Principles of Music: Poison by Degrees

If you haven’t read our other articles on music, first read:
Principles of Music: Truth and Error


For behold, at that day shall he [the devil] rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. …

Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!

Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!

Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!”
(2 Nephi 28:20–22, 24–26)

The Prophet Nephi identified three ways that Satan would lead men astray in the last days:
1. Stir us up to anger against good
2. Lull us into carnal security to think ‘all is well’
3. Flatter us that there is no wrong, opposition, or punishment

Lehonti is a sad but perfect example of the truth of these words. Poisoned by degrees, he allowed himself to be flattered into a state of carnal security. His failure to recognize the cunning evil of his enemy cost him his life. He must have known since the very first dose that something was wrong, but, blind to his danger, didn’t speak up or make the changes that would have saved his life. His story is not just a lesson of how to avoid danger, but also of how quickly we must react when we recognize something is wrong.


The study of the words of the Lord on music reveals an undeniable principle: Rock and other hard music dulls our spiritual sensitivity and arouses degrading feelings by the inherent beat, volume, and repetition.


In our day music itself has been corrupted. Music can, by its tempo, by its beat, by its intensity, dull the spiritual sensitivity of men…


One of the signs of apostasy in the Christian churches today is the willingness of their ministers to compromise and introduce into what had been, theretofore, the most sacred religious meetings the music of the drug and the hard rock culture. Such music has little virtue and it is repellent to the Spirit of God. . . .


Someone said recently that no music could be degrading, that music in and of itself is harmless and innocent. If that be true, then there should be some explanation for circumstances where local leaders have provided a building—expansive, light, and inviting—and have assembled a party of young people dressed modestly, well-groomed, with manners to match. Then overamplified sounds of hard music are introduced and an influence pours into the room that is repellent to the Spirit of God.”
(Boyd K. Packer, “Inspiring Music–Worthy Thoughts,” Ensign, October 1973. p. 25)

In a general conference address titled ‘Satan’s Thrust – Youth’, Ezra Taft Benson named three specific traits of rock music that cause it to be so spiritually dangerous.

ezra taft benson

A letter from a concerned father about the evil effects of some popular music is one of many. I quote from this well-informed teacher of youth:


‘Music creates atmosphere. Atmosphere creates environment. Environment influences behavior. What are the mechanics of this process?


Rhythm is the most physical element in music. It is the only element in music that can exist in bodily movement without benefit of sound. A mind dulled by drugs or alcohol can still respond to the beat.


Loudness adds to muddling the mind. Sound magnified to the threshold of pain is of such physical violence as to block the higher processes of thought and reason. (And turning down the volume of this destructive music does not remove the other evils).


Repetition to the extreme is another primitive rock device…


The whole psychedelic design is a swinging door to drugs, sex, rebellion, and Godlessness…


What could be more misguided than fear that ‘if rock music were not endorsed by our leaders, we may lose many young people.’ (MIA music committee.) Even now we are losing them to the songs of Satan, drugs, sex, riot, and apostasy… You cannot compromise with evil. If you do, evil always wins…


The philosophy of relativism attacks the eternal principles of truth. The relativist will say, ‘If one sees filthy implications in a popular song, it is because he has a dirty mind.’ The logic of this philosophy finds its fallacy in the word implications. No filth is implied… it is proclaimed.


If there are any doubts as to the insidious evil of rock, you can judge by its fruits. The well-publicized perversions of its practitioners alone are enough to condemn its influence.”
(Richard Nibley) (“Satan’s Thrust – Youth”, Ezra Taft Benson, October 1971)

What makes the loudness, repetition, and beat of rock music dangerous? What is it about rock music that would cause (then) Elder Benson to identify rock as ‘the songs of Satan’? As a musician, I’d like to explain the answer.


