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The Role of Music 1
Running head: THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN SPORT AND EXERCISE
CHAPTER 17: Chariots of Fire:
The Role of Music in Sport and Exercise
Peter C. Terry
University of Southern Queensland, Australia
Costas I. Karageorghis
Brunel University, UK
“The music gives me a rhythm that fits in with my record pace.”
(Haile Gebrselassie, double Olympic 10,000 m champion)
The Role of Music 2
The cultural pursuits of playing and listening to music are extremely widespread and
almost as old as civilization itself. Music applications in physical activity developed rapidly
in the 1970s and 1980s, reflecting the popularity of exercise-to-music classes in the western
world. This growth extended from group to individual exercise when personal listening
devices such as Nike‟s Personal Sport Audio™ reached the mass market. During the same
period, music was integrated into many professional sporting events and added considerably
to the sporting spectacle. More recently, since the advent of the iPod™, there has been an
explosion in music use by athletes during training and prior to competition, while countless
millions of exercise participants have made music an essential part of their daily workout.
The boom in the use of music by athletes and exercisers appeared to take researchers by
surprise. There was only a trickle of empirical research in the 1980s and 1990s, but this
trickle has turned into a stream during the present decade.
Intuitively, for a stimulus such as music to be used on a daily basis by so many people for
such a variety of purposes it must have some benefits. However, of particular interest to
behavioral scientists is the reliability and reproducibility of any purported effect, its
magnitude, and the contingencies that surround it. For example, is music as effective during
high intensity activity as it is during low intensity exercise? Can music provide as much
benefit for elite athletes as it appears to have for recreational participants? What are the
important aspects of the music selection process that serve to maximize its potential benefits?
Moreover, it is possible that music may have no measurable effects on physical performance
other than to make seemingly monotonous tasks a little more pleasurable. This raises the
additional question of whether the recent popularity of music use by athletes is a marketing-
led phenomenon, rather than one that is grounded in genuine psychological and physical
The Role of Music 3
In this chapter, we have integrated the corpus of research work we have generated over
the past two decades with the findings of other researchers from around the world, to
rigorously examine whether music has a meaningful and reliable effect. We describe
situations in which music is likely to benefit performance, and also address those in which it
may debilitate performance. We provide applied examples and recommendations throughout
the chapter that will enable practitioners to use music more judiciously.
Understanding the Nature of Music
Any piece of music, whether it be jazz improvisation or a symphony performed by the
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, requires the organization of several primary elements:
melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, and dynamics. Melody is the tune of a piece of music, the
part to which you might hum or whistle along. Indeed many people refer to a piece of music
as a “tune” which highlights the importance of this element. Harmony involves the
combination of notes, which acts to influence the mood of the listener. The “sonic tapestry”
that results when different notes are combined can make you feel happy, sad, relaxed, or
edgy. The next time you watch a movie, pay particular attention to how changes in harmony
are used to manipulate your emotions.
Rhythm involves the distribution of notes over time and the way in which they are
accented. Musical styles, such as reggae – which has a strong second and fourth beat of each
bar – or salsa – which has a syncopated (off the beat) feel – are characterized by very distinct
rhythms. That is why when you dance to a reggae “skank”1 your movements are slow and
jolting, whereas when you dance to a salsa “montuno”2 they are fast and pulsating. Tempo is
the speed at which music is played, usually measured in beats per minute (bpm). Most
1 “Skank” is a West Indian colloquialism representing the beat that characterizes reggae music. This involves a
strong emphasis on the second and fourth beat of the bar.
2 “Montuno” is a name given to the particular style of piano playing that typifies salsa music. It features a
catchy, syncopated vamp that is repeated throughout the piece.
The Role of Music 4
common musical styles or rhythms only work within a certain bandwidth of tempi; so when
reggae is played at a very high tempo it just doesn‟t sound right. Dynamics reflect the energy
transmitted by a musician, through their touch or breath, to impact on the loudness of an
instrument. For example, in a jazz ballad, such as Ella Fitzgerald‟s version of Summertime,
the drummer strokes his drums with brushes, whereas in a rock anthem, such as Queen‟s We
Will Rock You, he strikes them forcefully using both sticks simultaneously.
