The Privileged Life: The Smarts and Joys of Making Music

“You shall have a song as in the night when a holy festival is kept, and gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute, to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the Mighty One of Israel.” (Isaiah 20:39)

Did you know that playing music could possibly make you smarter?

I’m not talking about plugging in earphones and listening to a playlist. I mean performing music—on an instrument or with your voice. 

Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist who became famous for his “awakenings” of comatose patients (see the movie with Robin Williams for that story), wrote a fascinating book called Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

Sacks believed that learning to play a musical instrument stimulates brain pathways and development, particularly in young children. He also conjectured that music is as integral to our brains as language. Music is certainly mathematical and structured, qualities that help our brains process and retain information.

I don’t know about you, but if making music improves brain function, I’ll grasp at any opportunity to hold onto my rapidly declining intellectual skills!

Creating music is already a fun and rewarding endeavor. When our Lord made us in His own image, He endowed us with an extraordinary capacity for making music, something that gives us (and Him) great pleasure when it is lovely. The cerebral benefit is just icing on the cake.

The Bible overflows with musical references, especially in the Psalms. King David called skilled musicians into service for the house of the Lord, playing harps, stringed instruments, and horns (1 Chronicles 25). Among other instruments mentioned in Scriptures are cymbals, trumpets, drums, flutes, bells, lyres, and tambourines or timbrels (see Miriam’s song in Exodus 15). 

God commands us to praise Him in song—an integral part of worship in almost every Christian church around the world. “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn….” (Psalm 98:4-6a)

For my part, I play flute during Sunday services at our church…it’s joyful and terrifying at the same time as I feebly attempt to stay away from sour notes! I’m not an accomplished musician (my flute training ended in high school), but I’m surrounded by incredible professionals on our church music team. They challenge me to practice, advance my skills, and savor the privilege of accompanying them in their stellar musicianship. At Easter, I felt as if I were in “surround sound” while the choir and orchestra performed Handel’s “Hallelujah” Chorus from The Messiah!

Perhaps you’re like me, someone who played a musical instrument in the past, but you put it aside for a while. My challenge to you is to pick it back up. Try your hand at creating music again…with an aim to use it for God’s glory. Grab a hymnal or some digital sheet music online and have an impromptu jam session for others or for God alone. Join your church’s music crew, if possible.

Let me assure you that it’s not too late. My husband had always wanted to play the banjo—which is a tough instrument to learn from scratch. I gave him a used one for Christmas several years ago, and he took lessons to get started. He’s not ready for prime time, but he has sure enjoyed playing gospel hymns, “pickin’ and grinnin’” as they say here in east Tennessee bluegrass country. 

So, dust off that old instrument case, and let God’s music bring your skills to life again. Even if you don’t become any “smarter,” you will certainly find a soul-stirring joy in lifting up an offering to Christ. Come join the melody of celebration for our great King!

And let me know what musical instruments you can still play!!

Amazing God, Master of all music, how we praise You in song and on instruments to bring You glory. Fill our hearts with Your praise, using the talents and gifts You have provided. Enable and inspire us to make melodies that will lift others up as well. In Your power and with all praise to You, Jesus, Amen.

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© Copyright 2022 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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