more moderate in your listening habits. (Compare 1 Timothy 3:2.) For example, you may need to break a habit of turning music on the minute you get home. Learn to savor some periods of silence.
At the very least, doing so may help your grades. Periods of quiet are conducive to study. Now, you may feel that having music playing helps you relax. But why not try studying without music, and see if your concentration improves? “You may be able to get your studies done [with music],” says young Steve, “but you’ll get a whole lot more out of them if the music is off.”
You will also want to buy out, or schedule, time for reading and studying the Bible and Bible-based publications. Jesus Christ at times sought out a quiet, “lonely place” for prayer and meditation. (Mark 1:35) Is your study environment similarly quiet and peaceful? If not, you may be stifling your spiritual growth.
Learning to Think for Yourself
Perhaps the greatest area of concern, though, is the kind of music you listen to. Steve puts it this way: “Why do all the good tunes get saved for the really ugly lyrics?” In Bible times, there were songs that promoted heavy drinking and prostitution. (Psalm 69:12; Isaiah 23:15, 16) Similarly, a good deal of today’s popular music promotes drug abuse, premarital sex, and violence.a
Peers may put tremendous pressure on you to listen to such music. There is also pressure from the music industry itself. With the help of radio and television, rock music has become a powerful, multibillion-dollar industry. High-powered marketing experts are hired to shape—and control—your musical taste.
But when you let your peers or the media dictate what you listen to, you lose your power of choice. You become a mindless slave. (Romans 6:16) The Bible urges us to think for ourselves. It tells us to “keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10) Certainly we could not expect the Christian congregation to scrutinize the thousands of songs released each year and provide a list of approved or banned musical selections. No, you must train your own “perceptive powers . . . to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Hebrews 5:14.
How can you do so? Well, consider the following suggestions:
Examine the Packaging: Often, one look at the packaging or promotional material is enough. Sexually explicit, violent, or occult images should be a warning. The music inside is probably just as objectionable. If possible, read the jacket notes.
Check Out the Content: ‘Test out the words’ of a song by considering the titles and lyrics. (Job 12:11) What are they saying? Do you really want to be listening to or repeating these ideas over and over again? Are these thoughts in harmony with your values and with Christian principles?—Ephesians 5:3-5.
Notice the Effect: What is the overall impact on you? Does the music tend to depress you or overexcite you? Do you find yourself dwelling on wrong thoughts after hearing it? Are slang expressions used in the music starting to creep into your conversation?—1 Corinthians 15:33.
Consider Others: How do your parents feel about your music? Ask their opinion. Think, too, of how fellow Christians might feel about your music. Might some be disturbed by it?—Romans 15:1, 2.
Broadening Out in Your Musical Taste
It may be that you need to make some changes in your musical taste. But since taste is acquired, it can be changed. Says one prominent musician: “Most kids have never been in contact with anything other than this highly merchandised stuff.” The solution? Don’t limit yourself to just one style of music. Try expanding your musical taste.
Of course, you still need to be selective. But within the realms of folk, jazz, and, yes, classical music, there is an abundance of wholesome music that you can learn to enjoy. In fact, you may already enjoy such music without realizing it. Classical music, for example, may have set the mood for some of your favorite films and television shows. Think of how enjoyable that music might be if you heard it without distraction.
Some Christian youths have begun adjusting their musical tastes by listening to the Kingdom Melodies tapes produced by the Watch Tower Society. These melodies, familiar to all of Jehovah’s Witnesses, incorporate a variety of wholesome musical styles. There are various forms of good music that friends may recommend. “One friend taught me to appreciate orchestral music—like Beethoven,” says Michelle. “I used to hate it,” she admits.
Another way to broaden out is to learn to play a musical instrument yourself. Not only can this be challenging and satisfying, but it may expose you to other forms of music besides rock. “Playing music is really nice,” says Jackie, “because you have a talent and you are using it.” With some effort you may even be able to provide wholesome entertainment for others.
Music is truly a gift from God, but you must take care not to misuse it. One youth admits: “I have music that I know I’m supposed to throw out. But it sounds so good.” Think of the harm, though, that this youth does to mind and heart by listening to what is bad! Avoid that snare. Don’t let music corrupt you or take over your life. Hold to high Christian standards in your music. Pray for God’s guidance and help in choosing your music. Seek out companions who share your convictions.—Romans 12:2, 12.
Music can help you relax and unwind. It can help fill the void when you are lonely. But when it stops, your problems are still there. And songs are no substitute for real friends. So don’t allow music to become the big thing in your life. Enjoy it, but keep it in its place.
a See the February 8 and February 22, 1993, issues of Awake!
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Is music interfering with your studies?