In many professional arenas, music and sport have become very closely linked, with the
use of disc jockeys who select music that will inspire the players and engage the crowd. In
the highest echelons of modern-day sport, the line between sporting endeavor and show
business has become blurred. Fans attend games and matches, not just to support their
favorite team, but to be entertained. Accordingly, stimuli, such as music, video, and lighting,
have become an integral part of the sporting spectacle.
Effects of Music
In the context of sport and exercise psychology, researchers have primarily explored the
psychological, psychophysical, psychophysiological, and ergogenic effects of music.
Psychological effects refer to how music influences mood, affect, emotion, attitudes,
cognition, and behavior. The psychophysical effects of music involve sensory responses to
physiological processes. In music-related research, perceptions of physical effort are of
particular interest and are most often assessed using ratings of perceived exertion (RPE). The
psychophysiological effects of music relate to the influence of music on a range of
physiological parameters (e.g., blood lactate, heart rate, respiration rate). Music exerts an
ergogenic effect when it improves physical performance by either delaying fatigue or
increasing work capacity. Typically, this results in higher-than-expected levels of endurance,
power, productivity, or strength. In general terms, rhythm and tempo have been shown to be
the elements of music most likely to prompt a physical reaction in the listener (Karageorghis,
The Role of Music 5
Terry, & Lane, 1999), reflecting their close relationship to various periodicities of human
functioning, such as heart beat, breathing rate, and walking (Bonny, 1987).
Uses of Music
In a sport and exercise context, music is typically used in one of four ways. First,
asynchronous music is played in the background to make the environment more pleasurable
or to act as a planned distraction. In this application, there is no conscious synchronization
between movement patterns and musical tempo (Elliot, Carr, & Savage, 2004; Rendi, Szabo,
& Szabo, 2008). Second, synchronous music is typified by athletes or exercisers using the
rhythmic or temporal aspects of music as a type of metronome that regulates their movement
patterns (Simpson & Karageorghis, 2006; Karageorghis, Mouzourides, Priest, Sasso,
Morrish, & Walley, 2009). Third, pre-task music is applied immediately prior to a physical
task or sporting event; this entails using a musical stimulus to arouse, relax, or regulate the
mood of an athlete or a team (Karageorghis, Drew, & Terry, 1996; Lanzillo, Burke, Joyner,
& Hardy, 2001). Pre-task music is also used to engender task-relevant images or to facilitate
mental rehearsal (Bishop, Karageorghis, & Loizou, 2007; Gluch 1993). Fourth, music may
also be used as part of the recovery process following competition or a tough workout (Priest
& Karageorghis, 2008). This use of music, which we refer to as recuperative music, has not
been well documented in the sport and exercise literature. Boxed Example 17.1 describes
how the Brazilian national soccer team uses music in all four ways.
Insert Boxed Example 17.1
Until the publication of our first review paper (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997), the
approach taken to the study of music in sport or exercise was largely unstructured and
The Role of Music 6
atheoretical in nature. Researchers often adopted what became known as a “vitamin model”
(Sloboda, 2008) whereby they presupposed that a particular piece of music would have
certain “active properties” that might cause the listener to feel sedated or elated, happy or sad.
This approach failed to account for two critical aspects of music that determine how
individuals respond to a particular song or piece of music. The first relates to the moods,
memories, attitudes, and preferences of the listener, while the second concerns the social
context in which the music is heard. The presence of others, the type of activity one is
engaged in, and the significance of that activity all come together in shaping one‟s response
In our 1997 review paper we sought to provide researchers with an underlying framework
and a number of methodological recommendations to guide their efforts. In particular, we
suggested that the selection of music for experimental conditions should account for factors
such as the age profile, musical preferences, and socio-cultural background of experimental
participants. Moreover, we provided some guidelines on the design of music-related studies
emphasizing the inclusion of appropriate dependent measures. Early work in this field had
yielded frustratingly equivocal findings (see Lucaccini & Kreit, 1972 for a review).
