Author – Len Kravitz, PhD
From the introduction of aerobic dance in the early 70’s, it has generally been regarded that the music accompaniment to exercise provides an important beneficial effect to the exercise experience. Many health and fitness instructors regard the addition of music to exercise similarly to an ergogenic aid, with the removal of music or an inappropriate selection of music as a sure bet to an unsuccessful class. However, it may come as a surprise that scientific evidence has conflicting results when it comes to investigating the effects of music on exercise performance.
In this article, a research review of the literature will be presented and discussed, exploring the following:
1) the effects of music on respiration and heart rate,
2) the effects of different types of music on physical strength,
3) the effects of music and rhythmic stimuli in the rehabilitation of gait disorders
4) the effects of music on endurance performance,
5) the effects of rhythmic accompaniment upon learning fundamental motor skills
6) the influence of music elements on aerobic fitness
Effects of Music on Respiration and Heart Rate
The effects of music on respiration and cardiac activity have been of particular focus to researchers due to the value of these physiological parameters to health and disease prevention. The ability to control cardiac activity may be desirable in the treatment of various heart conditions. However, much of the early research on the physiological response to music has been rejected by researchers because of poor research designs, inadequate procedures, and limits of the equipment (Dainow, 1977) . In a well-designed study, Ellis and Brighouse (1952) noted that respiration rate increased significantly with the onset of jazz music and tends to return to pre-music levels with the cessation of music. Heart rate was only moderately effected by the introduction of the music. The average heart rate is between 72-80 beats per minute while music tempos may range from 70 to 170 beats per minute. A review of studies indicates that heart rate tends to only moderately follow the music; increasing in response to fast music and decreasing in response to slow music (Dainow, 1977) . Dainow cites several investigations that actually show any type of music (sedative or stimulative) will show a moderate increase in heart rate. Much of this increase in heart rate by all types of music can be explained due to the fact that music does produce some kind of emotional effect, thus increasing the heart rate.
Application: The research applications suggest that fitness teachers may benefit their students by playing music that in many ways depicts the intensity of the upcoming workout as students enter the workout room. In this way, the increases in respiration and moderate increases in heart rate from the music will better prepare the students for the forthcoming workout.
Effects of Different Types of Music on Physical Strength
Surprisingly, only one investigator has thoroughly conducted research comparing the influence of stimulative music, sedative music, and silence (no music) on measured grip strength (Pearce, 1981) . Subjects were 33 male and 16 female undergraduate students randomly assigned to the order of the three types of stimulation (stimulative, sedative, and silence). Analysis indicated that listening to sedative music decreased strength significantly when compared to stimulative music and silence. However, no statistical significant difference was seen between stimulative music and silence.
Application: It appears that sedative music may actually decrease a person’s muscular fitness potential training ability. This is congruent with early pioneering research that shows muscle tension can be altered by choice of music: stimulating music increasing muscle tension with sedative music decreasing muscle tension (Sears, 1957) . Although more research is needed, the lack significant difference in strength comparing stimulative music to silence suggests that personal trainers would be well-advised in surveying their clients as to their perceived best workout environment (with or without music accompaniment).
The Effects of Music and Rhythmic Stimuli in the Rehabilitation of Gait Disorders
Neuromuscular and skeletal disorders may seriously affect the quality of a person’s life by limiting a person’s daily functioning capacity and impeding mobility. Research has steadfastly demonstrated that external auditory cues, such as rhythmic music and percussion pulses favorably affects coordinated walking and proprioceptive control (Rudenberg, 1982; Staum, 1983) . It has been suggested that the music or auditory stimuli improves gait regularity due in part to the use of the beat, which helps individuals to anticipate the desired rate of movement.
Application: Many health and fitness professionals are currently working with the physically challenged, due to neuromusuclar or orthopedic disorders. The use of music and auditory stimuli can be advocated to enhance a person’s gait and gross motors skills, leading to increased stability and mobility of the clients.
