7 Tips for Choosing Music to Support Movement/Exercise

If you read my last post, you now know why music is such a great support for movement and exercise. Now here are some tips for how to choose the best music for movement and exercise. I’ll address two facets of movement to music: rhythmic and expressive. These aren’t really two opposite ideas; they are more like two ends of a spectrum.

On the rhythmic end of the spectrum is your typical exercise program: the movements are repetitive and possibly matched to the beat, but the music is secondary to the movements you want to practice. Think running, aerobics classes, and restorative care exercise programs with prescribed movement patterns.

On the expressive end of the spectrum, the music is front and center, and the movements you do follow the music. Think choreographed routines and spontaneous jitterbugs in a group of seniors.

Many movement experiences fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Zumba classes, for example, integrate stylistic elements while maintaining a focus on getting a good work out, and the music therapy groups I lead with seniors often integrate a couple of songs for expressive movement to music that are music-centered but still working in the gross and fine motor movements group members need for exercise.

Keeping both of those elements in mind, here are my seven top tips for choosing music to support movement. (Substitute “your loved one” or “your client” if you are choosing music for someone else.)

1. Choose music in a style you prefer. This is always the first tip. Music you dislike can be distracting and probably won’t inspire you to dance or make your exercise routine any more enjoyable.

2. Find songs at the right speed. Even if you are using music mostly in the background, your body will want to match the pace of the music. Thus, it helps to choose music at your target pace. Jog.fm is an especially helpful tool for this purpose. You fill in the pace you want to set for your mile, and it will recommend songs at that same tempo. Alternatively, enter in a song that you know is set at a good pace for your own routine, and it will help you find songs at the same tempo. For example, the Beatles song “Twist and Shout” is a good one for some of my groups. Another song at the same tempo is Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O”.

3. Look for inspirational tracks. The emotional element of music is a big factor in what will keep you moving. I love looking for new songs on the iTunes Essentials lists in the iTunes store. You can pick and choose your favorites from lists like “’60s Workout” and “Tropical Workout.”

4. Pick songs to warm up and cool down, too. Having tracks dedicated to stretching and slower-paced movements on your playlist will encourage you to do those parts of your routine, too.

5. For expressive movement, keep an ear out for interesting musical elements. That means a change in tempo or dynamics, pauses in the sound, or musical motifs/interludes that encourage some kind of change in your movements. You could also look for lyrics that suggest a particular movement, like peeling a banana or surfing on the ocean.

6. Choose music to fit a theme. This especially works for expressive movement in groups: choose music that already fits the theme of a session or discussion you are leading to reinforce the concepts you are discussing through kinesthetic learning. You might also choose music for yourself that fits the season or a holiday coming up. (“The Purple People Eater,” anyone?)

7. Don’t let it get too loud! Okay, so this isn’t a tip for choosing music per se, but it is a reminder that it can do lasting damage to your hearing to crank up the volume in your headphones to the point that you can’t hear the people around you. It will matter in your later years – please make sure that you will still be able to enjoy music in your nineties!

What are your favorite songs for exercise or movement to music? How do you keep yourself, your loved ones, and your clients to keep moving? I could always use some fresh ideas myself, so please leave your thoughts below!

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