AFAAYesCollab FindingYourBeat v4 .pdf
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1. Explain the role of music in group fitness.
2. Identify the beat in music.
3. Describe tempo and recommended tempo by class format.
4. Explain legal and ethical digital music usage for group fitness.
2 | Finding Your Beat
Using Music for Safe, Effective,
and Motivating Classes
Music is used in a variety of ways to enhance and elevate the group fitness experience.
Instructors can use music as a teaching, safety, creative, and motivational tool. For
participants, music generates physical and emotional responses to exercise. When
used appropriately, these physical and emotional responses create powerful, life-long,
positive associations between exercise and accomplishment.
That potential for creating such meaningful impressions makes it vital to know how
to best apply music in the group fitness space. Then, the overall presentation goes from
ordinary to extraordinary with a simple tap of the play button.
The Origins of Music
One of the most natural human responses to music is to move to it. Unlike language,
which varies across cultures and societies, music compels humans to move without
specific words. This notion predates written history, with archeological records linking
humans to music for thousands of years.
The oldest recognizable musical instrument is a bone flute found in a stone-age cave
in Germany in 2008.1 The flute dates back 40,000 years and was challenging to produce
at the time. Therefore, it marks a major cultural accomplishment to help humanity
communicate better and form tighter social bonds with one another. Because music and
dance promote positive social behaviors, they helped human culture flourish.
Some researchers hypothesize that “the structure and production of music became
increasingly elaborate through competition as a display of the highest fitness.”2 Simply
put, as music became more engrained into cultural identity, those who created the most
complex and beautiful works were elevated in the social structure. Then, as music grew
in complexity, the human brain adapted to process it.
Music has been used for thousands of years across all cultures to bring about
common emotional reactions in groups of people. In tribal rituals, religious ceremonies,
weddings, funerals, parties, sports, and other cultural events, music is used to set the
tone, foster the intended emotion, and help groups work together to achieve a common
goal. From the pounding of war drums to the climax of an opera, music is a powerful
influencer of human emotion and movement.3
Why Music Makes Us Move
To recognize the influence music can have on a group fitness class, it is important
to consider why music motivates movement. It starts physiologically, in the central
nervous system, specifically the brain. Philosophers started debating the effects of
music on the human brain as early as 400 BC—2000 years before the establishment of
Why Music Makes Us Move | 3
Music on the Brain
The human brain is a natural pattern seeker, and music allows one to find patterns in
sound; processing pitch perception, time perception, pattern perception, rhythm,
emotional responses, memory, sound production, and even social consequences.5
MRI studies have shown that music activates a wide range of cortical and subcortical
regions in the brain—even if no movement is happening—with different components
of music activating different sections of the brain.4 For example, melody and pitch
activate the temporal lobe (the primary center for auditory processing); musical
memories are recovered by the hippocampus (the brain’s memory center); emotional
and pleasure responses are mediated by dopamine; and movement to music comes from
the cerebellum (where muscular activity is coordinated).5
Entrainment and Groove
The term entrainment describes the synchronization of human movement to
a perceived rhythm. From hand clapping, to dancing, to playing an instrument,
entrainment occurs when one moves to the beat while predicting upcoming beats.
A clear, strong beat facilitates optimal entrainment, causing movements to be more
regular and stable in their timing. Just as various parts of music activate different
The degree of highness
or lowness of a tone
A pattern or repeated
movement or sound
A sequence of single
notes that is musically
The synchronization of
human movement to a
The audible, metrical
division that occurs
within the foundational
layer of music
4 | Finding Your Beat
Moving at half the tempo
a song is playing at; two
beats per movement
instead of one
A pleasurable response
to moving to music
The speed at which a
song is recorded and
Beats per minute (BPM):
The number of beats in
components of the brain, segments of the body respond to music in different ways as
well. For example, arm, hand, and torso movements tend to occur at the beat rate,
whereas rotational moves and swaying of the entire body usually occur at half-time.4
Groove has been described as the urge to move in response to music, combined with
the positive affect associated with the coupling of sensory and motor processes while
engaging with music.6 Groove is a pleasurable response to moving to music. Groove
also involves awareness of the way our bodies move to music. Groovy music tends to
fall within the musical tempo range of 100 – 130 beats per minute (BPM), and
research has shown that the more groove a song has, the higher the response to move to
it will be.
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Did you know that different parts of music affect us in different ways?
For example, we tend to move our head to low-frequency sounds such
as a kick drum or bass guitar; and we tend to move our hands to the
high-frequency sounds such as a cymbal. But when there is a clear,
strong beat in the music, our overall body movements become more
in synch with the music, which is why group fitness music is often
specifically produced with strong, moving beats.4
Watch the volume level!