Accordingly, it was impossible to conclude that music would have a beneficial effect when
applied to real-life sport and exercise tasks. Our review identified a number of
methodological limitations that contributed to the equivocal findings. It also provided a
starting point for the theoretical developments that followed and gave subsequent empirical
investigations a sharper focus, particularly in terms of how researchers selected music for
experimental conditions. The present chapter primarily addresses theoretical advances and
empirical research since our 1997 review.
The Role of Music 7
The 1999 Conceptual Model
To address the paucity of relevant theory, we have published several conceptual
frameworks over the past decade, three of which are outlined here. In our original conceptual
framework for predicting the psychophysical effects of asynchronous music in exercise and
sport (see Figure 17.1), we proposed that four factors determine the motivational quotient of a
piece of music; namely, rhythm response, musicality, cultural impact, and association
(Karageorghis et al., 1999). The validity of these factors was supported using exploratory and
confirmatory factor analyses.
Insert Figure 17.1
Rhythm response relates to innate responses to rhythm-related elements of music, in
particular, tempo. Musicality refers to pitch-related elements of music, such as melody and
harmony. Cultural impact reflects the pervasiveness of a particular musical selection within a
given culture or sub-culture. Frequent exposure to a musical selection increases its familiarity
which, in turn, determines preference (Schubert, 2007). The fourth factor, association,
pertains to the extra-musical associations that music can evoke and represents a very
powerful mechanism by which to generate beneficial effects. For example, Chariots Of Fire
by Vangelis became closely associated with Olympic glory in the movie of the same name
(see Boxed Example 17.2). Similarly, Bill Conti‟s composition Gonna Fly Now, popularized
in the Rocky movie series, is associated with striving to overcome adversity. This is perhaps
why it is played every year by the Eagles Pep Band on the course of the Philadelphia
Marathon. Such associations are classically conditioned through repetition and powerful
images in which television, cinema, radio, and the Internet play an important role.
The Role of Music 8
Insert Boxed Example 17.2
When a connection between sport and music is reinforced in the media, it can elicit a
conditioned response that triggers a particular mindset. For example, the M People hit Search
For The Hero now evokes a sense of pride and inspiration in many British people, owing to
its recent association with the successful London bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. Along
similar lines, music can trigger a relaxation response, which can ease an athlete‟s pre-
competition anxiety. British athlete Kelly Holmes told journalists that she used the soulful
ballads of Alicia Keys to great effect during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games where she won
gold medals in the 800 m and 1500 m. Famous athletes‟ playlists are a regular feature in
newspapers and fitness magazines; a media-led, sport-music connection that motivates many
people to explore how particular musical selections might enhance their own performance.
In developing the conceptual model, we demonstrated a hierarchical structure for the four
factors in terms of determining the motivational quotient of a piece of music. The two most
important factors, rhythm response and musicality, were termed internal factors because they
relate to the constituents of music. The other two factors, cultural impact and association,
were termed external factors because they concern how an individual interprets a piece of
music. Motivational music is generally of higher tempo (> 120 bpm), has catchy melodies,
inspiring lyrics, an association with sporting endeavor, and a bright, uplifting harmonic
structure. Consider tracks such as I Like The Way You Move by Bodyrockers or Boom Boom
Pow by the Black Eyed Peas, both of which typify motivational music in a sporting context.
Some of the potential benefits of music were also identified in the model. Among the
most reliable effects is its influence on arousal or activation levels; causing some media
commentators to refer to music as a “legal drug” because it can act like a stimulant or a
sedative. In general terms, loud, upbeat music has a stimulative effect (Edworthy & Waring,
The Role of Music 9
2006) while soft, slow music has a sedative effect (Szmedra & Bacharach, 1998). Music also
has the capacity to lower perceived exertion (RPE), primarily by distracting attention away
from sensations of fatigue. Nonetheless, during high intensity activity, because physiological
cues become the more salient influence on attention, an automatic switch of attention from
external cues to internal, body-related cues occurs (Hernandez-Peon, 1961; Rejeski, 1985).