Loudness is straightforward—the volume or audible level a song is played at. We’ve all had that stressful moment when we’re trying to do something and noisy music is driving us crazy. You might have even said “Turn that off! I can’t think!” Ezra Taft Benson stated that loudness “muddles the mind” and “blocks thought or reason”. Notice any similarity between this and the effects of alcohol? Science shows that sounds over the level of 95 dB delay mental and physical reactions, causing a person to be sluggish or have trouble thinking.

Repetition is also quite straightforward and easily understood. Even the best of things, once repeated to the extreme, can start producing negative consequences. Repetition in music drills the point or emphasis of the music into a listener. If the point of the music being repeated is boring or meaningless (like a young child banging out ‘Mary had a little Lamb’ over and over) the feelings of boredom are exaggerated and conveyed to the audience (a painful experience). It is the same for every other feeling expressed by music – anger, sensuality, rebellion, etc.

Rhythm is the beat, groove, and feel of a song. As any musician should be able to tell you, rhythm is the most basic part of a song and lays the foundation for how the entire piece will sound. Different rhythms create various sensations and convey entirely different messages. These beats often have specific musical names, such as 3-beat or waltz beat, 4-beat, 2-beat, or offbeat. Different rhythms are created by changing where the emphasis in the rhythm is located.


4-beat: Boom, boom, boom, boom, Boom, boom, boom, boom.

3-beat: Boom, boom, boom, Boom, boom, booom.

2-beat: Boom, boom, Boom, boom, Boom, boom, Boom, boom.

‘Rock beat’ is a term synonymous with ‘offbeat’. These terms refer to a rhythm where the emphasis is taken away from the first and third beats (called a downbeat) and instead placed on the offbeats – 2 and 4.

1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4.

Here is a sample of a basic rock beat by a drummer:

Why is this musical rhythm dangerous? Prophets have said it “appeals to the lower senses” (Harold B. Lee) and the scientific world also agrees with the prophets on the harmful effects or feelings caused by this rhythm. Studies show that rock music, specifically the beat, excites and stimulates the listener, causing feelings of anxiety, rebellion, and depression. Brain waves resonate with the beat of music, and our breathing and heart rate literally try to match that of the music we are listening to. Our bodies ‘move to the beat’ in ways that reflect the feelings the music creates. The astute observer needs see little of rock moves and poses to recognize the sexual and rebellious themes contained within.

Noticing a pattern? All three of the things Ezra Taft Benson targeted are shown both by individual experiences and science to have a negative impact, especially in one area: feelings.

Music of all kinds is powerful because it affects the way we feel. Philosophers throughout the ages have observed that music represents passions or states of the soul, both good and bad. The passion or feeling portrayed by the music is conveyed to you, causing you to experience the same feeling or passion. If you habitually listen to music that conveys degenerate feelings, you will become more inclined towards those passions. The words of the Lord through His prophets have solidified this theory:

harold b lee

Music in the Church of Jesus Christ is that to which every leader of youth should give his greatest concern to see that the wrong kinds of passions are not aroused by our introduction of sensuous music into our youth programs.”

The hellholes of Satan are always made very attractive. [They feature] enticing music of the kind that appeals to the lower senses. Now, there may be good rock music—I don’t know what it is—but there’s damnable rock music that appeals to the lower senses of man, where the offbeat [rock beat] is just as vile and abrasive to human thought as it can be. We say it to you, we plead with you to listen to the beautiful things, if you want to be on the right side.”
(Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 104, 203)

spencer w kimball

Musical sounds can be put together in such a way that they can express feelings-from the most profoundly exalted to the most abjectly vulgar. Or rather, these musical sounds induce in the listener feelings which he responds to.”
(Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 519.)


