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Music Methodology in Spinning® Class

By John Cargill

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Many will agree that there is a sweet music that is made by the Spinning program. While this may include musical selections and certainly the collective hum of the churning flywheels, my mind drifts toward something a little more abstract: the symphony that is beautifully rendered each time a group of fitness enthusiasts saddle up and ride for 40 minutes and beyond. Many, including Johnny G himself and at least a few of my colleagues on the Spinning Master Instructor Team, have shared their insights regarding music as it pertains to the Spinning program.

Sometimes we as instructors, or simply casual observers, witness what might be called the everyone-is-an-expert phenomenon when music is in view.  We hear comments such as “I loved the music” or “I liked the class, but hated the music,” and so on. While there is certainly a wide berth for an affective response to music, being that it does affect our emotions and behaviors, I would like to pursue somewhat more of a structured methodology as I comment upon the way(s) in which I evaluate my own musical choices. As the holder of a music history degree, and more recently a Spinning Master Instructor, I believe that I have a unique perspective that the reader might find useful, especially if he or she is laboring over what music to include.

One of the most seminal statements from the Spinning Instructor Manual is that music, according to what Johnny indicated early on, is not best used to dictate the movements, but rather to inspire or motivate the movements. Personally I find this to be quite liberating. Why would I need or want for there to always be a one-to-one correlation between a musical development, such as an increase in tempo, and, say, an increase in cadence? That being said, we are sometimes able to effectively use music to represent some type of reality on the road, or virtually any other mind-body duality that we face on the Spinner® bikes. For example, it might be a little difficult to align a Recovery Energy Zone™ ride segment with ‘Master of Puppets’ by Metallica. Go ahead and call me a master of the obvious. There are, as it would seem, some self-evident pitfalls to avoid, just as there are things that certain music seems to virtually insist upon. This is all well and good, but what about the less obvious?  The following explains a few musical terms that will help to structure our evaluations of the music we hear.

One term that students of art music (i.e., normally termed classical, but often confused with the Classic era) use is texture. In this context, texture is a reference to what and/or how many instruments are sounding simultaneously. This creates the color of the overall sound and has much to do with its intensity and likely the mood it portrays. Another term, from an entirely different perspective, is energy, or the force or power that the music produces. Things like tempo, volume, and the type(s) of instrument(s) will influence energy. A third term that may be highly beneficial to us is timbre, which is concerned with the particular character of an isolated sound or perhaps instrument. A guitar string at the low end, such as E, has an utterly unique timbre as set apart from a significantly higher one, such as a G. These terms are certainly not all-sufficient; however, they provide a fine template for basic consideration.  After rumination of their definitions, perhaps you can see how each might influence and be influenced by the other(s). 

In terms of creating a playlist for your Spinning class, let us consider the creation of an Endurance Energy Zone profile (having mapped the ride/movements prior to music). A well-conceived warm-up (50-65% MHR) might feature just one or two instruments with soft timbre and assuredly lower energy levels (again, referring to the force of the music only). These carefully-executed choices will help to establish a mind-body connection that is rooted in relaxation and effortlessness, with an interest in remaining connected to parasympathetic responses so that lowest end aerobic work levels are maintained. As the ride transitions from warm-up to the body of the ride, where a somewhat more elevated intensity is present, the music may shift to greater energy levels via volume or sheer sound mass—adding a few more voices or instruments to make the texture richer. Greater energy release in the music in this way parallels greater energy release in the ride!

If this Endurance Energy Zone ride were to exceed the customary 75% MHR and reach 80%, the music would shift again to include more voices or instruments with a sharper timbre, signifying a certain clarion call or warning that we as riders are at the last vestige of our long-term endurance ability.  What about recovery and cool-down?  Perhaps a reversal of these effects would be warranted. 

You do not need to be a music guru or a professional DJ to create a great Spinning class playlist. But if you keep music texture, energy and timbre in mind, you will greatly improve in the selection and the organization process.

Author: John Cargill

It all began with competitive swimming up through high school. After years of hiatus and a sedentary lifestyle, John reclaimed his fitness base via the world of triathlon; however, it was not until he earned his Spinning certification in 2006 that he truly constructed a viable aerobic base. For this he is quite grateful, as he now enjoys a career as a coach and personal trainer; not to mention very gratifying experiences as a sprint and 70.3 triathlete, open water swimmer, and distance runner primarily at the 5K and 13.1 mile distances. He is especially privileged, though, to be an MI representing Illinois and to share the gift of the Spinning program with all who will receive it. His certifications other than the Spinning program include NASM-CPT, NCSF-CPT, ACE-CPT, and AFAA group exercise. Other passions include vocal music (the breathing techniques of which he has integrated into his coaching style), constant learning, and serving God by serving others.

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