Why You Should Use Music For Your Pilates Class

Episode 23

Music in Pilates class has been hotly debated for years, and this episode forms the first installment of a three-part series exploring exactly that.

We delve into the science supporting the use of music in your classes and explore the emotional benefits that make it a compelling choice. We also touch on some of the programming behind how to use music, including how to help foster communication in your studio, use music to ease the uncomfortable silences and elicit an atmosphere in your classes.

Join us as we explore the impact of music on pace, flow, rhythm response, synchronizing movement and breath, and more. You’ll hear how music can be thought of as a legal drug for athletes, what is behind our visceral emotional responses to music, and how to use it in your training. Tune in to hear all this and more today! 

Key Points From This Episode:

  • The three-part series introduced by this episode.
  • Why the topic of music in Pilates class is so hotly debated.
  • Different ways music can be integrated into a Pilates class.
  • Benefits of having music in the background during a class.
  • How music facilitates developing a pace and flow in your movement.
  • Defining a rhythm response.
  • How different music supports synchronizing movement and breath. 
  • Dr. Costas Karageorghis’s definition of music as a legal drug for athletes.
  • Our visceral emotional response to music.
  • How music supports coordinated movements.
  • Slower tempo tracks and mindfulness. 
  • How music can support you to do extra reps.
  • The role of music in supporting your immune system, repairing brain damage, and more.
  • What changes when Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s clients engage with music.
  • How your brain physically responds to music. 
  • The Mozart Effect and how music influences the hypothalamus.
  • Understanding how music influences people with Parkinson’s.
  • A summary of how music enhances and supports those practicing Pilates. 
  • How Hannah sees music as an additional tool for her clients. 
  • What to expect from the second installment of this series: why you shouldn’t use music in your pilates class. 



HT: People’s emotional response to music is visceral. We could see that in a lot of different ways, like if you can even just watch that you go to a concert and you’re watching people’s body language when they’re hearing that music, see what their bodies are doing, like you feel the music in your body.” 




[0:00:22] HT: Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts, and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 


I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and yoga for over two decades, and what I’ve learnt is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. 


We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this war themselves. Okay, everyone, let’s dive in. Exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange. 




[0:01:20] HT: We are jumping into a three-part series in this topic, because it is a huge one. There’s a lot of debate going on, has been for many, many years, about music in a Pilates class. I’m pretty excited about this one. I think it’d be beneficial to listen to all three of these episodes that are coming up before you jump to any conclusions or make your own opinions on this one. I’m going to be presenting my ideas, some science that’s going to support that, and in all of our show notes, you’re going to get links to different studies me other articles and blog posts that are in there so you can continue to go down the rabbit hole.


This topic is pretty hotly contested among Pilates teachers. You’ll notice it online and all the different either Facebook groups or even on Instagram. People normally have a, let’s say, a very distinct opinion on the either-or part of this. I’m going to open up this first of this series with why you should absolutely be using music for your Pilates class. Let’s dive in. 


We can think about using music in different ways within the Pilates class. I would say the Pilates training. One would just be like as a background, like in the background, if you’re playing music, what you’re doing is creating an atmosphere and it holds the space of the energy if that makes sense. You can create this feeling in the room just by that gentle or more upbeat music, whatever you’ve decided that fits what you what you need for the class. What that does is sometimes it puts people more at ease with each other. I don’t know you personally like with the size of the classes that you’re teaching, but if you have some new people coming in and it is like silent. 


Sometimes it’s a little bit harder for the newer people to make conversations with other people in the room. Having that music in the background really fosters communication and fosters that way of feeling at ease, because silence can be really uncomfortable. I think that would be one of my first reasons is that if it is at a background, you get to create an atmosphere of ease, or of energy, or of joy. It just depends on the playlist that you’re using. I think that is a great way of using mood enhancement. How about that? 