While the tempo, sound,
and style of music
can influence exercise
performance, the volume
level does not. Music that
is too loud can cause
hearing damage and
make participants feel
frustrated if they can’t
hear the instructor’s cues.
Use an app to measure
the decibels (dB) of your
music and make sure it’s
at or below the OSHA
recommended level of
Music and Exercise Performance
Music helps people perform better, and playlists have motivating songs because music
helps people to work out harder and longer, and even enjoy it more. Music helps drive
a group workout harder and there are numerous powerful studies to show positive
associations between music and exercise performance. Research has shown that music
Improve exercise endurance.
Positively influence performance perception.
Lower perceived exertion.
Increase exercise adherence.
Lower and raise heart rate.
Distract from the difficulty of exercise.
Raise confidence levels.
Help exercisers feel more positive and foster more interest in exercise.
Music and Exercise Performance | 5
Effects of Music on Heart Rate and Recovery
For one research project, participants completed self-paced treadmill workouts with
post-exercise recovery periods under three randomly assigned conditions: static noise
(control), fast-tempo music, and slow-tempo music.8 The researchers measured average
running speed, heart rate, and RPE (rating of perceived exertion) during the treadmill
period, and then heart rate and blood lactate levels during the recovery period.
The outcomes were clear: fast-tempo music resulted in faster self-selected running
speeds and higher peak heart rates without a corresponding difference in peak RPE;
conversely, utilizing slow-tempo music during the post-exercise period resulted in faster
heart rate recovery throughout and reduced blood lactate levels.
Effects of Music on Strength and Endurance
In a study published in 2015, researchers looked at resistance-trained men and
randomly assigned them to either a music group or a control group.9 The participants
took part in two separate sessions: one consisted of a maximal strength test (1-RM)
and one consisted of a strength-endurance test (reps to failure at 60% 1-RM) using
the bench press exercise. The results demonstrated that, while there were no effects
on maximal strength, listening to music did induce a significant increase of strength
Existing or occurring
at the same time; when
musical tempo and
Not existing or
happening at the same
time; when musical
tempo and movements
do not line up
Effects of Music on Oxygen Consumption
In a 2012 study, participants were asked to cycle for 12 minutes at 70% max heart rate
while being randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: slow-tempo
asynchronous music, synchronous music, and fast-tempo asynchronous music.
6 | Finding Your Beat
Researchers monitored exercise response in VO2, heart rate, and RPE.10 The study
concluded that mean VO2 (oxygen consumption) was lower in the synchronous group
(cycling “to the beat”) with heart rate showing a similar trend to VO2. The results
showed that exercise is more efficient when performed synchronously with music
compared to when the musical tempo is slightly slower than the rate of the cyclical
Effects of Music on Tempo/Pacing
In 2015, the Sports Medicine Journal published a study in which recreational runners
ran four laps under various conditions: control pace, cadence-matched tempo music,
increasing tempo music, and decreasing tempo music.11 The researchers found that
tempo significantly influenced running performance, and found a linear relation
between tempo and adaptations in running cadence. It was therefore concluded that
musical tempo, “could serve as an unprompted means to impact running cadence,” and
that step-rate increases (increased efficiency) may prove beneficial in the prevention
and treatment of common running-related injuries.
In the group fitness
setting, you’ll teach
classes filled with
want to move to the
beat combined with
participants who are
And even if you don’t
feel the beat yourself,
there will always be
people in your classes
who can. Therefore,
it’s important to
ensure you’re hearing
and using the beat
in the best possible
way so you can teach
incredible classes for
Effects of Music on Cardiac Rehab Patients
In another study, researchers examined cardiac rehab patients exercising without
music, with music, with personalized playlists, and with music enhanced to emphasize
the beat (rhythmic auditory stimulation—or, RAS—to accentuate tempo-pace
Music in the Group Fitness Setting | 7
synchrony). The participants received “usual care” as part of a cardiac rehabilitation
program and were monitored for 3 months under various musical conditions.12
Researchers concluded that the use of tempo-pace synchronized, preference-based
audio playlists were effective for improving adherence to physical activity beyond the
traditional non-music standard of care. In addition, the group whose music used RAS
(beat enhanced music) attained weekly exercise volumes (average weekly minutes of
physical activity) nearly double than the other groups. The RAS patients also utilized
their audio devices more frequently than did their non-RAS music counterparts.
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In a research study done at Fairleigh Dickinson University, participant
adherence to a 6-month walking program with and without music was
examined. The music-listening group was 98% adherent, whereas the
non-music group was 68% adherent to the program. In addition, the
music group lost twice as much weight (average of 16 pounds compared
to 8 pounds) as the non-music group.13
Music in the Group Fitness Setting
Just like the wide variety of formats an instructor will likely teach over the course of a
career, he or she will also use a wide variety of music in numerous ways. Music is an
undeniable foundation of any group fitness class. It is used for background music,
foreground music, fun, cueing, pacing, mood setting, and choreography design.
