For many non-Salvationists they are the most recognisable feature of The Salvation Army. Early Salvationist musicians drew upon a rich heritage of British singing and band playing, including contemporary church and temperance bands. Our founder William Booth was keen to distinguish the music of The Salvation Army from other church music, which he considered overly sophisticated.
He issued guidelines to bandsmen and songsters to produce simple songs with an emphasis on strong, clear ‘soul-saving’ messages. He also believed Salvationists ‘must sing good tunes’ and didn’t ‘care much whether you call it secular or sacred. I rather enjoy robbing the devil of his choicest tunes’. For this reason Salvationist musicians moved away from solely using traditional hymns and began to set new words to Victorian songs, such as popular music hall melodies.
Audiences recognised and liked these contemporary songs and so this was an effective way of spreading the Christian message. With brass bands introduced to get people's attention and to make a loud noise when they were preaching on the streets! Today, as well as brass bands (which are still used in some Salvation Army churches) music in a worship service can include choirs (both adult and junior) and more modern worship music using instruments such as guitars, keyboards and drums.
Salvation Army churches always try and reflect their local communities and so a worship service may also include styles from other countries such as an African choir or a steel drum band.