The Tina Turner Factor: Music’s impact on the Spinning? program

Tina Turner inspired me to keep coming back to Spinning? class. My first instructor was knowledgeable and full of inspiring energy. Yet more importantly, he was a rabid Tina Turner fan and played her music loud and proud. From the first class I was confident that I had found my musical soul mate—and Spinning was immediately branded as exercise with a huge fun component. Tina and the bike were fused in my mind and I kept going back for more.

For a year I attended his class regularly—learning the technique, sweating more than I thought possible and most of all eagerly anticipating what we coined “Tina Time.” When the opening rhythm of Proud Mary would pulse, my heart rate would start to climb with the steady sashaying beat of the music. It became entertainment for me to watch the numbers on my monitor click off as Tina dug into the song. Forget visualizing the road. In my mind I was on stage with her in a red fringe dress and four inch heals shaking everything I had to shake. To me, Tina is mental candy and she tastes sweet. 

The memory of “Tina Time” has stayed with me all these years because watching my heart rate climb to the music was my first awareness of the physical power that music has over the body. I was not altering my physical cadence as Tina resonated, yet my heart rate climbed. What Tina had tapped into was my mental cadence and it was driving my heart rate. Scientists are uncovering what my unofficial Tina study confirms—music moves us physically because it first moves us mentally.

Science Rocks
Numerous documented and published studies show music has the power to trigger the same reward system in our brains that are also stimulated by sex, food and addictive drugs. And for me, Tina is a powerful stimulant. 

When sound first enters the brain, it activates the region near the ears called the primary auditory cortex. That area converts sound vibrations into signals, sending them to different regions of the brain for understanding. These regions store our memories and understanding of musical elements such as rhythm, key changes, melody and lyrics.

Science has confirmed that music is a whole brain activity. Unlike processing language or images, music is tricky because it uses both the right and left hemispheres of the brain simultaneously. There is no specialized “center” of the brain for music processing. When music enters the auditory system it is not like sending sound through a telephone wire. Our brain receives sound more like an old fashioned switchboard illuminating randomly across the board as calls filter in.

The journey music takes to our brain is universal. However, no two people have an identical mental experience of music. Your musical preference is as specific and customized to you as your fingerprint. The ingredients of music such as rhythm, melody and harmony all induce a neurological response. That response is influenced by your experience with the sounds such as music training or memories. When you “like” a song or it is familiar to you, it means that the musical ingredients you’re hearing have matched themselves to existing areas of your brain and fragments of memories, which expose your “essence.”  The type of music you like really does speak volumes about you. Your musical preferences give away your thought structure and personality created by your past. 

In other words, my infatuation with Tina is because her sound illuminates my brain like a Christmas tree and it feels great. Her music obviously contains several of my musical memories picked up from a lifetime of sounds. The brain-party Tina kick-starts in my head is so powerful that it sends enough messages to my body that make it think that I’m riding faster than I am and as a result, my heart rate increases.

Steven Parker of Harvard University describes music as “auditory cheesecake,” that is if you like the song. The problem is as much as the right song can increase your heart rate and calorie burning capabilities, the wrong music can have detrimental effects to your focus and physical threshold. Music’s power is all inclusive of our emotions both positive and negative and can turn you on as much as off.  While not yet scientifically proven, the music therapy and music theory communities are scientifically investigating the depth that music can be used for manipulation and mental programming. Could Tina not always be used for the forces of good?

Creating the “Tina Experience” for your Students
I was lucky that the first Spinning class I took happened to include Tina Turner. I wonder if I would have been as motivated to go back if it had not. When designing the music for your classes your personal tastes are important. Just as important however, are your students’ tastes. Odds are your regular students take your class for many reasons and one of them is their positive response to the music you are choosing. 

Keep in mind that a first time Spinning student is not only judging the workout and your teaching technique but also your music choices. The truth is you are not the most powerful determining factor for whether or not they return. Beginners are more likely to come back and continue with the Spinning program if they like the music. 

You will never be able to play everyone’s favorite song, but imagine the treat you could give your regulars if you collected their favorites and designed a class around them. You have the power to give your students a mental and physical boost by demonstrating that you are conscious of the connection between music and the body. If customizing isn’t for you, keep your music varied so you have more of a chance to satisfy many people rather then a few. And if nothing else, I suggest you play Proud Mary.

Kristen Kentner is a freelance writer/researcher and Spinning instructor. Ms. Kentner was introduced to the scientific research between the body and music through her past research work for The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, founded by the Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, in New York City. She can be reached at

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