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Music in our Society
You will find evidence of music in every human society — it has been a constant throughout mankind's history. Whether it be a small drum that beats out a repetitive but consistent rhythm; a 150-piece orchestra with the multiple and varied sounds of percussion, brass, strings, and woodwinds; a single individual singing a folk song; or the Morman Tabernacle Choir humming a hymn, we humans find comfort and inspiration from the sounds of music.
Most of us have some appreciation of music and, as we grow up, we are exposed to many varieties and styles. We may eventually choose a favourite type — from classical to jazz to pop — but almost everyone can say what their favourite song is. They can probably also remember at least one incident in their life where music inspired or moved them — whether it be in a church choir or listening to your country's national anthem or running a marathon.
Music is used to inspire, soothe, or motivate, including military marches and relaxation melodies. It has become an integral part of the Olympic Games as well as sports events and exercise classes. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems ubiquitous, especially when we're shopping in a store and the music is so loud we can't concentrate on shopping or hear the store clerk speak.
Main Effects of Music
Researchers have identified three human responses to music:
- Psychological: Researchers have determined what types of music affect us and in what different ways. It might accent or enhance our feelings of pleasure or displeasure. It might raise our spirits. It might affect our thought processes, allowing us to grieve, cry, or laugh. It can even change our behaviour: music might inspire us to get up and dance, for instance. Most coaches and athletes today believe an exercise or training session feels far more pleasurable as long as the music selection is suitable for the activity. From personal experience I can say that I have always been inspired by sharing music with others — whether it be in a choir, a stage production, a marching band, or a fitness class.
Psychophysical: Researches try to objectively measure the affect of tones and volumes on listeners. Believe it or not, they have also researched how lights during a musical show might affect the audience. When we exercise, a common way to determine how tired we are getting is to use the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale. (See: Perceived Exertion Scale: How to Tell when you are "in the zone". Preliminary research suggests that one's perception of this scale will "feel" differently to someone who is exercising while listening to music.
Erogogenic: Ergogenic means "intended to enhance physical performance, stamina, or recovery." Music may improve physical performance in one of two ways: by delaying fatigue or by increasing effort. This is particularly true for professional athletes who use music to calm themselves before a performance, or to improve effort during training.
The Science Behind Music and Performance
In Costa I. Karageorghis's text, Applying Music in Exercise and Sport, he summarizes the science behind music and performance by listing the following research findings:
- Music reduces perceived exertion by 10% at low-to-moderate intensities of exercise.
- Physiological, fatigue-related cues have an overwhelming influence on attentional processes at high intensities. 2
- Well-selected music can enhance affect (how people feel) at all exercise intensities. 3
- Music has a mild ergogenic, or work-enhancing, effect across a range of activities. 4
- The relationship between exercise heart rate and preference for music tempo is nonlinear (they do not rise in proportion to each other), and the range of preferred tempo is much narrower than previously thought. 5
For most of us, we don't need the research to prove to us what music does to us — especially when we are dancing, singing, playing an instrument, or just moving to the rhythm. There is an indefinable power to music that allows us to relax and enjoy the moment.
Other studies, though small, have examined music and its relationship to long-duration exercise, energy efficiency, in enabling more complex tasks, and benefits of music during the post-exercise phase. These studies help coaches and fitness instructors to use music in the best way possible for their athletes or participants, respectively.
Components of Music
There are many components of music — any one of them will affect the listener (either negatively or positively). Choosing the right music for fitness class or for athletic training requires considerable thought and consideration.
The following components of music have to be considered when choosing music for training purposes:
Melody: The tune — the part that you sing or recognize. It is usually higher-pitched than the background chords, and its theme or message may evoke strong emotions.
Harmony: More than one sound may interact with the melody line. They are most noticeable as chords, usually below the melody line. The most obvious harmony occurs when listening to a barbershop quartet.
Rhythm: Notes are arranged, distributed and accented according to a certain beat — and there are many variations. This is often the part we "feel" the most. For most exercise classes, a traditional 4/4 time signature (four beats per measure) is the most often used. Specific movements in fitness often work around a 32-beat "set."
Syncopation: Sometimes songs have the accent on the second beat rather than the first. It creates a different rhythmic emphasis and some people associate this with "groove." Exercise classes that use a variety of music, including syncopated songs, will challenge the participant to process and coordinate movement with the beat.