You can elicit joy. You can elicit emotions with music. We can really help foster whatever mood we’re trying to have in our classes just by that using some really well-placed songs or the entire playlist. Music can help you establish that consistent pace and flow during your session. The rhythm of the music can aid in like synchronising your movements with your breath. It’s going to make it hopefully when you synchronise all that, it’s going to make it easier to maintain that proper form and alignment. 


We have this funny thing that we do. It’s called a rhythm response. Most people have it. It’s when you hear a piece of music and you’re tapping your fingers on the desk or your foot to the beat of the music. That’s a rhythm response. That rhythm response, the type of music that excites that, it’s going to vary from culture-to-culture and from person-to-person, but like to make some broad generalisations, fast songs and strong beats are going to be really stimulating. Of course, you would tap your foot a little bit faster. That’s the type of stuff that fill most people’s workout playlists, I would say. 




When it’s doing, it’s been described that like, I don’t know, like a legal performance enhancing drug. Dr. Costas Karageorghis, I hope I got that pronunciation, right? He says, “Music is like a legal drug for athletes.” This guy is actually one of the leading authorities on music and exercise. He says, “It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15%.” That’s crazy. 15%. That’s amazing. I’ve linked a few of his studies down in the show notes. 


I mean, just for that, can you imagine getting 15% more out of your workout? That is just a reason in itself. There’s some psychologists that I’ve suggested that people have innate preferences for rhythms at certain frequencies. One of that would be like two hertz, which is the equivalent of about 120 BPMs. It’s beats per minute, which is about two beats per second when they’re asked to tap their fingers or walk. When it’s silent, that’s the BPM that they settle into. That’s a gentle one that you could just have in the background as well or it could support your entire class. 


If you go a little bit faster than that, and that’s what they would more recommend for. If you wanted like more performance, say, you would go for a little bit faster of a rhythm. Maybe 140 to 160 depending on where you’re teaching. Rhythm response. I mean, that is a visceral thing that happens, like you know it. I don’t know if I can really explain exactly what’s going on in the brain into the rest of the body. I mean, that’s up to our neuroscientists. Maybe we can find one to bring in. People’s emotional response to music is visceral. We could see that in a lot of different ways, like if you can even just watch that you go to a concert and you’re watching people’s body language when they’re hearing that music, see what their bodies are doing, like you feel the music in your body. 


I know that for decades they’ve been exploring these different connections between the auditory neurons and motor neurons and stuff, but I think what you can say like an easy way to explain that would be like, you know you hear a loud noise and before you’ve even processed what that noise was, you jump out of your seat, right? That’s a reflex circuit. I think that it has turned out that it could be active even for the non-startling sounds, right? That circuit that goes together, that could be for the non-startling, that is the music. We can activate all these things in our body just with using music. Although many people do not feel like they need to move to the exact time with their workout music, let’s say, or the playlist. That synchrony may help us use the energy more efficiently. 




When we’re moving rhythmically to a beat, the body, our bodies, your student bodies, may not have to make as many adjustments to coordinated movements as it would without those regular external cues. The music is really supporting what you’re doing. The music doesn’t have to be fast. I have some personal preferences for music that I like to work out to, or do my Pilates sessions to, but you can have gentle music going on. Relaxation, stress reduction, that is huge. We all, almost all of us, need a little bit more of that. That gentle soothing music can promote relaxation and reduce stress during the Pilates sessions. 


Slower tempo tracks can encourage mindfulness. It can help your students connect with their bodies. That could be the more holistic experience. It might be about community building. That shared musical experience in a class can help that sense of community. People may feel more connected and inspired when you’re moving together at the same rhythm. Feeling that support. It feels more friendly when you’re all working together. The human body is constantly monitoring itself. 


After certain periods of time, of exercise, and this is going to be just, it’s totally dependent on the person. It’s going to vary from person-to-person. Eventually that physical fatigue is going to start to set in. The body recognises these signs of exertion., like there’s rising levels of lactate in the muscles. Maybe it’s the heart is starting to beat a little bit faster. You’re getting a little bit more sweaty. That’s when usually the body decides it needs to take a break. 


