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There are clear biblical principles that are to be applied to every aspect of the Christian life, including music, and by examining these biblical principles we can to discern spiritual from worldly music.
We listed principles of biblical separation in the chapter on rhythm, and the same principles apply to vocal styles, so we will repeat them here.
• Spiritual music is music that is not conformed to the world (Romans 12:2).
• Spiritual music is music that is not according to the realm of spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1).
• Spiritual music is music that is not according to the course of this world (Ephesians 2:2).
• Spiritual music is music that is not according to the desires of the flesh and of the old mind (Ephesians 2:3).
• Spiritual music is music that is not according to the vanity and the darkened understanding of the old mind (Ephesians 4:17-19).
• Spiritual music is music that is unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
• Spiritual music is music that is not in friendship with the world (James 4:4).
• Spiritual music is music that does not pertain to the “former lusts” (1 Peter 1:13-15).
• Spiritual music is music that does not pertain to the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
The world’s pop music has long employed singing techniques that add a strong sensual or fleshly element. It is physical, appealing to the body. It appeals to and stirs up sensual emotions. It is sexual. The world readily acknowledges this, and the world loves these styles because of the sensual, sexual effect.
Christian artists who borrow from the world’s music also borrow the world’s singing techniques. This is true both in the realm of Contemporary Christian Music and Southern Gospel, but it is not wise or godly.
In the past, there were Southern Gospel groups that didn’t use the world’s vocal techniques. They hit the notes cleanly and did not try to distort their voices. An example is the old Chuck Wagon Gang.
* Chuck Wagon Gang (video)
We could also give examples from the shape-note singing movement. It emphasized simple harmony and rhythm that were not adapted from the world of licentious dancing and drinking. The rhythms were straight. The vocalizing was also straight, meaning the notes were hit in a simple, clean manner. There was no sensual element. It was spiritual and not conformed to the world (Romans 12:2).
* Shape note singing Rutherfordton, North Carolina * Shape note singing Mt. Zion, Kentucky
Vocal Sliding and Scooping
Vocal sliding is slipping and sliding the voice between notes. It is also called glissando.
Scooping is attacking a note from above or below its true pitch instead of hitting the note cleanly and directly. It is singing “unnecessary pitches below the first note or below the second one.” It is also called flipping.
These techniques are often used together.
* Scooping and sliding “In Christ Alone”
These techniques add a greater element of sensuality and emotionalism to the music.
The 1940s book How to Sing for Money said, “Scooping is a common practice ... as a swing effect” (Charles Henderson, p. 36).
Thus, the scooping technique was created as part of the commercial dance music scene, and it works with the jerky syncopated rhythm to create the sensual atmosphere that modern dancers desire.
Musicologist Walter Everett identifies the sensuality of this technique. He says, “Many rock vocalists reach out to their audience largely through the PHYSICALITY of their singing” (The Foundations of Rock: From “Blue Suede Shoes” to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” 2008).
“Sliding gives the word some grit and attitude” (Molly’s Music).
Scooping has even been described as “sexual utterances” (Charles Brown, The Art of Rock & Roll, 1983, p. 68).
One would think that Christian vocalists would want to get as far from “sexual utterances” as possible!
Elvis Presley and countless other pop sex gods and goddesses have used these techniques to great sensual effect, but never to a godly effect.
Regarding scooping and sliding, Dr. Frank Garlock warns:
“The identical methods employed by the world to make the sound sensual are now being used by many popular contemporary Christian music vocalists. Yet many Christians either do not realize or deliberately ignore the fact that this is no longer ministry, but pure, sensual, flesh-gratifying entertainment. ... Scooping is one of the most popular methods of producing a dance hall effect. ... A second characteristic of a worldly sound is flipping below and above the actual written melody line. Listen again to Henderson as he comments on this technique: ‘The classically trained singer has an ingrained respect for any written melody, and hesitates to tamper with it. The born swinger, on the other hand, looks on written melody as simply a convenient starting point for his variations’ (Charles Henderson, How to Sing for Money, 1940, p. 85). Is sacred music meant to swing?” (Frank Garlock and Kurt Woetzel, Music in the Balance, 1992, pp. 83, 94).
Dr. Garlock identifies the scooping and sliding techniques as sensual swing effects that have no role in sacred Christian music. As we have seen, the word “sacred” means “spiritual,” which is the opposite of worldly.
Walter Everett observes further, “Classical singers traditionally strive for constant beauty of tone, but this is rarely of interest to rock vocalists, who reject the dogma of there being one ‘right’ way to do anything” (The Foundations of Rock).
This is a telling statement by a secular musicologist. Note that rock vocalists don’t care about beauty of tone, but God’s people should strive for beauty in everything because we serve the God of beauty and order, and we are singing about His lovely character.
Further, rock singers contort their voices and slip and slide around the notes because they have rejected absolute truth. Their singing style reflects the philosophy of moral relativism which permeates modern pop music.
The world’s style of singing reflects the licentious rock philosophy, regardless if it is used by Christians or non-Christians, liberals, emergents, evangelicals, charismatics, or fundamentalists.
Dr. Frank Garlock observes,
“The identical methods employed by the world to make the sound sensual are now being used by many popular contemporary Christian vocalists. These techniques include swaying and dancing, scooping, vocal sliding, flipping below and above the actual written melody, whispery, breathy voice, and delayed vibrato. The style itself reflects and projects a philosophy.”
Vocal scooping and sliding is not only sensual and reflects a relativistic philosophy, it also draws attention to the singer, which is another major element of both secular pop, contemporary Southern Gospel, and contemporary Christian music.
