Does Melody Matter?

If you grew up going to church, chances are good that one of the first songs you learned was “Jesus Loves Me.” It’s a simple melody, but it carries some important truths. And because those truths are set to music, they can be easily memorized, rehearsed, and shared, even by very young children. The lesson for church music in a broader sense is this: Melody matters.

Why is Melody Important?

Scripture teaches us that one of the purposes for singing is to communicate truth to ourselves and to others. In Colossians 3:16, we are commanded to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…”  Before books were readily available, people passed knowledge down to the next generation orally, often using music to make memorization easier. Even today, most of us find it easier to memorize a passage of Scripture when it has been set to music.

But there’s a catch. Not all melodies are created equal.

What Makes a Good Melody?

Ephesians 5:18-19 admonishes us to “be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” If we are to be filled with the Spirit as Scripture teaches, then the melodies we sing must be designed to help us remember the truths they contain.

·       Melody should be prominent. If the melody is overpowered by the harmonic elements or the rhythm, then we will have a hard time remembering that melody later.

·       Melody should be appropriate. Melody sets the tone for the music. Therefore, it’s important that the mood of the melody matches the words that are being sung. For instance, if you are singing about Christ being raised from the dead, those triumphant words shouldn’t be paired with a sad, somber melody.

·       Melody should be memorable. The best melodies are those that are likable and that stick with you. You might find yourself humming them hours later as they return to memory long after the song has finished.

·       Melody should be singable.  By singable, I mean easily sung by most people in a congregation. There won’t be extremely high or extremely low notes, awkward leaps, or difficult rhythmic elements.

The more prominent, memorable, and singable a melody is, the better the chances that you’ll find yourself singing it later—and at the same time, remembering the truth that it conveys.

Why do we teach our children “Jesus Loves Me?” Because it’s a strong melody that conveys simple, but profound truths. As we evaluate the songs we sing in our churches and our homes, the ones that will most profoundly impact us are those with melodies that help us be filled with the Spirit by allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly.