History of Instrumental Music

William Woodson (Th.D) is an accomplished Bible scholar whose labors have blessed thousands for more than forty years. He has served as the head of the Bible department at one university, and the director of graduate studies in another. He has written scores of articles and authored or co-authored several books, including a volume on the theme of instrumental music in Christian worship. Though retired from the formal university environment, he still conducts seminars and writes prolifically. We are blessed to have him as a guest contributor for this month’s Feature. This article first appeared in The Spiritual Sword, January, 1993. Used by Permission.

As insightful and interesting as religious history is, it is important to note that Scripture alone – not religious history – gives the proper instruction for understanding and observing God’s will. Religious history, however, can yield valuable insights when one observes how a particular biblical topic or issue concerning church practice was handled in succeeding eras of development. With these observations in mind, the present article summarizes the history of instrumental music in worship over the centuries.

New Testament History
It is crucially important to observe that although instrumental music of various types was readily available in contemporary society, no passage shows that the churches mentioned in the New Testament ever used instrumental music in worship. Did they not understand the true meaning of the Old Testament, particularly Psalms? Did they not understand the meaning of various words, such as psallo, etc., so often discussed pro and con in contemporary debates? Did they not know the Jewish practices, both in the temple and in the synagogues? Did they not know the mind of God? Most certainly, on all these questions and much more. Yet, there is not even a hint of the use of instrumental music in the worship of these churches.

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These facts of New Testament history stand as a stone barricade against any attempted justification of the use of instrumental music in worship today. If present appeals to the Old Testament, i.e., psallo, the temple or synagogue practice, etc., legitimately warrant such use, why did the apostles and brethren in the first century not so understand and incorporate instrumental music into the worship of these churches? Such facts are not lightly to be dismissed or forgotten.

Early Church History
The several general periods of religious history, from the close of the New Testament until the present, have been searched many times from many viewpoints. These searches yield one significant fact for the present topic, which is clear and unassailable: Instrumental music in worship within churches professing to serve Christ did not emerge until hundreds of years after the close of the New Testament.

These centuries display various departures in doctrine and church organization [such as the practice of infant baptism, the emergence of a bishop versus the plurality of bishops in the oversight of a single church, etc.] over the years. These continuing departures from New Testament teaching issued from the Roman Catholic, the Greek Orthodox, and other nationalistic churches as well as the various heresies and schisms which litter the centuries of Christian history.

In the midst of these spiraling changes from the simplicity of the New Testament to the complexities of the doctrines and practices of medieval religious life and thought, it is important to note that the use of instrumental music in church worship was not evidenced until several centuries after the close of Scripture.

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The general dates of the adoption of instrumental music in worship vary with the historian, but all agree it was centuries after the New Testament was completed. A historical summary published elsewhere will provide more details (Woodson, pp. 7-10), but a few observations are in order. M.C. Kurfees cited older historians and encyclopists who dated the introduction of instrumental music in church worship from the early 600s (pp. 158-178).

The most thorough sifting of the evidence was made by James McKinnon. McKinnon noted a “polemic” of the “church fathers” against musical instruments during and after the third and fourth centuries because they were “a symbol of lasciviousness and debauchery” (p. 2). He also noted that, while this polemic was present in these and succeeding centuries, “early Christian music was vocal” (p. 2). After detailed survey of the evidence, his conclusions are significant.

McKinnon stated that in the patristic period “the issue of instruments in church was never raised” (p. 263). Concerning musical instruments, he observed that “the strongest possible evidence” shows “that they were not used in the early Church” (p. 264). Later he stated “the simple fact [was] that they [musical instruments] were not used in the patristic period” (p. 268). He maintained that the organ was the first instrument to be introduced into the worship service and the next was the trumpet. His conclusion concerning the introduction of the organ, following the work of Edmund Bowles, was: “It appeared with some frequency during the period from 1000 to 1300 while in the later middle ages its use continued to spread until it was nearly universal” (p. 269). He noted accounts of an organ being sent from Byzantium to Pippin [Pippin the Short, ruler of the Franks (741-768)] in 757, and another to Charlemagne [Charles the Great (742-814), first emperor of the “Holy Roman Empire”] in 812. The reactions of curiosity and awe concerning these organs indicated “they did not exist in Gaul during the centuries immediately preceding their arrival from the East” (p. 276). In a few decades organs were being used in monastery schools to give instruction in the musica, part of the quadrivium in what would now be termed the liberal arts studies. Then, following the tenth century, the use of the organ made its way into the churches as noted above.