Consider the comments posted at the YouTube rendition of “In Christ Alone” which we linked to earlier. The comments call attention to the singer and her voice rather than to the message.
“Beautiful voice.” “What a great voice you have.” “You got a great voice!” “You are wonderfully gifted!!!” “Love your voice!!”
By this technique, attention is immediately drawn to the singer, which is what the world is seeking, but it is not a godly practice in the worship of a thrice-holy God who has proclaimed that He will not give His glory to others.
“For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? AND I WILL NOT GIVE MY GLORY UNTO ANOTHER” (Isaiah 48:11).
Christian musicians who in any sense share in God’s glory while supposedly singing for His honor are committing a great sin.
Yet by aping the world, the very presentation style, technique, and environment of contemporary worship lends itself to exactly that. The singers and musicians are prominently displayed before the congregation. The auditorium is often darkened and spotlights are used to draw more attention to the singers and musicians. Typically the lead singers are attractive people; their dress fashions are sensual; their voices are “shown off”; they move to the music’s rhythm; their images are projected on large screens; there are close-ups of faces, tight shots of instruments, sweeping pans of the worship team.
This is precisely the same technique used in secular forums to glorify rock gods. Secular rock gods don’t say to themselves, “I’m going to go out there and bless my fans.” It’s not about blessing the fans; it’s about showing off the “artists.”
Modern technology produces the most intense glorification of musicians in human history.
Why are contemporary Christian singers and musicians so eager to ape the world?
Closely associated with scooping and sliding and flipping is improvisation. The vocalist uses his or her voice to improvise on the melody to enhance the rhythm and the sensuality of the music.
Again, it is a “swing effect” with its roots in the blues, jazz, and other forms of licentious music that birthed 1950s rock & roll. It’s about breaking rules.
Dr. Frank Garlock says,
“The word in contemporary music is improvisation. When an instrumentalist or vocalist improvises, he composes and performs simultaneously on the spur of the moment without any specific preparation. New Age music is also constructed on this idea. Charles Henderson writes: ‘Now, apart from the primitive, driving rhythm that lifts the fur on your spine and starts your feet tapping in spite of yourself, what is the outstanding feature of any hot band? The answer--IMPROVISATION--spur of the moment ‘faking’ on the written melody and rhythm’ (Henderson, How to Sing for Money, p. 159). In other words, ‘do you own thing,’ blend in, but not in any regimented, prescribed, or planned manner. Again, this same philosophy, which is teaching relativism and promoting music which exemplifies it, is the basis for the New Age Movement. This is the opposite of unity, the opposite of ‘one sound.’ ... It is a sound which is characterized by polarization and discord rather than oneness and unity. The sound of sacred music needs to be the opposite of the sound which was just described” (Music in the Balance, pp. 155, 156).
The queen of improvisation is Aretha Franklin. On Thanksgiving Day 2016 she took 4.5 minutes to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at a Detroit Lions football game because of the extensive improvisation.
* Aretha Franklin singing “Star Spangled Banner”
An example of vocal sliding and flipping and improvisation can be seen in the following video clip from the 2013 Christmas program of Lancaster Baptist Church, Lancaster, California:
* Lancaster scooping sliding
In this vocal technique, the microphone is held extremely close to the singer’s mouth and there is a breathiness behind the notes and tone.
It is also used to start a sound with a breathy onset.
The soft, breathy style gives a feeling of intimacy, sensuality, and sexuality. “It is a vocal effect that is used throughout contemporary music. ... It creates real intimacy. It’s very much like the singer is whispering” (“Using Breathy Tone in Your Singing,” Voice Council).
In The Art of Rock and Roll, Charles Brown describes the vocal tricks that Elvis Presley employed. “By softening his voice for certain passages he could create a personal effect, which made the women in the crowd feel that he was singing directly to them” (The Art of Rock and Roll, 1983, p. 68).
* Joy Williams “Do They See Jesus in Me?”
Another popular technique from pop music is vocal fry. It is also called vocal creaking, vocal rasp, popcorning, glottal scrape or rattle.
It is a throaty, rasping, creaking, croaking, distorted vocal sound typically used particularly at the beginning or of musical phrase. It isn’t a clear sound, but it is “a wavering inside the lowest range of the voice.”
It is sensual. It has been called “a sexy raspy voice” (Jade Joddle, speaking skills coach).
It “packs a raw, emotional punch in pop music” (“Vocal Fry,” gizmodo.com).
“It is used to give the impression of intimacy and nearness, or to indicate that the singer is about to break down emotionally and cannot go through with the song” (“Description and Sound of Creak,” CVT Research).
“It is used as an effect for heightening emotion. It brings a sense of intimacy” (“Using Creak or Vocal Fry in Your Singing,” Voice Council).
It also reflects the relativistic, “law breaker” character of the world’s music.
Vocal fry is used by popular rock singers such as Janis Joplin, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder.
* Joy Williams “Do They See Jesus in Me?”
Vocal fry is often found in Contemporary Christian Music and Southern Gospel because the singers are imitating the world of pop music, either wittingly or unwittingly.
The clip we played earlier by Joy Williams, which is filled with the breathy singing style, also has a lot of vocal fry.
* Joy Williams “Do They See Jesus in Me?”
Yet as we have seen, vocal sliding, scooping, improvisation, breathy tone, and vocal fry are all techniques that come from the sexualized world of pop music. They are used to create sensual effects in the listeners.
Things associated with sensuality and sexuality have no place in Christian music.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).
“Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Ephesians 2:2-3).
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19).
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:13-15).
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2).
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17).
The music of a holy God should contain no aspect of the world’s sensual ways. It is unholy confusion. It is sin. It is a reflection of the end-times “after their own lusts” apostasy (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
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