My playlist is compiled with the aim of aiding a physical exercise routine that I would typically do to maintain my physical health. I wanted to create a music listening experience that would enable me to have increased motivation and energy as I undertook moderate to high-intensity exercise, as well as elicit a calmer mood as I finished the exercise portion and entered the cool down/relaxation portion of my routine. I have an extensive playlist that I frequently use when exercising, and from this, I first chose 8 high-energy and lively songs, to use as part of this playlist. The 8 songs are fast-paced and of the hip-hop genre, forming a cohesive theme of heavy percussive beats, energetic instrumentals and rap throughout my cardio and strength training. The theories I used to test the effectiveness of these 8 songs explore the range of possible benefits associated with improving the physical exercising experience: increased engagement, motivation, and enjoyment, as well as improved focus and discomfort relief. I concluded the playlist with an uplifting soul/R&B song for my stretching routine and a slow classical piece for a final moment of relaxation, both of which I chose for their relaxing and calming properties.
My exercise routine began with a cardio warmup – jogging – which has the purpose ofpreparing my body and mind for the physical exertion to be undertaken over the next 25-30 minutes. Placing ‘Money in the Grave’ first in the playlist, came about from the sense of familiarity and structure this song offered from the outset. The simple, repeating riff that continues throughout the entire song became a predictable sequence of notes that induced a sense of excitement and heightened attentiveness as I eased into the exercise. These feelings were consistent with the proposal of Daniel Berlyne, who suggests that music can help stimulate engagement and arousal with our surrounding environments and activities (Berlyne, D. E., 1971). The feeling of anticipation was further compounded by the introduction of the song’s percussion sequence; the juxtaposition of a heavy bass drum and crisp hi-hats created an energetic, “bounce-like” pattern that matched the pace of my exercise and allowed the song to successfully motivate my movements.
‘Road Run’ immediately follows ‘Money in the Grave’, and the music seamlessly continued to aid my jogging exercise with a similar tempo and bounce-like rhythmic sequence. The short and sharp hi-hat pattern, layered under the staccato-like rapping, helped to strengthen my focus on the repetition of my footwork. Music that uses rhythmic elements in a repeated pattern can aid the brain in gaining a sense of time passing along with the flow of music (Thaut, M., 2005). Indeed, listening to music with a strong percussive emphasis seemed to help me garner a better sense of rhythm, as I found myself paying close attention to the movement of my steps and its alignment with the beat of the music.
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‘Wow Freestyle’ entered with a faster, livelier tempo of around 150 BPM. I added some more intensity by transitioning into an interval sprint exercise, despite the fatigue beginning to settle in my lower limbs. Listening to motivational music during moderate-intensity exercise can increase attentional focus on performance and help individuals distract from feelings of fatigue (Bertuzzi, R., Lima-Silva, A. E., Lopez-Silva, J. P. & Silva-Cavalcante, M. D., 2015). With respect to this, by focusing on the dynamic pitch variations and rhythmic nuances, I was able to motivate myself to overcome some feelings of tiredness. This response to higher intensity exercise is also consistent with the findings of Karageorghis and Priest (2012), who suggest that music can help divert feelings of discomfort and improve athletic endurance. At the stage of moderate-level exercise, music is effective in alleviating some feelings of fatigue, however the studies from Bertuzzi et. al (2015) do not show any evidence of alleviation of fatigue for subjects with significant preceding fatigue from prior exercise – suggesting that there are still limitations on how effectively music can aid heavy, prolonged exercise.
As I returned to a jogging pace during the final minutes of my cardio exercise, I found myself concentrating intensely on the rhythmic and vocal textures of the next song ‘DNA.’ in an effort to combat the depletion in energy I was beginning to experience. As part of Lamar’s Pulitzer prize-winning album DAMN., ‘DNA.’ is a fast-paced, high-energy song with a complex layering of beats, sampled recordings and lyrics littered with his political commentaries. A particular moment of interest is the inclusion of an audio sample of a Fox News Host criticising Lamar’s influence on African American adolescence: the audio sample replaces the typical rhythmic percussion line for a brief period before the underlying beat returns a few seconds later. This temporary deviation from the predictable rhythmic sequence, provided a state of heightened attention as some suspense was built before the return of the song’s main rhythm. As described by Huron (2006), excitement and energy can be generated by moments of suspension from the predictable structure, allowing the feeling of sweet anticipation to induce interest and stimulation.