Music, it competes with those physiological feedback for the brain’s attention, right? So, music can actually change the perception of their perceived efforts. It can support them to work harder for longer. It’s going to seem easier. That goes back into some of the other studies that I mentioned, it’s going to support people to work out at a higher level for longer. If they could curl in get in a couple extra sets of whatever you’re working on, if it’s bicep curls and you’re holding some free weights in your class, or if you are working on any of the pieces of equipment. Getting a little bit more could be exactly what you need. I don’t think – it’s not about jumping over all of those cues of your body. It’s just not paying attention to those first exhaustion cues, because often those are the ones, it’s just taking a little bit more discipline to go past that first one to get those extra reps in there. Music is going to help you. It’s going to help your students. 


A good playlist is going to change the ability to perceive time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a class where a training and we’re at the end of it, people are like, “Oh, it’s already done?” That’s great. It’s much better than, “Oh, my God. That took forever.” Music can change the ability to perceive time. There is actually probably not in our realm, but there’s enough evidence to say that it reduces seizures. It makes people better communicators. Definitely is going to make you people stronger. That was the study that I was talking about before up to 15%. There is good evidence that say it can boost your immune system. It assists in repairing brain damage. I mean, that’s crazy. 


It can make you smarter. Evokes memories. Now, that’s a fun one, like that is so interesting how I’ve seen this with some of my clients, evoke memories with some of my Alzheimer’s clients that we’ve gotten them to move and dance and where they were not so coherent. Any other time in our classes, but when we get that right piece of music that gets to some part of their memory system and then they start moving with it. It’s incredible to watch. 




[0:12:54] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training so that it made sense, but I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programmes leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers. 


Train the Trainers is designed to give you the tools you need to create a powerful learning environment for your students. Gain access to the vault of our collected knowledge where you can learn everything, we have to teach you, whether you are a freelance teacher or a studio owner. Get constructive feedback on your teaching with actual tools you can apply immediately. We can’t wait to be part of your teaching journey and to help you grow in your business. Welcome to Train the Trainers. 




[0:13:41] HT: We do have some Parkinson’s clients and it helps them move better. It helps them move to the beat of the music. It helps walking. It helps produce more movement in their bodies. How the brain responds to music is complex. It’s so interesting. We have the frontal lobe. That’s where a frontal lobe is more what’s used in thinking, decision making and planning. This is one just for us as humans, right? Listening to music, we can enhance the functions of that frontal lobe. 


The stuff that I’m going to be talking about, it’s not just for your Pilates class, but just understanding how music is going to have an effect on the entire brain. I think this is interesting. The temporal lobe, that’s processing what we hear. That temporal is also where language centre is, right? We are appreciating our music through this temporal lobe, through this language centre. That one spans both sides of the brain. Language and words are interpreted in the left hemisphere. Music and sounds are interpreted in the right part of the hemisphere. An Alzheimer’s patient, even though they may not recognise their partner, or their daughter, or they still may be able to tap into that music and you’ll put them in front of a piano and they’ll be able to play the piano because of that muscle memory. 


Those memories in the cerebellum, they don’t fade, those stay strong. I’ll link to a couple of videos because I think it’s just beautiful to watch. We may be able to tap into that a little bit with our workouts, with using the music. It’s a little bit different when, of course, they’re playing an instrument at the same time, but I think it’s worth considering. The nucleus accumbens, seeks pleasure and reward. That plays a huge role in addiction as it releases neurotransmitter, then neurotransmitter, dopamine. 


Music can be a drug. It’s an addictive drug, because it’s also acting in the same heart of the brain as illegal drugs. Music is going to increase this dopamine. That also, not after not saying that, we have to have like a drug response in our classes, but it could be so rewarding to hear songs that motivate you, things that you like to hear when you’re moving in your Pilates class. The brain responding to music is also in the amygdala. This is where we process and trigger emotions. 