As a consequence, given that music is an external cue, its effect on perceived exertion during
high intensity activities is greatly diminished. Rejeski‟s parallel processing model is often
cited with reference to this diminution of the effects of music when workload crosses the
anaerobic threshold; an aspect of the model that has been referred to as the load-dependent
Appropriately selected music can also enhance positive dimensions of mood, such as
vigor, excitement, and happiness, and reduce negative aspects of mood such as boredom,
tension, and depression (Terry, Dinsdale, Karageorghis, & Lane, 2006). Collectively, such
benefits can impact upon exercise adherence or compliance to a training program by making
activities more pleasurable. Moreover, music can be used as part of a pre-event routine to
help athletes create an optimal mindset through arousal control and mood regulation (see
Bishop et al., 2007).
To augment the conceptual model, we also developed a measure – the Brunel Music
Rating Inventory (BMRI; Karageorghis et al., 1999) – and associated methodology to provide
a mechanism for the objective assessment of the motivational qualities of individual musical
selections. Many subsequent studies have used the BMRI or its successor, the BMRI-2
(Karageorghis, Priest, Terry, Chatzisarantis, & Lane, 2006) to rate the motivational qualities
of music used in experimental conditions. Collectively, research has shown that if the age and
sociocultural background of participants is accounted for in the music selection process, and
consideration given to the coordination of music with the task, music is very likely to exert a
The Role of Music 10
positive influence (Atkinson, Wilson, & Eubank, 2004; Crust, 2008; Crust & Clough, 2006;
Elliot, Carr, & Orme, 2005; Simpson & Karageorghis, 2006).
Revised 2006 Conceptual Model
In 2006, we proposed a simpler conceptual framework directed primarily at the sport
context, to reflect the burgeoning list of potential benefits of music listening for athletes that
had come to light through empirical investigations (see Figure 17.2; Terry & Karageorghis,
2006). In this model, we emphasized (a) the interaction of personal factors (age, socio-
cultural background, musical preferences) and situational factors (presence of others, type of
activity engaged in, listening context), (b) the influence of intermediaries in the form of the
four music factors identified previously (i.e., rhythm response, musicality, cultural impact,
associations), and (c) a longer list of consequences or potential benefits that also included
dissociation, greater work output, improved skill acquisition, flow state, and enhanced
performance, as well as arousal control, reduced RPE, and improved mood. The literature
critically appraised later in this chapter provides substantial support for this list of proposed
Insert Figure 17.2
The 2007 Grounded Theory Model
Grounded theory is a set of techniques for developing theory from qualitative data by
coding raw data into emergent themes at different levels of generality (Glaser & Strauss,
1967). Bishop et al. (2007) developed a grounded theory of young tennis players‟ use of
music to manipulate emotional states (see Figure 17.3). This study is one of only a handful to
apply qualitative techniques when investigating applications of music in sport and exercise
(see also Gluch 1993; Priest & Karageorghis, 2008; Priest, Karageorghis, & Sharp, 2004).
The Role of Music 11
Based on data derived from a music questionnaire, interviews, 2-week diaries, and
observations (i.e., facial expressions, smiling, piloerection,3 and increased liveliness), Bishop
and colleagues found that tennis players consciously selected music to elicit a variety of
emotional states. The most frequently reported consequences of music listening included
enhanced mood, increased arousal, and visual and auditory imagery. Numerous factors
mediated players‟ choice of tracks and the impact of music listening; these included desired
emotional state, extra-musical associations, inspirational lyrics, and the way in which the
music was delivered (e.g., iPod™ vs. stereo hi-fi).
The grounded theory approach adopted by Bishop et al. (2007) can be used to assist
practitioners with music-related interventions at the delivery stage. For example, increasing
the tempo and/or volume of a piece of music can increase an athlete‟s arousal or activation
level (cf. Edworthy & Waring, 2006). There are at least two ways in which music influences
arousal levels. First, physiological processes tend to react sympathetically to the rhythmical
aspects of music. Fast, upbeat music increases heart rate, respiration rate, sweat secretion, and
numerous other indicators of physical activation. Second, arousal is increased through extra-
musical association. In other words, appropriate music promotes thoughts that inspire
physical activity or superior sporting performance.