For demonstration purposes, the following is a classic rock song. This is not the official music video as I deemed the video content inappropriate for this site (even for a demonstration). I invite you, especially those of you who may be skeptical to the message of this article, to put the statement in the Strength of Youth pamphlet to the test. “Pay attention to how you feel when you are listening [to music].” Listen to at least the first part of the song and be acutely aware of your thoughts and feelings as you listen. How does this song make you feel? Are those feelings in harmony with celestial law (the law of Zion)? Does the music, aside from the lyrics, invite the spirit, or does it drive the spirit away? Does it “[invite] and [entice] to do good, and to love God, and to serve him” or does it “[invite] and [entice] to sin, and to do that which is evil continually”? (Moroni 7:12-13)

Now that you’ve listened, I invite you to take a moment and answer the questions I asked above the video. Write the answers down if you like. Do you feel the dark and sensuous nature of this song? One obvious sign of how a song makes you feel is how you or others would dance to it – would it be dignified and proper, or loose and sensual? The music video for this song contains plenty of lust-filled dance moves that portray the filthy influence this music has.

Now that you’ve listened to a “[song] of Satan, drugs, sex, riot, and apostasy”, contrast your previous feelings with the feelings you have as you listen to this next song.

Now, not to be biased here, take the time to answer the same questions you answered with the last song: How does this song make you feel? Are those feelings in harmony with celestial law (the law of Zion)? Does the music, aside from the lyrics, invite the spirit, or does the spirit drive it away? Does it “[invite] and [entice] to do good, and to love God, and to serve him” or does it “[invite] and [entice] to sin, and to do that which is evil continually”?

Do you feel the beautiful and pure nature of this song? I receive feelings of peace, reassurance, and spiritual strength every time I listen to this song. Is it the religious theme of the lyrics that makes it a ‘good’ song? I love the lyrics to this song – they are literally the words of scripture. But would the song still be a good song without any lyrics? Yes! The words are simply an addition to the music. Some music combines good lyrics with questionable or improper music. Does that make the song decent? Or maybe just ok? The words of the Lord’s prophets say no.

ezra taft benson

Religious rock is climbing up the ‘Top Ten’ charts. The growing resistance to the rock-drug scene is being diverted by this wholesome-appearing retreat from the new morality. But a review of religious rock materials unmasks an insidiously disguised anti-Christ. By reducing revealed religion to mythology, rock assumes the mantle of righteousness while rejecting the reality of sin. Without sin the new morality can continue in its Godless revel behind the pretense of religious robes.”
(“Satan’s Thrust – Youth”, Ezra Taft Benson, October 1971)

If rock songs with Christian lyrics qualify as an ‘anti-Christ’, then clearly, lyrics don’t make a song, the music does. Bad lyrics are definitely a deal-breaker, but good lyrics aren’t necessarily a deal-maker. The feelings carried by music are portrayed regardless of the lyrics. What better way, then, for Satan to confuse the faithful than to mix feelings of rebellion, anger, lust, anxiety, and depression into what is viewed as wholesome music because of good lyrics? Such music is all too common in our day and is only becoming more so.

Did you recognize the darkness portrayed by the rock rhythm, loudness, and repetition? Do you, like me, feel disgust for the feelings it portrays? Have you felt the spirit guiding your thoughts and feelings to know what is good or bad?

If you answered yes, are you ready to act on the truth you have received?

If you answered no, only one question remains.

Are you willing to trust the word of the Lord anyway?

dieter f uchtdorf

There are times when we have to step into the darkness in faith, confident that God will place solid ground beneath our feet once we do.”
(Dieter F. Uchtdorf,
The Why of Priesthood Service, Ensign, May 2012, 59)

Faith is trust in God that inspires to action. If you trust and have faith in the Lord, then you will act on what His prophets say.

How will you step into the darkness and follow their counsel?

How will you shine the light of faith and purity in a world of darkness?

How will you choose light and truth over darkness?

Share with us in the comments.

brigham young

Let us train our minds until we delight in that which is good, lovely and holy, seeking continually after that intelligence which will enable us effectually to build up Zion.” (Brigham Young, DBY, 247)



Further Reading:

Satan’s Thrust – Youth, Ezra Taft Benson

Inspiring Music–Worthy Thoughts, Boyd K. Packer

Music: Forgotten Language of the Heart, Joseph Smith Foundation

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