Eric Werner gave a different date concerning the introduction of instrumental music in the churches. He concluded that the third century was the “turning point in the Church’s attitude toward instrumental music; it was tolerated, not welcomed” (p. xx:431).

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Whenever the specific period of introduction was, and McKinnon’s conclusions seem more reliable, the fact remains that even by the earliest account the introduction of instrumental music in church worship was not evidenced until hundreds of years after the close of the New Testament. This fact cannot be wished away.

In view of this, how can one account for the absence of such use in the churches of the New Testament period, and even the several immediately succeeding centuries? Did they not have access to the same information which is urged by contemporaries in attempting to justify such use? Why did these students of Scripture in the first and immediately succeeding centuries fail to understand the propriety of, and consequently put into practice, the use of instrumental music in worship as is alleged now to be warranted by the same materials which were open to them?

Restoration History Concerning Instrumental Music
A recent study of this historical development has been presented in the book Sounding Brass and Clanging Cymbals. The earliest reference presently available indicated a question of the propriety of introducing instrumental music in worship arose in 1849 (p. 19). A few scattered references are found during the 1850s, but the first well documented use of the instrument was in 1859 in Midway, Kentucky, under the leadership of L.L. Pinkerton (pp. 21,22).

Following the Civil War, instrumental music in worship began to be introduced first in a few, then in more and more of the churches in the restoration movement. With the introduction of the instrument also came the resistance and controversy, which its opponents readily provided.

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A statement more insightful than the words of J.W. McGarvey in 1868, regarding the coming controversy, would be difficult to find. In response to A.S. Hayden’s attempted justification of its use as an expression of expediency and progress, McGarvey stated: “you know that such are the convictions of a very large number of the best and most intelligent class of your brethren, that they will resist to the very last extremity the introduction of instrumental music in the worship, and that they will never, while they live, permit it to rest anywhere in peace” (p. 217).

The following years evidence the accuracy of McGarvey’s 1868 evaluation and forecast. Churches in various cities and towns experienced the introduction, resistance, and resultant controversy; various periodicals mirrored the widening discussions and consequently sharpening debates; church records documented the pattern of introduction, use, resistance, controversy, hardening of support and opposition, and ultimately division when the offending wedge was not withdrawn. And so the history unfolded.

As the 1890s closed and the present century opened, the discussions and divisions over instrumental music, along with other equally disputed matters, reached a crescendo that could not be ignored. In 1907 David Lipscomb explained the results in the following words:

“These disciples [with whom Lipscomb was associated] have separated from the ÃŽChristian Churches’ that grew out of the effort to restore pure primitive Christianity, by remaining true to the original purpose and the principles of fidelity to the word of God as the only sufficient rule of faith and practice of Christians. This seems to be as accurate an idea of the facts concerning these churches as I can give” (p. 457).
From these early days of our history until now, such convictions as were expressed by Lipscomb have been cherished and preserved.

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These convictions rest on the unassailable fact that no authority from God warrants instrumental music in the worship of the church. The best efforts of its defenders have failed to demonstrate this requisite justification. Their failure is made even more overwhelming when it is observed that until hundreds of years after the close of the New Testament there was no recorded use of instrumental music in church worship, and this condition prevailed amidst numerous changes from biblical doctrine and practice otherwise.

When these facts are coupled with the added fact that such use was foreign to the restoration movement for several decades and was only introduced and maintained amidst sustained controversy and division, the case is compelling against its use in worship. Consequently, advocates of instrumental music find utmost difficulties before them in attempting to justify such use in worship.



Who invented instrumental music? ›

In the late 1500s, English composer William Byrd wrote several complex instrumental pieces based on earlier forms of dance music. Perhaps the most common type of instrumental music during the Renaissance was the intabulation. This was an instrumental version of a piece of music originally composed for several voices.

What is the origin of musical instruments? ›

Images of musical instruments begin to appear in Mesopotamian artifacts in 2800 BC or earlier. Beginning around 2000 BC, Sumerian and Babylonian cultures began delineating two distinct classes of musical instruments due to division of labor and the evolving class system.

What is instrumental music? ›

adjective [ADJECTIVE noun] Instrumental music is performed by instruments and not by voices. ... a recording of vocal and instrumental music. Instrumentals are pieces of instrumental music.

Why was the instrumental music important? ›

Music is the Key to Creativity.

Listening to instrumental music challenges one to listen and tell a story about what one hears. In the same sense, playing a musical instrument gives you the ability to tell the story without words.

What is the characteristics of instrumental music? ›

An instrumental is a recording normally without any vocals, although it might include some inarticulate vocals, such as shouted backup vocals in a big band setting. Through semantic widening, a broader sense of the word song may refer to instrumentals.

What are the 6 instrumental music in history? ›

The main kinds of instrumental music were the sonata, trio, string quartet, quintet, symphony, concerto (usually for a virtuoso solo instrument accompanied by orchestra), and light pieces such as serenades and divertimentos. Sonata form developed and became the most important form.

What is the brief history of music? ›

Music first arose in the Paleolithic period, though it remains unclear as to whether this was the Middle (300,000 to 50,000 BP) or Upper Paleolithic (50,000 to 12,000 BP). The vast majority of Paleolithic instruments have been found in Europe and date to the Upper Paleolithic.

What are the oldest musical instruments? ›

The discovery pushes back humanity's musical roots. A vulture-bone flute discovered in a European cave is likely the world's oldest recognizable musical instrument and pushes back humanity's musical roots, a new study says.

When did instrumental music start? ›

Instrumental music as a separate genre emerged in the 16th century, gaining considerable momentum in the 17th through a variety of idiomatic pieces. Increased attention to technical fluency was accompanied by greater complexity and sophistication in the instruments themselves.

What is another name for instrumental music? ›

What is another word for instrumental?
musicpleasing to the ear
59 more rows

Is instrumental music classical? ›

To some, all classical music, vocal or not, is instrumental. To others, instrumental music means without vocals, so only some classical music qualifies. To others there is no difference between them, since both genres are produced on instruments.

How was the instrumental music used then? ›

They were used for dances and to accompany vocal music. Instrumental music remained subordinated to vocal music, and much of its repertory was in varying ways derived from or dependent on vocal models.

How does instrumental music make you feel? ›

Although it is abstract and nonrepresentational, instrumental music evokes rich subjective experiences. In response to music, people report feeling chills, shivers down their spine, laughter, tears, goose bumps, lumps in their throat, and rushes of adrenaline (23–27).

What kind of music has instrumental music? ›

Classical music has many forms that are typically instrumental. Forms such as concerto, sonata, and symphony, typically do not involve vocals. Classical music uses many different instruments from all the branches of the musical instrument family tree, such as brass, wind, percussion, and string instruments.

What is an example of instrumental? ›

An example of an instrumental is a part of a song that has all instruments and no lyrics. Instrumental is defined as necessary or helpful, or relating to musical instruments. An example of something instrumental is a strong mathematical ability to winning a math bee.

Why do some people prefer instrumental music? ›

A new study supports earlier suspicions of a link between intelligence and non-vocal music. This may have to do with a taste for novel experiences way back on the savannah. Purely instrumental music may simply be more fresh for brainiacs.

What is the oldest musical instrument discovered? ›

The oldest musical instrument in the world (60,000 years)

The oldest musical instrument in the world, a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal flute is a treasure of global significance. It was discovered in Divje babe cave near Cerkno and has been declared by experts to have been made by Neanderthals.

What are the 4 main periods in the history of music? ›

Here's a quick guide to the four key periods we usually learn about in music theory: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century and beyond.