The Effects of Music on Exercise Performance
Studies investigating the effects of music on exercise performance have revealed inconsistent data. Music accompaniment has been shown to improve muscular endurance in the performance of junior high students doing sit-ups (Chipman, 1966) and college women doing push-ups (Koschak, 1975) , while it did not enhance the running speed of female youth (Leslie, 1967) . In contrast, college-aged males and females were able to walk farther and with less effort when exercising to music as compared to no music (Beckett, 1990) . In a well-designed study, Schwartz, Fernhall and Plowman (1990) investigated the effect of music on submaximal bicycle performance with untrained college men and women. Music exhibited no significant influence on any physiological variable measured (aerobic capacity, ventilation, respiratory exchange ratio, heart rate, and blood lactates). In addition, the psychological perception of effort was not altered with or without the music stimulus, although subjects felt they performed better with the music. Another investigation of submaximal intensity walking/jogging on a treadmill showed that subjects had longer times to exhaustion when listening to slow, soft music as compared to loud fast music (Copeland & Franks, 1991) .
A possible explanation to some of the discrepancies seen in these studies can be attributed to subject bias. In some studies the subjects were aware of the purpose of the study, which may have led them to try to “help the researcher.” In studies involving music, “blinding” the subjects as to the purpose of the study will most likely improve the internal validity (see Reading and Enjoying Research) of the study.
Application: The practical application of this research is indirect. Research is unclear at this point as to the physiological effects music may have on exercise performance. New, well-designed and controlled studies are warranted. However, more important to the health and fitness educator is the exercise adherence of his/her students to the physical activity programs. Music in many ways may improve a person’s enjoyment and compliance to a fitness program, therefore ensuring long-term benefits, such as enhanced quality of life and reduction of risk to coronary heart disease and other causes of death.
The Effects of Rhythmic Accompaniment Upon Learning Fundamental Motor Skills
In a rather large study with over 600 boys and girls in grades 1 through 6, Beisman (1967) compared basic motor skills such as throwing, catching, climbing, balancing, dodging, bouncing, and striking learned to music and no music. In all grade levels and in both genders, students learned the motor skills better, as demonstrated by performance tests, with the rhythmic accompaniment. In the discussion the author noted that the music produced a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for the students to learn.
Application: This study supports the value of music in teaching motor skills that many elementary physical education instructors and teachers are aware of from their empirical experience.
The Influence of Music Elements on Aerobic Fitness
Information obtained from 70 college students (35 males and 35 females) enrolled in an aerobic dance class indicated that 97% of the students felt (perceived influence) that the music affected their performance during aerobic activity (Gfeller, 1988) . Respondents identified the following factors which influenced their aerobic performance: music style (97%), rhythm [beat] (94%), tempo (96%), lyrics (77%), volume (66%), mood (37%), and melody (17%). A strong correlation between male and female responses indicated that gender is not a particularly important factor to consider when selecting music for an aerobic activity.
Application: Although the results of this study are best generalized to college-age students, some applications seem appropriate. The results of this study support previous research that indicates that music benefits students from a motivational standpoint (Nelson & Finch, 1963) , although not always from a physiological perspective. Subjects emphasized the role that mental attitude was enhanced as compared to physical skill. Also, the results of this study indicate that musical taste of the class (kids, seniors, boomers, college students, etc.) should be a consideration when selecting music for the aerobic activity. The preferred music may facilitate focus on the music or other external stimuli rather than the discomforts that often accompany strenuous exercise. Thus, music also has the capability to evoke pleasant associations, possibly masking unpleasant stimuli (such as heavy breathing associated with exertion) or serve as a distraction to internal feelings associated with discomfort (Boutcher & Trenske, 1990) . It should be noted that the exact neurological effects of music on pain or discomfort are not understood. However it has been clearly demonstrated that music can reduce factors contributing to pain and discomfort such as stress, tension, and anxiety (Maslar, 1986) .
Summary and Conclusions
The review of original research on the relationship between music and exercise may verify what many of you already know from practical experience. This does not lessen the importance of the research, it actually helps to validate the knowledge and experience of you, the applied professional. The following are some interpreted summary statements and conclusions from this review article.
1. One valuable way an aerobic fitness instructor can use music in the teaching arena is as a pre-class stimulus. The majority of the studies suggest that music may significantly increase respiration rate and moderately elevate heart rate, preparing the student for the anticipated workout.