‘No Wave’ marks the introduction of the strength training portion of my exercise routine. This song holds some of the bragging qualities of a typical hip-hop song, with the artists incorporating dynamic ad-libs and background shouting, exuding a sense of confidence and pride. Being quite familiar with this song, I would find myself anticipating the lyrics and feeling confident and self-asserting as I listened to the song and exercised. This behaviour may be supported by findings which describe familiar, self-selected songs with emotive attachments having some effect on altering the behaviour of individuals (Schneck & Berger, 2006). I found myself less focused on the weight I was holding and instead more engaged with the song and my emotions, an outcome that may prove the success of this song in allowing physical activity to be more enjoyable (Boutcher & Trenske, 1990). This response is further substantiated by Murrock & Higgins (2009), who assert that music can lead to a more enjoyable exercise experience through its mood-altering effects and movement cues.
‘Gospel’ began to play as the fatigue from my muscles began to settle in from the strength training exercises. This song is very dynamic with its varying intensities and tempos throughout – for example, there are moments of eerie piano solos and moments of fast-paced, angered rapping over heavy percussion. The increase in speed during the introduction of the rap sequence is also quite notable, and I found myself exerting extra effort in order to keep up my momentum and reduce my need to take unnecessarily long breaks in between sets. The variation of music tempo can act as a factor of motivation, particularly through prolonged periods of exercise (Lucaccini, L. F., & Kreit, L. H., 1972). ‘Gospel’, with its increased tempo, was ultimately successful in maintaining my level of motivation despite my exercise level plateauing and my muscles fatiguing.
‘Off Deez’ incorporates a repetitive melodic riff that underlies its energetic and lively hi-hat and snare sequence. I chose this song to succeed the previous, ‘Gospel’, in an effort to maintain a similar level of energy, motivation and enjoyment. Dyrlund & Winiger (2008) suggest that music listening could allow for greater enjoyment experienced during exercise.
My experience mirrored this finding, but only to a limited extent: while it was somewhat enjoyable to listen to the dynamic rhythm and chopping (fast-paced rapping), I felt less enjoyment in comparison to previous moments of exercise, and found it more difficult to sustain my exercise movements with the same intensity as before. This less successful attempt to increase enjoyment could be a result of the selection of music or the change inexercise difficulty and intensity, the latter of which is supported by the finding that more enjoyment may be experienced when exercising at moderate levels as opposed to high intensities (Dyrlund, A. K., & Winiger, S. R., 2008).
‘WIN’, despite its slower tempo than preceding songs, is still very high-energy with vibrant textures of percussion, brass and vocals. The repeating brass accents are loud, bright and exude a sense of triumph, which I thought would be fitting for the final training stage of my exercise routine. By selecting music that evoked a sense of vigour and positivity, I was able to better align the anticipation of my movements with the actual exercise. This is consistent with findings from De Nora (2000), who suggests that by self-selecting music to evoke vigour or enjoyment, individuals can appropriate music to help anticipate physiological and emotional states. Thus, in finishing the strength training portion of my exercise routine with this song, I was able to end with a sense of joy and enthusiasm.
‘Smile’ marks the introduction of the stretching portion of my exercise routine. It has a dramatically slower tempo and allows for a more relaxing mood than any of the energetic hip-hop songs heard previously. This dramatic shift in mood is further emphasised by the uplifting melody and bright vocal harmonies, as well as the repeated lyrical reminder to “just smile”. I chose this song because the slower rhythm guided the slower movement of stretching and I wanted the positive message of the song to help guide positive emotions. Believing that uplifting music would improve my mood, is a response consistent with McFerran and Saarikallio’s findings (2014) that suggest young people, in many cases, can be successful in depending on music to improve their mood. However, this outcome may not always hold, particularly during times of initial distress, and as such, it is still important to acknowledge the limitations of using music to feel better (McFerran, 2016).
