Classically deep

Music in aqua classes is so much more than just fun accompaniment to the moves you instruct – it has the power to connect physically, physiologically and emotionally. And when the usual group exercise tunes are replaced with classical music, the effect is even greater for Marietta Mehanni.


I have always wanted to use classical music in an aqua class, but have wondered whether participants would be able to perform movements to the beat while still feeling the emotion of the musical pieces. Having a background in classical piano, my passion for this style of music was put on hold when I started teaching group exercise, as it was not an appropriate genre to use.

Several years ago, however, I participated in a workshop that used classical music in an aqua format and, despite my imagination being piqued, I felt that I did not yet have the skill to put it all together. A couple of years later, I assisted a colleague in putting together a CD and a workshop using classical music. Having several years of classical ballet experience, my colleague possessed the necessary marriage of movement and music. Again, I was inspired, and even though my instructing skills had improved vastly, I put it on the back burner. Finally, after another couple of years, I felt confident enough bring my dual loves of classical music and aqua fitness together, and Classically Deep was born.

Why classical music?

There has been much research into the effects of classical music on the brain, particularly with regards to how thoughts transpire into words and, finally, actions. It has been observed that when a person listens to classical music, they will derive greater enjoyment from the activity they are performing, as the music has the ability to elevate mood.

‘Classical music affects the brain’s organisation and abilities, through its melody and rhythm. The rhythm raises the level of serotonin produced in your brain. Music’s rhythm can also stimulate other natural cadencies of the body, resembling the heartbeat, or the Alfa-rhythm of the brain, and this effect is used to counter the development of clinical depression. The melody instead, is the “sparkle” that catalyses the creative process in our minds.’
Effect of Classical Music on the Brain1
Silvia Francesca Maglione

The term ‘Mozart Effect’ arose from the work by Dr. Francis Rauscher, Dr. Gordon L. Shaw, and their colleagues at the University of California, Irvine. The findings of their neuroscience/music studies have caused considerable impact – and some controversy – on related fields. In 1993 Rauscher et al. made the surprising claim that, after listening to Mozart’s sonata for two pianos (K448) for 10 minutes, subjects displayed significantly better spatial reasoning skills than after periods of listening to either relaxation instructions designed to lower blood pressure, or to silence2.

Physical responses to music

Music has been shown to have positive effects in the management of pain, with research finding that it can help reduce the sensation and the distress caused by both chronic pain and postoperative pain. Listening to music can reduce chronic pain from a range of conditions, including osteoarthritis, disc problems and rheumatoid arthritis, by up to 21 per cent and depression by up to 25 per cent, according to study findings3.

Other research has found that music also reduces muscle tension, improves body movement and coordination and plays an important role in developing, maintaining and restoring physical functioning in the rehabilitation of people with movement disorders4,5.

Mental responses to music

In 1982, researchers from the University of North Texas performed a three-way test on postgraduate students to see if music could assist in the memorising of words. The students were divided into three groups, with each group being given three tests: a pre-test, a post-test, and a follow-up test a week after the first two tests. All of the tests were identical.

  1. Group 1 was read the words with Handel’s Water Music playing in the background. The study subjects were also asked to imagine the words.
  2. Group 2 was read the words, also with Handel’s Water Music in the background. The study subjects were not asked to imagine the words.
  3. Group 3 was read the words, but without any background music. The study subjects were not asked to imagine the words.

The results from the first two tests showed that groups 1 and 2 had much better scores than group 3. The results from the third test, a week later, showed that group 1 performed much better than groups 2 or 3 at remembering the words.

Simply using music while learning does not absolutely guarantee recall, of course, but it appears that it may well improve it. Background music in itself is not a part of the learning process, but it does enter into memory alongside the information learned. Recall has also been found to be better when the same music used during learning is used during recall. Additionally, tempo has been found to play a key role in music’s effect on memory.

Consider the implications in an aqua class when using music effectively and when it is choreographed. Not only could it assist with participants’ ability to better remember choreography, it could also assist with their ability to perform it with more enthusiasm and intensity because they could be more focused on ‘doing’ the exercise rather than ‘following’ the instructor.

Performance responses to music

In their study of the effects of music on athletic performance, researchers from Brunel University set out to find whether motivating and oudeterous (neither motivating nor de-motivating) music could improve 400-metre sprint performance.

A group of young males completed three 400-metre time trials under conditions of motivational music, oudeterous music, and a no-music control. The findings showed that the use of synchronous music resulted in better performance than that achieved with a no-music control. It was concluded that ‘synchronous music can be applied to anaerobic endurance performance among non-elite sports persons with a considerable positive effect’.6

More than fun background noise

The findings of these various studies make it clear that music plays a much bigger role in a workout than a pleasant way to pass the time. It assists on all levels – physical, physiological and emotional. We all have personal experiences that we can relate to, where music of a genre or era reminds us of times gone past or motivates us in the present moment. Some music inspires, and some may bring the mood down: therefore, it is important to choose carefully and appropriately for our workouts.
For me, classical music reminds me of graceful, strong and empowering movement. I think of how ballerinas dance and the poise and fluidity of their movements. When I’m floating in deep water, I have the same thoughts. In fact, I become the ballerina that I have always dreamed of being! I am agile, supple and graceful, and with that, classical music inspires me to move. I hope that my passion for this music genre transfers to my clients – and if they feel the same way, I could not ask for more.

The moves

The following moves to well known and easily recognisable pieces of classical music are a great way to introduce your participants to the power of going Classically Deep.



1. Butterfly legs with sculling arms, lifting legs to the surface and down (photos 1, 2, 3 & 4)
2. Right leg kick to side, right arm across waist and left arm single arm breast stroke travelling laterally to the right (photos 5 & 6)
3. Straight legs, small fast jacks

Swan Lake

1. Small and big cross country ski moving from vertical to right and left (photos 7, 8, 9 & 10)
2. Frog kick moving from vertical to right and left (photos 11, 12 & 13)
3. Small criss cross leg moving from vertical to horizontal in front of the body (photos 14 & 15)


2. Rauscher FH, Shaw GL, Ky KN. ‘Music and spatial task performance.’ Nature 1993;365: 611
3. Siedliecki SL, Good M. ‘Effect of music on power, pain, depression and disability.’ J Adv Nurs. 2006 Jun;54(5):553-62)
4. Bernatzky G, Bernatzky P, Hesse HP, Staffen W, Ladurner G. ‘Stimulating music increases motor coordination in patients afflicted with Morbus Parkinson.’ Neurosci Lett. 2004 May 6;361(1-3):4-8. PubMed)
5. Rosenkranz K, Williamon A, Rothwell JC. ‘Motorcortical excitability and synaptic plasticity is enhanced in professional musicians.’ J Neurosci. 2007 May 9;27(19):5200-6. PubMed)
6. Simpson SD, Karageorghis CI. ‘The effects of synchronous music on 400-m sprint performance’. School of Sport and Education, Brunel University, West London, Uxbridge, UK.


Marietta Mehanni
Marietta is an award winning presenter and Australian Fitness Network Ambassador with over 20 years of teaching and presenting experience in both land- and water-based group exercise. Co-creator of ‘Tricks, tools and trades of Program Coordinating’ and mentor for over 70 instructors and presenters, Marietta is passionate about inspiring others to lead and share their skills and talents to create a better fitness experience for all. For more information visit