What are the 7 eras of classical music? ›

  • Early Music – Till 1400.
  • Renaissance – 1400-1600.
  • Baroque – 1600-1750.
  • Classical – 1750-1830.
  • Romantic – 1830-1900.
  • 20th Century – 1900-2000.
  • Modern – 2000-present.
29 Mar 2021

How was the origin of music started? ›

The origin of music could be traced to the production of speech, human communication, work rhythms, play rhythms, clapping, mimicries, singing, human sound, the roaring of waves or oceans, blacksmiths, harmer, and anvil, and environmental sounds.

How did music begin? ›

Humans used different noises to express fear or joy. These sounds, along with some of the sounds they heard from animals, such as birds' chirping, might have led them to make music. When people began to use tools, for instance to pound grains, they may have done so in a rhythm, or a regular pattern.

Who is the father of music? ›

After being orphaned at the age of 10, he lived for five years with his eldest brother Johann Christoph, after which he continued his musical education in Lüneburg.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Born21 March 1685 (O.S.) 31 March 1685 (N.S.) Eisenach
Died28 July 1750 (aged 65) Leipzig
WorksList of compositions
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What are the 2 types of instrumental music? ›

Instrumental composers borrowed many elements from new vocal idioms. The two most prevalent types of instrumental music in the seventeenth century were music for ensembles and music for solo lute or keyboard.

What are the 7 classifications of musical instruments? ›

  • Bowed Strings.
  • Woodwind.
  • Brass Instruments.
  • Percussion instruments.
  • Keyboard instruments.
  • Guitar family.

What are the 4 main types of musical instruments? ›

musical instrument, any device for producing a musical sound. The principal types of such instruments, classified by the method of producing sound, are percussion, stringed, keyboard, wind, and electronic.

What is the oldest family of instruments? ›

The flute is the oldest of all instruments that produce pitched sounds (not just rhythms), and was originally made from wood, stone, clay or hollow reeds like bamboo. Modern flutes are made of silver, gold or platinum; there are generally 2 to 4 flutes in an orchestra.

What was the first music? ›

Hurrian Hymn No. 6” is considered the world's earliest melody, but the oldest musical composition to have survived in its entirety is a first century A.D. Greek tune known as the “Seikilos Epitaph.” The song was found engraved on an ancient marble column used to mark a woman's gravesite in Turkey.

How many musical instruments exist? ›

5 Tuneful Origins of Celebrated Musical Instruments – Did you know there are over 1,500 musical instruments? These musical instruments are broken down into six major categories. The musical instrument categories include bowed strings, woodwind, brass, percussion, keyboard, and the guitar family.

Where in the Bible does it say not to play instruments? ›

Hicks goes further, calling the matter an issue of salvation and insisting instruments are the man-made practices exhorted against in Colossians 2:22-23, he said. Humming, clapping and other wordless melodious noise-making are also forbidden, he said.

Why was the instrumental music important during the Renaissance period? ›

Instrumental music had always been important for dancing, and this trend continued in great proportions during the Renaissance. Dancing was important socially, and as time progressed, more and more intricate dances were developed. As such, they needed more intricate dance music, complete with many instruments.

When was instrumental music introduced to the church? ›

This being the case, exactly when did the instrument become a part of Christian worship? Most reference works ascribe the introduction of the instrument into worship to Pope Vitalian I (657-672):

What is the synonym of instrumental? ›

synonyms for instrumental
  • involved.
  • active.
  • auxiliary.
  • conducive.
  • contributory.
  • helpful.
  • helping.
  • of help.

How do you use instrumental in a sentence? ›

Instrumental sentence example. He was largely instrumental in the work of strengthening the Church. The government operating in its correct role is instrumental to civilization. The prince de Ligne claimed to have been instrumental in arranging it.

What is the common words of monumental? ›

synonyms for monumental
  • awesome.
  • enduring.
  • enormous.
  • fantastic.
  • gigantic.
  • grand.
  • great.
  • historic.

