// Tune into the power of music

by Marietta Mehanni and Amy Jayasuriya

Music has been an essential ingredient of group exercise classes for decades. No instructor can deny its importance and when asked ‘why have music?’ the natural responses will include ‘for motivation’, ‘for fun’, ‘to enhance the enjoyment of the physical activity’ and ‘because it makes the time pass quicker’.

A powerful stimulus
The influence of music has been studied by a number of researchers, including Karageorghis, Terry and lane (1999); Szabo, Small and Leigh (1999); and Tenenbaum et al. (2004).

These studies have shown that music has the power to create a variety of physiological and psychological responses and, therefore, can be a powerful stimulus for sporting and athletic activities.

Karageorghis et al. (1999) proposed that four factors contribute to the motivational qualities of a piece of music, these being:

1. rhythm response – most notably tempo (speed of music as measured in beats per minute)
2. musicality – response to pitch-related elements, such as harmony and melody
3. cultural impact – pervasiveness of the music within society
4. Association – pertains to the extra-musical associations a piece may evoke regarding an event, or past memory (e.g., Vangelis’s chariots of fire with olympic glory). This is the least important contributor to the motivational quotient of a piece of music.

Rhythm and tempo

Budd (1985) and Karageorghis et al. (1999) agreed that tempo is considered to be the most significant determinant of musical response.

Neuropsychologists have asserted that the optimal speed at which humans are able to process rhythmical stimuli may influence preferred tempo (carroll-Phelan & Hampson, 1996). Fast tempo and strong rhythms may contribute to preference, because they are inherently stimulative (Berlyne’s (1971).

Taking this research into consideration, the question then arises of how we, as instructors, can use these findings to our advantage in a cycle class.

When planning your cycle class, use the tempo to dictate what type of ride you would like it to be. People have an inherent need to move to a beat, so you can use music to encourage better form, using a slower tempo for a climb for example, or a faster tempo to encourage the energy and urgency required for sprints. basically with faster tempos, the cadence on the bike is quicker and the resistance is moderate, whereas with slower tempos, the cadence is slower and the resistance is higher. This might seem obvious, but it is interesting to observe how some instructors will purchase music and just follow any plan that they have developed without actually using the music to dictate the ride. consider how much easier it would be to maximise your clients’ performance if you used the music, as well as your own personality and verbal cueing skills, to motivate them.


Musicality was described as harmony and melody by the researchers mentioned previously. So, how does that translate in a cycle class? firstly, consider the shifts of energy within a song. Verses, choruses and instrumental sections all have slightly different energy levels. The harmony and melody is often carried by the higher notes of a song, or the vocals, which lift the mood of a piece of music. often, the chorus will have a stronger melody than the instrumental section or the verse. It is important to appreciate this, as it will assist with delivery of higher intensity within the terrain chosen for that piece. for example, the song Pleasure and Pain by the divinyls, is a classic 80’s song that is very familiar (especially with the Generation X participants). It has a great chorus that can be used to push participants to their limits, as the words in the chorus are, appropriately, about being in pleasure or pain. This track is an excellent example of how a melody can be used to an instructor’s advantage by encouraging participants to turn up the resistance or move into a power surge.

Cultural impact and association

Culture is one of the most pervasive influences on choice of music, and each generation is likely to associate most strongly with music that correlates to the decade of their formative years, i.e., baby boomers to the 60s and 70s, and Generation x to the 80s. as such, music from each era may stimulate different groups in different ways. consider what a 25-year-old instructor will find motivating and how, or whether, that music will motivate participants whose average age is 40 and above. This clearly demonstrates that instructors are not excluded from the influences of culture and association, and therefore begs the question, ‘Is music in a class there to motivate the instructor or the participants?’

The answer to this question provides the opportunity to explore different music styles within the workout. Should all the tracks be of the same genre, e.g., all techno or all top 40? Experiment with classic motivational tracks like William Tell’s Overture or Chariot’s of Fire or some of the best known timeless songs like Simply the Best by Tina Turner. These tracks have universal appeal, and unless you have a regular group of participants who share a specific musical taste, this should be your goal – something that suits everyone. before you decide which music will motivate your clients in regards to cultural impact, consider:

• Age group – indoor cycle attracts a wide variety of ages ranging from 16 to over 60 years
• Male/female ratio – depending on the club this could be 50/50 or in some instances female participants would dominate
• Cultural backgrounds – indoor cycle attracts a huge variety of culturally diverse participants.

One of the main reasons indoor cycle appeals to such a wide-ranging demographic is the simplicity of the equipment involved and the fact that it does not require complex choreography. The absence of these, to some people, intimidating features has established indoor cycle as a fantastic workout option that is guaranteed to ignite a massive adrenalin rush in a diverse group of participants.

Share the workload

Ask yourself; ‘how hard do I have to work to motivate my participants?’ Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could let the music do 50 per cent of the work for you, and if your participants attended your cycle workouts because you connected with them through your choice of music? If you can achieve this, then you can focus your energies on instructing better technique and form, while guiding your class through a positive experience that will help them achieve their fitness goals.

Final tips to remember:

• Tune into the music you have chosen to create the atmosphere of the ride
• You want each participant to remember and enjoy at least one track played during the class
• Consider music that will motivate and excite both you and your class. It’s crucial that you manage to walk this fine line – a motivated instructor, and a motivated class is a recipe for success.

Now, go forth, velcro up your cleats and tune into the power of music!


Marietta Mehanni
Recipient of the 2007 Australian Fitness Network Author of the Year award, Marietta is an award-winning instructor and presenter with over 19 years of teaching experience in both land and water-based group exercise. Qualified for international accredition (AFAA, AEA, SCW and ACE), she presents regularly at national and international conventions. Marietta is also a course coordinator, lecturer and examiner for Certificate III Fitness Group Exercise and Aqua leadership.

Amy Jayasuriya
Amy is a well established cycle instructor who is passionate about empowering instructors at a grass roots level. She is also the master
trainer for Smart Cycle through The Music and Motion Studio and has developed her own accredited cycle workshops. With a background in competitive level hockey, Amy brings discipline, motivation and passion to her courses, classes and workshops.