I concluded my exercise session with a period of relaxation and practice of mindfulness, where I lie down and let my body relax. ‘The Swan’ is the eighth movement of this Saint-Saëns’s suite; it is around half the speed of other songs in this playlist, eliciting a feeling of ease with its ‘adagio’ tempo. The soft piano accompaniment helps to drive the calm pace of the piece and enables the music to offer a space to relax. This is supported by Baker, Clark and Taylor (2016), who suggest that musical tempo and melody can be manipulated to stimulate certain neurological processes, such as a slow tempo helping one to relax. Low arousal classical pieces can also help support a shift into a relaxed state (Lynar, Cvejic, Schubert, Vollmer-Conna, 2017). ‘The Swan’ can be described as a low arousal piece, with its mellow accompaniment and smooth dynamic transitions of the cello, and I would ultimately deem it a successful piece in helping me achieve a final state of relaxation
The playlist I created was generally successful in providing some of the benefits I hoped to gain from this exercise. To others who may be wanting to create a similar musical playlist to aid physical exercise, I would recommend including songs that they enjoy listening to – in order to increase their enjoyment (Dyrlund & Winiger, 2008), and songs with appropriate rhythms and tones to match the intensity of their exercise – to help improve focus (Bertuzzi, R., Lima-Silva, A. E., Lopez-Silva, J. P. & Silva-Cavalcante, M. D., 2015). I found the relaxation portion of the routine quite successful as well, and further research into the effects of listening to classical music may reveal even greater association of classical pieces with states of relaxation. It is key to note that despite the significant effects music seemed to have on my mood and physiological response – the type of music chosen, the type of physical activity undertaken, and the mental and physical state of individuals may also be important factors that must be considered when evaluating the role of music in promoting one’s health.
- Baker, F., Clark, I., & Taylor, N. (2016). The modulating effects of music listening on health-related exercise and physical activity in adults: a systematic review and narrative synthesis, Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 25(1), 76-104.
- Berger, D. S., & Schneck, D. J. (2006). The music effect: music physiology and clinical applications. London; Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
- Berlyne, D. E. (1971). Aesthetics and psychobiology. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. Bertuzzi, R., Lima-Silva, A. E., Lopez-Silva, J. P. & Silva-Cavalcante, M. D. (2015)
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- Boutcher, S. H., & Trenske, M. (1990). The effects of sensory deprivation and music on perceived exertion and affect during exercise. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 12(2), 167-176.
- Cvejic, E., Lynar, E., Schubert, E., Vollmer-Conna, U. (2017). The joy of heartfelt music: An examination of emotional and physiological responses. Elsevier B.V, 120, 118-125.
- DeNora, T. (2000). Music in everyday life. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
- Dyrlund, A. K., & Winiger, S. R. (2008). The effects of music preference and exercise intensity on psychological variables. Journal of Music Therapy, XVL(2), 114-134.
- Higgins, P. A., & Murrock, C. J. (2009). The theory of music, mood and movement to improve health outcomes. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 65(10), 2249-2257.
- Huron, D. (2006). Sweet anticipation: music and the psychology of expectation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Karageorghis, C. I., & Priest, D. L. (2012). Music in the exercise domain: A review and synthesis (Part I). International Review of Sport Exercise Psychology, 5(1), 44-66.
- Kreit L.H., Lucaccini L.F. (1972). Ergogenic aids and muscular performance. New York: Academic Press.
- McFerran, K. S. (2016). Contextualising the relationship between music, emotions and the well-being of young people: A critical interpretive synthesis. Musicae Scientiae, 20(1), 103–121.
- McFerran, K. S., & Saarikallio, S. (2014). Depending on music to make me feel better: Who is responsible for the ways young people appropriate music for health benefits. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(1), 89-97. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2013.11.007
- Thaut, M. (2005). Rhythm, music, and the brain. New York: Routledge.