Whats the difference between classical and instrumental? ›

The main difference between classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning is that classical conditioning involves involuntary behaviour, whereas instrumental conditioning involves voluntary behaviour.

What is the main form of instrumental compositions? ›

During this period, composers, established the main forms of instrumental music – the sonata, string quartet, concerto, and symphony. Instrumental music was dominated by the piano, which evolved into a highly expressive instrument, inspiring composers to produce great solo works.

What are the instrumental forms of classical music? ›

Important forms of the Classical period include the string quartet, opera (including opera buffa and opera seria), trio sonata, symphony (traditionally written in sonata form), string quartet, and solo concertos for a variety of instruments. These musical forms have several elements in common.

Where in the Bible does it say not to play instruments? ›

Hicks goes further, calling the matter an issue of salvation and insisting instruments are the man-made practices exhorted against in Colossians 2:22-23, he said. Humming, clapping and other wordless melodious noise-making are also forbidden, he said.

What musical instrument did Benjamin Franklin invent? ›

In 1761 Benjamin Franklin invented the armonica (often referred to as the glass harmonica), an instrument designed to simplify the playing of the musical glasses.

When was instrumental music first used in worship? ›

The introduction of church organ music is traditionally believed to date from the time of the papacy of Pope Vitalian in the 7th century.

What is the oldest instrument ever found? ›

The oldest musical instrument in the world, a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal flute is a treasure of global significance. It was discovered in Divje babe cave near Cerkno and has been declared by experts to have been made by Neanderthals. It is made from the left thighbone of a young cave bear and has four pierced holes.

Are musical instruments allowed in worship? ›

Indeed, God commands the use of musical instruments in worship over and over again. Both grace and law join hands in beautifying worship with instrumentation. Scripture says, “Sing to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn” (Ps. 98:5-6).

Who was the first musician in the Bible? ›

Answer and Explanation: The first musician in the Bible was Jubal, the son of Lamech. In Genesis 4:21, he is described as 'the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes'.

Does the Bible mention musical instruments? ›

An example of some instruments mentioned in the bible can be found in Daniel 3:5: that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music...

Who invented piano? ›

The first true piano was invented almost entirely by one man—Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731) of Padua, who had been appointed in 1688 to the Florentine court of Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici to care for its harpsichords and eventually for its entire collection of musical instruments.

Why was the glass harmonica banned? ›

The Armonica was accused of causing evils such as nervous disorder, domestic squabbles, premature deliveries, fatal disorders, animal's convulsions. The instrument was even banned from a German town by police decision for ruining the health of people and disturbing public order (a child died during a concert).

Who invented the harmonica? ›

harmonica, either of two musical instruments, the friction-sounded glass harmonica or a mouth organ, a free-reed wind instrument whose invention is often attributed to Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann (maker of the Mundäoline, Berlin, c. 1821).

Why did the Church frowned on instruments? ›

The church frowned on instruments because of their earlier role in pagan rites. 5. However, after 1100, organs and bells became increasingly common in cathedrals and monastic churches.

Who introduced music to the Church? ›

Music in the early history of the church

The only music that was allowed in churches was singing. In the 4th century Bishop Ambrosius of Milan introduced the antiphon and encouraged newly composed hymns. Psalms were an important part of the early Christian worship.

What is the instrument is mostly used in church music? ›

As to the use of instruments in sacrament meeting, the Guide indicates: “Organs and pianos are the standard instruments used in sacrament meetings. Other instruments such as orchestral strings may be used. Brass and percussion instruments are not appropriate.”

What is the oldest family of instruments? ›

The flute is the oldest of all instruments that produce pitched sounds (not just rhythms), and was originally made from wood, stone, clay or hollow reeds like bamboo. Modern flutes are made of silver, gold or platinum; there are generally 2 to 4 flutes in an orchestra.

What is the first song in history? ›

Hurrian Hymn No. 6” is considered the world's earliest melody, but the oldest musical composition to have survived in its entirety is a first century A.D. Greek tune known as the “Seikilos Epitaph.” The song was found engraved on an ancient marble column used to mark a woman's gravesite in Turkey.


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