Insert Figure 17.3
Keep it in the Background: Asynchronous Music
The majority of empirical investigations have focused on the psychological and
psychophysical effects of asynchronous music. Several of these investigations have examined
responses to music of differing tempi. For example, Szabo, Small, and Leigh (1999) used
3 Piloerection is the raising of bodily hair.
The Role of Music 12
Beethoven‟s Symphony No. 7 (A major, opus 92) during a static cycling task to voluntary
exhaustion. This piece of music is famed as an exploration of rhythm, featuring marked
changes in tempo within movements. The researchers found that a switch from slow to fast
tempo music yielded an ergogenic effect. The implication here is that a change of music
tempo from slow to fast may enhance participants‟ motivation and work output, especially
when work level plateaus or during the later stages of an exercise bout. Rendi and colleagues
(2008) conducted a similar study using excerpts of the same Beethoven symphony applied to
a 500 m rowing ergometer task. Participants completed three supramaximal bouts of exercise
with slow tempo music, fast tempo music, and a no-music control. The best times were
recorded in the fast tempo condition. There was also a significant effect for stroke rate, which
was higher when accompanied by fast tempo music than during the other conditions.
Interestingly, the slow tempo music also produced faster completion times relative to the
control condition. A possible limitation of this study is that none of the participants reported
previous use of music during training. Accordingly, the application of music may have
elicited a novelty effect, which would diminish with repeated exposure.
Atkinson et al. (2004) showed how the careful application of asynchronous music during
a simulated 10 km cycle time-trial could help to regulate work output. The music was
particularly effective in the early stages of the trial, when perceived exertion was low. The
BMRI was administered to assess the motivational qualities of musical selections, with
participant ratings supporting the prediction that the rhythmical components of music
contribute more to its motivational qualities than its melodic or harmonic components. Lim,
Atkinson, Karageorghis, and Eubank (2009) conducted a follow-up study in which they
assessed the impact of an asynchronous music program in different half-segments of a 10 km
cycle time-trial. Music was played either in the first or second half of the trial and
experimental conditions were compared against a no-music control. It was hypothesized that
The Role of Music 13
music would wield greater influence on power output when introduced during the second half
of the trial. However, results indicated the converse; the highest power output was evident in
the early stages of the trial when music was played during the first 5 km. This suggested that
foreknowledge of the introduction or removal of music may have affected participants‟
pacing strategy. The decision to provide participants with details about when music would be
played may have introduced a confounding variable, although Lim and colleagues‟ approach
did reflect how music is used in real-life sport settings.
Szmedra and Bacharach (1998) demonstrated that asynchronous music was associated
with reduced heart rate, systolic blood pressure, exercise lactate, norepinephrine production,
and RPE during treadmill exercise at 70% VO2 max [A DOT ABOVE THE V IS
REQUIRED]. Speculating on the mechanism by which these benefits accrued, the
researchers suggested that music allowed participants to relax, reducing muscle tension, and
thereby increasing blood flow and lactate clearance, while decreasing lactate production in
working muscle. The reduction in RPE for music vs. no music was ~10%, a figure replicated
in a subsequent study by Nethery (2002), who found that perceived exertion was lower in an
asynchronous music condition when compared to a video condition and two control
conditions comprising no music and sensory deprivation.
Crust and Clough (2006) examined the ergogenic properties of asynchronous
motivational music, compared to drumbeat only and no music, during an isometric muscular
endurance task. The drumbeat used was the same as that in the motivational track, but
without the other constituents of music (melody, harmony, lyrics). Participants endured for
longer in response to motivational music when compared to the other two conditions. This
highlighted the collective importance of the various constituents of music in determining
participants‟ responses; a point that has been emphasized strongly in a recent review (North
& Hargreaves, 2008).
The Role of Music 14
Research has shown that the beneficial effects of asynchronous music are reduced once
exercise intensity exceeds the anaerobic threshold. For example, using the Wingate test (a
maximal cycle ergometer effort over 30 s), Pujol and Langenfeld (1999) found that music had
no positive influence on performance; a finding that supports the load-dependent hypothesis.