Finding the Beat (Musical Structure)
Beats and phrases are the rhythmic building blocks of fitness music. Understanding
this basic concept is foundational to using music like a professional. The beat is the
rhythmic pulse of a song that drives it forward and provides a sense of cadence and
structure. These rhythmical pulses group together to form measures, which in turn are
grouped together to form the structure of entire songs.
In fitness music, a measure or bar typically has 4 beats in it. The first beat of a
measure is called the downbeat, and it is the most important key to synchronizing
movements to the music. An 8-count phrase is two measures of music, or 8 beats. Most
dance and fitness music is structured in 8-count phrases, which is why one often counts
to 8 out loud while cueing a class. One might consider an 8-count phrase as having the
natural cadence of a single sentence. There is a beginning, middle, and end, making
it sound effortless. Oftentimes, when someone is off the beat, he or she missed the
downbeat and didn’t start a movement on count 1.
Using music to set the
mood and support the
Using tempo, lyrics, or
song components to
drive the movements
A grouping of musical
measures in multiples of
four beats; i.e., 4-, 8-,
16- or 32-count phrases
The first beat of a
measure in music
8 | Finding Your Beat
structure used in group
fitness in which there is
an audible build-up and
closure every 32 counts
The 8-count phrases are then organized into 32-count phrases just like sentences
in a paragraph. Like a well-written paragraph, 32-count phrases should begin clearly,
develop simply, and conclude strongly (Figure 1). This consists of an 8-count opening
statement, two 8-count supporting statements, and a final 8-count concluding
statement. When music is structured this way, into 32-count groups, the sound is
consistent, pleasing, and easy to follow for participants and instructors alike.
The end of a phrase is a good time to prepare a class for an upcoming change.
Likewise, the start of a phrase works well to execute a change or provide a motivating
cue. By creating 32-count movement patterns, whether four simple 8-count burpees or
a complex 32-count dance pattern, the movement should start with audible emphasis
and finish as the phrase comes to an end. This makes movements feel connected and
complete for the entire class.
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Instructors often use half-time or slower in a resistance class. If
the weight is light enough and/or unilateral, a few reps can also be
performed at basic time. Slower-than-half-time means you move every
4 or 8 counts instead of every 2. For example, a biceps curl might take 4
counts up and 4 counts down; that’s 1 full movement per 8 beats, which
is slower than half time. On the other hand, some formats that use quick
leg moves (e.g., mountain climbers) will often be performed at basic
time or double-time.
Music in the Group Fitness Setting | 9
Tempo is the speed or pace of the music, and is noted by “beats per minute” (BPM).
Tempo can be interpreted in real time (i.e., “basic” or “standard time”), half-time, or
double-time to accommodate various fitness movements and goals.
Basic time is when one moves to the beat with one movement on every single beat.
Half-time is when one moves on every other beat; for example, swaying left and right
on counts 1, 3, 5, and 7 of an 8-count phrase. Double-time is when one moves twice for
every beat; for example, jogging in place so the left foot hits on counts 1 through 8, while
the right hits the ground when saying “and” in between each count for 16 total touches
during an 8-count phrase. An instructor might use half-time to layer and teach complex
choreography patterns, while double-time can be used to manipulate workout intensity
in formats like HIIT, cycling, aqua, and more.
Cueing to Music
Movements are typically changed or started on the downbeat (count 1 of an 8-count
phrase), so an instructor can use 4-beat or 2-beat cueing to help master timely, effective
cueing. When using music as a tool to cue movement, participants will likely prefer for
the instructor to count down. This helps them know when the change is coming. 4-beat
cueing involves counting down from 8, and providing a verbal and/or visual cue on
counts 4, 3, 2, and 1.
“8-7-6-5-squat-to-the-right” (speaking words over counts 4, 3, 2, and 1)
Here, the participant is cued to squat to the right on the downbeat (first beat) of
the next phrase. Similarly, 2-beat cueing is when one counts down from 8 (or 4) and
provides verbal/visual cues on only the last two counts of a phrase, right before the
downbeat hits. For example:
“8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, squat, right” (speaking words over counts 2 and 1)
This type of cueing starts to sound more natural and works well for simple and
fast-paced movements. Instructors can also use musical phrasing as a less direct cueing
tool. For example, if an instructor wants the class to do 1 minute of jumping jacks,
motivational cues can be used at the end of every 8- or 32-count phrase by saying:
“8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, let’s, GO!”, or “8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, jump, higher!”