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People Say Worship Music All Sounds the Same. They Might Mean Something Else.

Complaints about the emerging genre may have to do with the discomfort with monoculture surrounding it.

The first time I taught Music History I, a student came to my office worried about an upcoming listening exam. “This is impossible,” he said. “The music all sounds the same.”

That semester, we studied everything from ancient Greek music theory to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. We covered Gregorian chant, Notre Dame polyphony, Renaissance madrigals, Counter Reformation Masses, and more.

The music spanned centuries. There are works in complete vocal unison, others with intricate harmonies. Some are in Latin, some in German. But undergrads don’t spend their time listening to chant and madrigals. I don’t blame them for having a hard time with the exam, and I know that their dislike and discomfort mostly comes from unfamiliarity.

So, when I hear someone say, “Contemporary worship music all sounds the same,” I think of my music history students and wonder if that person simply doesn’t like the music very much.

What does contemporary worship music sound like? Is it fair to say that it all “sounds the same”?

“(Almost) 100% of the Top 25 Worship Songs are associated with just a handful of Megachurches,” was the headline of a post by Worship Leader Research earlier this year. Most of the songs on the list were written or recorded by artists associated with Elevation, Bethel, Hillsong, or Passion, “the Big Four.”

Because so much influence is concentrated within a small group of creators and organizations, the number of people creating the most popular worship music is small (and getting smaller). But does this concentration of influence and popularity mean that contemporary worship music is starting to sound the same? Or does it just sound like it’s …

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