Tempo: This is the speed of the music. Faster music tends to be thought of as happy and stimulating, whereas slow music is considered to be sad and/or relaxing. There are specific rates of tempo which are best suited for exercise classes.
Meter: Music may feel faster than the actual tempo. Think of it as to how you tap your foot — hard or light — as you listen to the music.
Lyrics: The words of the song is what we remember most and it can affect our mood. Generally, they are divided into verses and choruses, and it is the repetition of the chorus (and its main theme) that is often the part we remember.
Timbre: Each instrument makes a different sound; this is referred to as timbre. It helps us recognize what instrument is playing.
Dynamics: Songs can be loud or soft, and different kinds of instruments can create different levels of dynamics to the song.
Music and Exercise Class
Music used in an exercise class can be synchronous — rhythmic aspects of music that act as a metronome to regulate movement patterns — or asynchronous. You can probably guess which one is most often used in cardiovascular exercise.
Group exercise instructors use both, one for building up and energizing, and the other for calming down and relaxing. Some forms of group exercise — such as yoga, pilates, and tai chi — will not use synchronous music as much as a fitness class. Instructors will also choose music which hopefully inspires or motivates and will keep partipants moving.
While generally music is effective and helpful in fitness class, one harmful result can be if the music is played too loudly. For more information about how music can be used in an exercise class, and how it can have a negative impact, see Music and Fitness Class: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Music in My Fitness Classes
Music has always been a part of my life. My parents were both singers — my father won "best tenor voice" in 1934 for the state of Nebraska, while my mother trained to be an operatic soprano (though she never became a professional). My three older siblings all sang, played musical instruments, and excelled at musical performance. I learned tap and ballet, and played the piano, the clarinet, and the flute. Later in life I took vocal lessons, sang with two different women's choirs, and performed as an "extra" in an Anne of Green Gables production.
Everyone in my family bought records and played them — my parents enjoyed classical music, opera, and male vocalists such as Mario Lanza and Harry Belafonte. My siblings and I chose more popular music — and my sisters and I played much popular music on the piano and sang entire songs together. I frequently played popular music on the piano by myself as well.
When I became a fitness instructor, it seemed a natural "fit" to incorporate music into my classes, even though at least one instructor with whom I trained thought I used it "too much". It just felt right to use the music for inspiration as well as a distraction from the sometimes repetitive nature of the activities — from cardiovascular exercises to strength training.
Here's how I use music during each section of the class:
- Breathing: Slow, quiet music that allows one to concentrate on the breathing.
- Warm-Up: Slightly faster music than that used for the breathing section; this music may get us moving a little bit.
- Cardiovascular: I usually use from 130-145 beats per minute, depending upon the class and the participants.
- Strength Training: I like to play a variety of songs (everything from classical to pop) and a combination of instrumental and vocal. It often allows for conversation and laughter while doing exercises that no one is terribly thrilled about doing!
- Balance Training: Usually instrumental music is best. If participants are listening to lyrics, they may get distracted.
- Stretch: Slow, quiet music, usually instrumental only.
I play a huge variety of music: from popular and jazz to classical and opera. Not just because I appreciate a large variety of music, but hopefully because with such a mix, everyone will enjoy at least some of it.
Group exercise using music is not new; it began in the late 1970's and continued from there. Some fitness instructors still stick to the concepts of fitness music from the 1970's; others have taken on newer ideas like LBT (legs, bums, tums), Zumba, BodyPump, Body-Combat, Aqua and Step Aerobics; but I have been more interested in creating a fitness/dance class that combines fitness and dance while also having music during other stages of the class which help to keep participants interested and engaged.
Other articles you might enjoy:
- Singing Enhances Life Quality for those with Dementia
- It should be remembered that music can greatly enhance, but it can also do harm. If that interests you, please read this: Music and Fitness Class: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.
These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. ↩
Ekkekakis, 2003; Rejeski, 1985; Tenenbaum, 2001 ↩
Hutchinson et al, 2015; Karageorghis et al, 2009 ↩
Elliott et al, 2004; Lin et al, 2009; Nakamura et al, 2010 ↩
Karageorghis & Terry, 2009 ↩