In a subsequent study using a treadmill and outdoor running task at 90% VO2 max [A DOT
ABOVE THE V IS REQUIRED], Tenenbaum et al. (2004) showed that while motivational
asynchronous music did shape interpretations of fatigue symptoms, it did not reduce
perceptions of effort.
Tempo is generally considered to be a key determinant of the aesthetic response to a piece
of music and is an important musical constituent to consider when prescribing music for
exercise (Crust, 2008; Edworthy & Waring, 2006; Karageorghis & Terry, 1997).
Accordingly, a recent series of studies led by the second author has investigated the
relationship between exercise heart rate and preference for music tempo. Previous
investigations by Iwanaga (1995a, 1995b) had suggested a positive and linear relationship
between heart rate and music-tempo preference. However, methodological limitations
inherent in these studies, such as lack of a heart rate manipulation and self-regulation of
music tempo, detracted from the ecological validity of the findings. Karageorghis and his
collaborators sought to re-examine Iwanaga‟s findings having strengthened the methods used.
In the first study, participants reported their preference for slow (80 bpm), medium (120
bpm) and fast (140 bpm) tempo music selections while walking on a treadmill at 40%, 60%,
and 75% of maximal heart rate reserve (maxHRR). Participants expressed a strong preference
for fast and medium tempo music over slow music regardless of work intensity. Also, an
interaction effect was found, whereby participants reported a preference for either fast or
medium tempo music during low and moderate exercise intensities, but preferred fast tempo
music during high intensity exercise (Karageorghis, Jones, & Low, 2006).
The Role of Music 15
Karageorghis, Jones, and Stuart (2008) extended this approach to study the psychological
impact of entire music programs, rather than just excerpts of music. They administered
medium tempi, fast tempi, mixed tempi (tracks arranged in the order medium-fast-fast-
medium-fast-fast) conditions and a no-music control condition, while participants worked at
70% maxHRR on a treadmill. Dependent measures were music preference, intrinsic
motivation, and global flow. The researchers expected the mixed-tempi condition to yield the
most positive psychological effects because it was well aligned with the selected work
intensity, and there was also less likelihood of participants experiencing boredom or
irritation. However, findings showed that it was actually the medium-tempi condition that
elicited the most positive psychological outcomes.
Based on the findings of their first two studies, Karageorghis and colleagues suggested
that there may be a step change in preference between 70% and 75% maxHRR, reflected by a
stronger preference for fast tempi music at the higher heart rate. The step change in
preference parallels the anaerobic threshold, which is characterized by a greater reliance on
anaerobic pathways for energy production. Moreover, at these moderate-to-high intensities
participants become more acutely aware of fatigue-related cues (cf. Rejeski, 1985).
These findings led us to question the positive linear relationship between heart rate and
preferred music tempo that Iwanaga had proposed (Karageorghis & Terry, 2009). We
hypothesized that the relationship between these variables is quartic in nature, with three
inflection points (see Figure 17.4). During the early stages of an exercise bout, when RPE is
low, the relationship is linear, whereas at moderate-to-high exercise intensities, music of fast
and medium tempi is preferred equally. Beyond 70% maxHRR, fast tempi are preferred and
the linearity of the relationship resumes. Once exercise intensity exceeds 80% maxHRR,
there is a “ceiling effect” for tempo preference. The reason for this is that relatively few
tracks are recorded at very high tempi and so our band of most familiar tempi is 80-140 bpm.
The Role of Music 16
Also, given the automatic attentional switching that occurs at high exercise intensities, it is
unlikely that music of any tempo can be attended to selectively (Hernandez-Peon, 1961;
Rejeski, 1985). In other words, silence is possibly “golden” during very high intensity
exercise. This notion does, however, require further empirical investigation.
