Amish Culture: View on Music (Article by Kelly Irvin)

A Plain Love Song

Amish & Musical Instruments
By Kelly Irvin

Writing A Plain Love Song caused me to pause and think perhaps more than any of the previous Amish romances I’ve written when it comes to trying to understand the Amish culture and faith. That’s because I love music. I’ve always wanted to play musical instruments, but alas, I have not a smidgen of talent. As I began to think about writing this story of a young Amish woman who loves music and desperately wants to write songs, play the guitar, and sing, I realized I needed to do some research to understand the objections the Amish have to such an aspiration. My go-to books for answering my questions on topics such as this are The Amish by Donald B. Kraybill and Amish Society by John A. Hostetler.

To understand why the Amish eschew musical instruments, you really have to understand the underpinnings of their approach to faith. They reject pride and try to practice humility at all times. The underlying attitude is of submission to God’s will. In our world of The Voice and American Idol, performers are celebrities who are feted, well-paid, and much loved by their fans. We’re told to compete, strut our stuff on the stage, and seek fame and fortune. Not so, with the Amish.

buggiesatauction by Tim Irvin - credited

Donald Kraybill says the Amish church discourages musical instruments because they’re afraid their use will lead to performances that show off individual talents. Worship includes singing, but without instruments, and in a very slow a capella style. Playing a musical instrument is seen as a means of self-expression that results in feelings of pride and superiority. It calls attention to the individual and is a distraction to true worship. The Amish love music and often sing at home while working. The young folks go to singings on Sunday evenings, but in most cases, no instruments are used.

So my story is a what-if story. What if a young Amish woman dreams of performing as a country music singer? What if she meets a young Englisch man who falls in love with her, teaches her to play the guitar, and encourages her to reach for her dream?

My husband and I flew to Missouri, rented a car, and drove from Jamesport to Branson, taking the same road Adah would’ve taken on her trip. I imagined what it would be like for her to leave her family and the only home she’d ever known, perhaps forever. I tried to see the billboards for the Branson shows through her eyes. I tried to imagine how she would feel when she saw the sparkling rhinestone-studded dresses, the exaggerated makeup, and the dangling earrings worn by the female performers. Did she nearly jump out of her seat when a confetti cannon exploded during a show? I did, so I suspect she would too.

Nohitching by Tim Irvin - creditedAnother thing I learned while writing A Plain Love Song is that I will probably never play a musical instrument. I bought an inexpensive guitar with a DVD, thinking I’d teach myself to play. Uh-huh. I couldn’t get my fingers to reach the right strings, and they hurt! A tone deaf person has trouble tuning an instrument. Never fear, it was great research. I had better luck (in my humble opinion) in writing Adah’s songs. I love writing poetry and bought a couple of books on writing song lyrics to help shape my words. This stretched me as a writer.

I’m not convinced that God doesn’t take great joy in my church’s musical worship, drinking in the beautiful notes of piano, guitar, and drums, as the faith band leads us in singing his praises. Nevertheless, I have tremendous respect for the humble, obedient, and genuine faith of the Amish. Their desire to never be distracted from their express purpose of worshiping God is to be admired.

Kelly IrvinKelly Irvin is a Kansas native and has been writing professionally for 30 years. She and her husband, Tim, make their home in Texas. They have two children, three cats, and a tankful of fish. A public relations professional, Kelly is also the author of two romantic suspense novels and writes short stories in her spare time. To learn more about her work, visit

Pictures from Amish country taken by Tim Irvin.


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7 Responses to “Amish Culture: View on Music (Article by Kelly Irvin)”

  1. Hi Kelly. Don’t feel bad about not being musical. I’m not either. However I often wished my parents had sent me out
    for lessons when I was younger. I would love to be able to play the piano.
    Looking forward to reading your book A Plain Love Song. It sounds like it would be very interesting to read.


  2. I always wanted piano lessons when I was a child. My parents couldn’t afford the lessons or the piano, Shirley. But it’s okay, I found the gift God gave me–writing. So it’s better to focus on the have rather than the have not! I hope you enjoy A Plain Love Song.


  3. I now have A Plain Love Song on hold at the library. It must be very popular because there are about 42 people ahead of me waiting to read it. So looking forward to it in the furniture.
    Blessings Shirley


    Amber Stokes Reply:

    Wow, that is quite a long waiting list! How fun that so many are eager to read it, though. Enjoy the anticipation and the story, Shirley. :)


  4. Having grown up near Amish in Ohio, I have a great respect for them to stand their ground on the faith. Also like you, I’m not convinced that our musical instruments take away from worship. For me, the references in Psalms and in the stories of King David regarding harp, lyre, cymbals…
    affirm the use of musical instruments.
    I can agree however that the “worship” of the individual performers, even Christian performers, can be a severe distraction and a form of idol worship. A caution to be careful of whom we’re worshiping.


    Amber Stokes Reply:

    These are some great thoughts, Ellen. Thank you for sharing!


  5. I find this very interesting. I completely understand their beliefs on musical instruments. So many people use their musical ability to show off, especially if they are young. I wanted to say to Kelly – and for the benefit of others who read this – YES, it hurts to learn to play a guitar, or a violin, etc. You have to keep at it, develop calluses, grit your teeth and give your fingers time to stretch. People who quit from a little pain, never learn. Period. I play the fiddle, and it took months before it didn’t hurt. As for being tone-deaf and tuning – well, there is this thing called a tuning fork, and another thing called a digital tuner! It really is about wanting it enough to learn – it’s work, like most good things in life that have to be earned.


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