Music can control your fear centre. It can make you ready to fight, but it could also increase the pleasure. Everyone knows when you hear that piece of music that’s like just you get it and you just feel the shivers, the goosebumps in your whole body. That’s because the amygdala is activated. The hippocampus is where producing and retrieving memories. It regulates emotional responses and helps us navigate through them. This one is also considered like the central processing unit of the brain. 


According to Yonetani, I’ll connect in the show notes, “Music may increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus, allowing production of new neurons and improving memory.” The hypothalamus is also going to be active with music, with certain types of music. That section of the brain maintains the body’s status cue. It links the endocrine and the nervous systems together and produces and releases these essential hormones and chemicals that regulate thirst and appetite, sleep, mood, heart rate, body temperature, lots of things. For example, if you’re playing Mozart and you happen to like Mozart, your heart rate and blood pressure may reduce. 


A lot of, of course, how we respond to music is depending on personal preference and stuff, but there is a push for a while, the Mozart effect, right? I don’t know if you guys remember that, but that’s where they were saying that you should study to Mozart or just in classical music. It’s because of that hypothalamus. Now, since that point, there have been other studies done that say more important would be the personal preference of the music that the person likes. 


I’ll get into all of that in the third episode of this three-part series. The corpus callosum enables right and left hemispheres to communicate. This is going to be where we find the coordination of movement, as well as complex thoughts because that requires logic, that’s right side, left side logic and intuition together. For example, as a musician, you want to have right hand side and left-hand side of the brain in coordination, so they’re talking to each other. That allows like a pianist to play coordinated notes. Those fingers then hitting the keys are going to be when they’re producing the music, but we could also think about how that coordination of that body movement is exactly what we do in Pilates. 


We’re looking at right side, left side, coordinated, smooth, flowing movements. We’re going to need this part of the brain to be working with it. music might be helping to support that. Now, the putamen, another part of the brain, that produces rhythm and regulates body movement and coordination. we were talking already about tapping your foot when you hear the music. That includes moving your body when you’re hearing the music. 




Music can increase dopamine in this area, and it increases your response to the rhythm. We were talking before about Parkinson’s disease. By doing this, music temporarily stops the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. I don’t know if you’ve seen someone that stuttered response, like they catch in a movement and they can’t get forward in a movement. This is what’s going to help jumpstart them, so that a rhythmic music, for example, helps Parkinson’s patients function better, either getting up or down or walking, because patients need that assistance to move. 


It’s that music is using a cane. Unfortunately, when the music is stopped, then it doesn’t have a lasting effect. It may be at last a few minutes, but not very long. Getting the benefits of exercise with music, especially for that clientele, that could be really, really helpful, because then they get to move for that hour, or 30 minutes, or however longer classes are. I’m sure that there are other areas in the brain that are used to process music. When we’re thinking about a full-body experience, we can’t exclude our brains in our Pilates workouts. 


We would like to be mindful in there, but music can really support getting a more efficient workout, getting more coordinated workout in. It could support clients that maybe wouldn’t be able to access to those movements for whatever reason, whether it’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or just because. That could be a great reason for using music in your class, for selecting a playlist that’s going to support that. It could be stress reduction. You’re going to choose a playlist that is more meditative or background music to support that atmosphere. 


Speaking from personal experience of how music supports me, and my own motivation, and my own discipline, and when I make a playlist for my clients to support their experience. I’m giving them an extra tool to support them. I’m giving them an extra way to go a little bit deeper, a little bit further into that experience. 


I hope in this podcast I was able to give you a little bit of the science of why you should be using music in your classes. A little bit of the, also the emotional reasons of why you should be using music in your classes. Give you some ideas for the programming, whether you’re programming those playlists for beats per minute, or you’re looking for more background, or even just eliciting an emotion or an atmosphere in your classes, that music can be an amazing support for the experience that you’re trying to give. 


Next week in this three-part series, that will be part number two. We’re talking about why you absolutely should not use music in your Pilates class. 




[0:23:03] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us in the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You can also look down into the show notes and grab any one of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching everyone.



Empty section. Edit page to add content here.