We recently tested the hypothesized quartic relationship between exercise heart rate and
music tempo preference (Karageorghis, Jones, Priest et al., in press) using six exercise
intensities (40-90% maxHRR) and four music tempi (slow, medium, fast, very fast). Results
generally supported a quartic relationship between heart rate and preferred music tempo,
although in the early stages of exercise, the preference was for music of a higher tempo than
we had predicted. Moreover, between 70% and 80% of maxHRR, rather than a “ceiling
effect”, we observed a dip in music tempo preference. This has been termed the “Clarke dip”
after a precocious undergraduate, Adam Clarke, who predicted it during the early stages of
the research project, despite the second author‟s forecast to the contrary.
Insert Figure 17.4
Keeping in Time: Synchronous Music
Despite the proliferation of studies examining asynchronous music since 1997, very few
researchers have addressed the impact of synchronous music on physical activity. There is
little doubt that humans have a strong tendency to respond to the rhythmical and temporal
qualities of music. One manifestation of this is a potential synchronization between either the
tempo or meter4 of a piece of music and an athlete‟s movement patterns. It is important to
stress that the synchronous use of music is a conscious process that is contingent upon an
individual‟s rhythmic ability in maintaining strict time.
The Role of Music 17
As well as the potential benefit of the synchronization phenomenon for athletic training,
especially in steady-state activities, the use of synchronous music is also integral to several
sports, including figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, competition aerobics, and
synchronized swimming. The types of tasks that are typically used to assess the impact of
synchronous music include cycle ergometry, walking, and running (Karageorghis et al., 2009;
Simpson & Karageorghis, 2006).
An important consideration in conducting such research is strict standardization of the
experimental task. The internal validity of some of the early work was compromised by tasks
that were difficult or impossible to standardize (see Karageorghis & Terry, 1997).
The relatively few published studies that have investigated the potential benefits of
synchronous music have shown that it yields significant ergogenic effects among non highly-
trained participants, although its beneficial effects for elite athletes or highly trained
participants are less well supported. However, an oft-cited example of the effective use of
synchronous music in elite performance was provided by the celebrated Ethiopian runner
Haile Gebrselassie who, in February 1998, broke the indoor 2000 m world record while
synchronizing his stride rate to the rhythmical pop song Scatman, which was broadcast over
the arena‟s loudspeaker system (see Boxed Example 17.3).
Insert Boxed Example 17.3
Very recent research work has indicated that the benefits that potentially ensue from
synchronous music might exceed those proposed in our earlier work. Bacon, Myers, and
Karageorghis (under review) assessed the metabolic cost of exercise conducted
synchronously to ascertain whether it promoted greater neuromuscular or metabolic
4 Meter involves how tones are grouped with one another over time. For example, how one taps one‟s foot hard
The Role of Music 18
efficiency. They used a submaximal cycle ergometry task performed at 60% maxHR under
conditions of synchronous music, slow asynchronous music, and fast asynchronous music.
Participants used 7.4% less oxygen when listening to a selection of synchronous music when
compared to slow or fast asynchronous music conditions. Interestingly, no differences were
found in heart rate or RPE despite the observed reduction in oxygen uptake.
Karageorghis et al. (2009) examined the psychophysical and ergogenic effects of
synchronous music applied to a treadmill walking task. Participants initiated the task at 75%
maxHRR and continued walking until exhaustion. They were exposed to three conditions:
motivational synchronous music, oudeterous (neutral) synchronous music, and a no-music
control. The two experimental conditions yielded significantly longer endurance than the
control, with the motivational music proving superior to the oudeterous music. Indeed,
exposure to motivational music was associated with a 15% increase in treadmill endurance
over the control and a 6% increase over the oudeterous music. The experimental
manipulations did not impact significantly on RPE, although they did have a strong influence
on in-task affect, with the motivational condition yielding more positive feelings right up to
the point of voluntary exhaustion (see Figure 17.5). Findings supported the notion that
although music may not moderate what one feels during high intensity exercise, it can
moderate how one feels it (cf. Hardy & Rejeski, 1989). Despite the fact that music cannot
reduce RPE at high exercise intensities, it is possible that if the motivational qualities are
sufficiently high, the music may ameliorate the potential negative impact of high intensity
exercise on affect (Elliott et al., 2004).
