Religious music (also known as sacred music) is defined as anything that has been written as devotional to any given faith. Many stone tablets depicting hymns have been uncovered from ancient times, with The Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal believed to be the oldest piece of religious music ever to be uncovered at over 3,400 years old. You can listen to The Hurrian Hymn here.
Music has played a part in many religions throughout the world’s history. In Hinduism, Indian Classical Music and Bhajan genres are used, with chanting, Indian scales and Raags being a staple of Hindu songs of worship. Similarly, Ragas are also used in the Sikh religion. Shabad Kirtan is a style of singing hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the book of Sikhism. This music formed in the 16th Century, and consisted of poetic lyrics in the classical and folk styles of the day, accompanied by string and percussion instruments.
The earliest account of music from Judaism is a biblical description of the Temple orchestra in Jerusalem. Jewish liturgical music uses musical modes to differentiate the different kinds of prayer. The three main modes are Ahavah Rabbah, Magein Avot and Adonai Malach. The cantor sings these prayers, with some improvisation within the modes being acceptable.
Islamic music has a long tradition of a cappella devotional singing, and some history of instrumental accompaniment depending on the context. As with so many different styles of religious music, Buddhist music has a rich history of chanting mantras that spanned across different languages including Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Japanese. Rastafarian music similarly has a traditional form of chanting and drumming called Nyabingi. The lyrics of the chants are about black redemption and repatriation, and were influenced by Burru Music, a style that was sung by African slaves. Nyabingi also combines 19th Century Gospel Music with traditional African drumming, and went on to be associated with the Reggae Rastafarian movement led by Bob Marley in the 20th Century.
In the western classical music tradition, Christian church music has dominated most of the time periods from the Medieval era to the 20th Century. Christian liturgical music is believed to have first been inspired by the Jewish cantor’s improvised prayer song. A refrain sung back by the congregation was added to early Christian church music.
The popularity of composing new music for the mass stemmed from plainchant into Gregorian chant in the Middle Ages, and continued to inspire musicians and composers through the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. It’s one of the most composed styles of religious music, and there are many subsets of the mass, such as the ordinary, proper, the requiem, high mass, and the addition of concert masses in the 19th Century. To fully appreciate how many compositions there are, it is interesting to note that well-known composers such as Mozart wrote 18 masses, Haydn composed 14, and Schubert created 6 throughout their varied respective careers. You can delve into Mozart’s masses here:
Whatever type of religious music you are working with, PlayScore 2 is a useful tool that can playback your sheet music, help you learn and practice pieces interactively. The app can easily digitise and share your scores, whether you need to quickly distribute music to your choir, ensemble or worship group, PlayScore 2 can make it happen. The app is a useful addition to any music group, and takes the stress out of scanning and sharing scores, meaning you can spend your time on the music.