2. Personal trainers should be very attuned to the background music playing as their clients workout. Slower, sedative music decreases a person’s muscular fitness potential. Many persons may actually prefer a silent atmosphere, where there are no musical distractions, even of a stimulative quality.
3. Health and fitness professionals working with persons affected by orthopedic and neuromuscular disorders may achieve superior results in improving gross motor skills, such as walking, with the accompaniment of music or rhythmic stimuli in the rehabilitation process.
4. Although performance may or may not be enhanced by the addition of music to the workbout, subjects regularly report that they felt their performance was better with the music accompaniment. Therefore, music may directly improve a person’s enjoyment and fulfillment of the physical activity, leading to greater exercise compliance; a worthwhile objective for any fitness educator.
5. Boys and girls in grades 1 through 6 appear to learn basic motor skills such as throwing, catching, climbing, balancing, dodging, bouncing, and striking better when taught with rhythmic accompaniment.
6. Music appears to provide a motivational construct to exercise, positively affecting the mental attitude of the students. Music style, rhythm and tempo are factors that significantly influence the aerobic activity. Therefore, care of selection of music for the population (kids, seniors, ethnic groups, boomers, etc.) should be taken to maximize the teaching experience.
7. Music may evoke pleasant associations, while masking unpleasant stimuli (such as rapid breathing associated with exertion). It may also serve as a distraction to some internal feelings, possibly associated with discomfort. Accordingly, students may be able to endure the challenges of progressive overload of exercise with the music providing a pleasurable environmental stimuli. As a practical application, it would behoove the instructor to play the type of music universally agreed by the class as the most motivating during the challenging parts of the workout (e.g., standing leg toning, power work on the step, or sprint drills on the slide, etc.).
8. As our industry moves towards a more holistic approach of exercise for the mind, body, and spirit, perhaps we will learn new ways to incorporate music to achieve these ends.
Beckett, A. (1990). The effects of music on exercise as determined by physiological recovery heart rates and distance. Journal of Music Therapy, 27, 126-136.
Beisman, G. L. (1967). Effect of rhythmic accompaniment upon learning of fundamental motor skills. Research Quarterly, 38, 172-176.
Boutcher, S. H., & Trenske, M. (1990). The effects of sensory deprivation and music on perceived exertion and affect during exercise. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 12, 167-176.
Chipman, L. (1966). The effects of selected music on endurance. Master’s thesis, Springfield College. (From Completed Research in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, 9, Abstract No. 462).
Copeland, B. L., & Franks, B. D. (1991). Effects of types and intensities of background music on treadmill endurance. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 31, 100-103.
Dainow, E. (1977). Physical effects and motor responses to music. Journal of Research in Music Education, 25, 211-221.
Ellis, D. S., & Brighouse, G. (1952). Effects of music on respiration and heart-rate. The American Journal of Psychology, 65, 39-47.
Gfeller, K. (1988). Musical components and styles preferred by young adults for aerobic fitness activities. Journal of Music Therapy, 25, 28-43.
Koschak, E. P. (1975). The influence of music on physical performance of women. Master’s thesis. Central Michigan University. (From Completed Research in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation 19, Abstract No. 99).
Leslie, J. J. (1967). The effect of music on the development of speed in running. Master’s thesis. University of Washington. (From Completed Research in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation 10, Abstract No. 697)
Maslar, P. M. (1986). The effect of music on the reduction of pain: A review of the literature. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 13, 215-219.
Nelson, D. O., & Finch, L. W. (1963). Effects of audio-analgesia on gross motor performance involving acute fatigue. Research Quarterly, 33, 588-592.
Pearce, K. A. (1981). Effects of different types of music on physical strength. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 53, 351-352.
Rudenberg, M. R. (1982). Music therapy for handicapped children: Orthopedically handicapped. Washington, DC: National Association for Music Therapy, Inc.
Schwartz, S. E., Fernhall, B., & Plowman, S. A. (1990). Effects of music on exercise performance. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, 10, 312-316.
Sears, W. W. (1957). The effect of music on muscle tonus. In E. G. Gaston (Ed.), Music Therapy (pp. 199-205). Lawrence, KS: Allen Press.
Staum, M. J. (1983). Music and rhythmic stimuli in the rehabilitation of gait disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 20, 69-87.