Brief History of
Today's Worship Songs
OT Psalmody:  responsorial chant:  leader sang a line, accompanied by instruments
("verse”), and the  congregation responded with another line (“chorus”). Instruments
were used extensively.  There is no evidence that the forms used were divinely
communicated to David from God, and they had counterparts in the cultures of the day.

NT Plainsong:  The church used the “plainsong” form, with responses between the
congregation and a cantor (leader), reflective of the synagogue worship of that time,
even when they met in homes.  Some of the songs were imitations of either Hebrew or
Greek poetic forms.  No instrument was  used, likely because it was impractical, but
there is also evidence of resistance to it because of instrument use by pagan religions
at the time.

An example of a hymn from the early church (found by archeologists):

O glad light of the Father Immortal,
And of the celestial, sacred and blessed Jesus, our Saviour!
Now to the sunset again you have brought us;
And, seeing the evening Twilight, we bless you, praise you, adore you !
Father omnipotent!
Son, the Life-giver!
Spirit, the Comforter!
Worthy at all times of worship and wonder!

300's   An "antiphon” was added to these “responsorial chants”, which is the ancestor
of what we now recognize as a standarized chorus, repeated after the verses.

500-1400's  Gregorian Chants added:  lyric based on scripture, no instrumentation.  
Composers added more and more complexity, until it was impossible for the
congregation (and many of the skilled singers!) to sing.  The lyrics were completely
lost in the rhythms and harmonies.  Organ accompaniment was eventually introduced
to sung worship.

1500's Composer Palestrina was commissioned to simplify the songs of the church,
which made it more congregational friendly and magnified the words.  Protestant
reformers, such as Martin Luther, also wrote songs in the vernacular during the
revolution, for use in smaller congregations, without harmonization or instruments.

1600's More songs based on individual religious feeling and less on direct scripture
quotations were being written, especially in the Methodist denomination.  American
settlers used unison and unaccompanied songs based on the Biblical Psalms.  
Simplicity was important to them.

1700's   Musical instruments began to appear more in the church.  Composers put
Christian lyrics to secular/popular tunes.  Along with hymns and anthems,  many
shorter songs (choruses) were birthed during this period.

1800-1900's The “Liturgical Movement”: the congregational songs were simple  and
often translated into new languages.  Pastors began to work with composers to set
religious texts to popular melodies.

1900's American traveling preachers used country-style songs, and this form of gospel
music gained popularity in the secular world beginning in the 1920s.  The roots of this
style was a  combination of black gospel, jazz, ragtime, and bluegrass (the latter has
Irish/Scotish folk music roots from European ancestry).  The popularity of this genre
for communicating the Gospel message spread in popularity around the world and has
maintained a prominent place to this day.

1920-1950's Basically, the western protestant churches used either country-based
gospel music or traditional hymnody.

1960's:  The rise in Broadway-style Christian musicals, youth rallies, and camp
settings influenced a significant change in church music.  Styles were based on what
the common man had access to on radio and commercial recordings.

1970's:  Based on youth musical stylings, emerging Christian recording artists, and
Catholic folk mass (eg of latter “They'll know we are Christians by Our Love").  
“Hippie” street musicians became Christians and joined Christian lyrics to their style
of music.  The most notable artists were Barry McGuire, Larry Norman, and Second
Chapter of Acts.

1980's:  Rock and metal music forms also found a home in the church.  The four most
influential groups were Petra (rock), Bloodgood (metal), and Undercover (punk).

1990's:    Rock and metal and country continued, but were joined by other styles:  rap,
reggae, urban gospel, techno, and “pop”.  

2000's:   The central idea begun in the 1960's remains:  the music styles of  the
masses are used for communicating the gospel message. However, on the whole, we
appear to be composing or choosing songs that are too complicated for the average
congregrant, as was the case in the 500's through 1400's. Many worship leaders are
noticing a disconnect with the congregation. Perhaps a swing back to a more simplified
form of worship, such as occurred in the 1500's can one day transpire, but in a way that
will keep the use of instrumentation intact.   

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