Insert Figure 17.5
versus light, and how this series of taps forms together to create larger units. Meter is created in our brains by
The Role of Music 19
Simpson and Karageorghis (2006) tested the impact of synchronous music on anaerobic
endurance using a 400 m sprint time trial. This study was designed to have high ecological
validity, by implementing conditions of motivational synchronous music, oudeterous
(neutral) synchronous music, and a no-music control in a race-like protocol with qualified
timekeepers. Both music conditions yielded faster 400 m times than the control although,
contrary to expectations, there was no significant difference between the motivational and
oudeterous music conditions. This suggests that motivational qualities may not be of prime
importance when music is used synchronously during an anaerobic endurance task. A
limitation of this study was that it was very difficult for the participants to achieve strict
synchronization, particularly in the early and latter stages of the task.
A follow-up study using circuit-type exercises (Karageorghis et al., 2010) found that,
synchronous music did not elicit ergogenic or psychological effects in isolation; instead there
was a Condition x Gender interaction for affect and total repetitions performed. Men reported
higher negative affect scores than women during oudeterous and motivational music
conditions but the opposite trend was evident in the control condition. Both genders produced
more repetitions with motivational music than oudeterous music. Although women
performed fewer repetitions under the control condition, men and women performed
comparably in the motivational condition. Results did not support the hypothesis that women
would outperform men during complex synchronous movement, although they did point to a
gender differential in responses to synchronous music during circuit-type exercise.
Independent of the research developments discussed, there has been substantial
commercial activity in recent years focused on the development and promotion of walking
programs that use synchronous music either to promote fitness (e.g., www.run2r.com) or as
an integral part of cardiac rehabilitation (e.g., www.positiveworkouts.com). Several mass
extracting detail from rhythmic cues and loudness.
The Role of Music 20
participation events have been organized by the International Management Group (IMG) with
music selected scientifically to enhance the experience of participants and promote
synchronous movement (e.g., www.runtothebeat.co.uk). Following two highly successful
half-marathons to music hosted by the London Borough of Greenwich in 2008 and 2009,
IMG is proposing to launch a string of similar mass participation events worldwide in the
USA, Asia, Australia, and throughout mainland Europe.
Listening Before Starting: Pre-task Music
A small number of studies have explored the application of music as a form of stimulant
or sedative prior to a task. In one of our early experiments, we tested the effects of fast,
energizing music and slow, relaxing music played prior to handgrip dynamometer
performance (Karageorghis et al., 1996). Participants produced significantly higher grip
strength after listening to stimulating music compared to sedative music or a white-noise
control. Also, listening to sedative music resulted in lower strength scores than white noise.
Our findings cast light on the potentially powerful effects of music on a simple motor task
and showed how use of a highly standardized task was effective in elucidating the impact of
pre-task music. A limitation of our approach was that, in maintaining high internal validity,
the music was provided in a clinical manner that did not typify how athletes might use it in
Using a more ecologically valid approach, Lanzillo et al. (2001) examined the impact of
pre-event music use on competition anxiety and self-confidence among intercollegiate
athletes from a range of sports. The experimental group listened to a 3 minute selection of
their preferred tracks immediately before competition and results were compared against a
no-music control group. Findings showed that athletes in the experimental group reported
higher state self-confidence compared to controls, although there were no differences in
anxiety scores. A limitation of this study was that ability to select appropriate music to
The Role of Music 21
regulate activation levels inevitably varied among participants, introducing a potential
Bishop, Karageorghis, and Kinrade (2009) used a sample of tennis players to examine
how changes to the tempo and intensity (volume) of music influenced affective responses and
subsequent choice-reaction task performance. A researcher-selected piece of music was
modified to create six versions (3 tempi x 2 intensities) that were compared against white
noise and silence. A key finding was that fast, loud music produced more pleasant emotional
states, higher arousal, and faster choice reaction time compared to the same music played at
moderate volume. An implication for athletes is that in situations where a high level of
arousal coupled with short reaction times is desirable, the use of fast music played loudly is
Using an idiographic approach, Pates, Karageorghis, Fryer, and Maynard (2001) tested
the effects of pre-task music and performance-related imagery on flow states and netball
shooting performance among three collegiate netball players. Two players reported increased
perceptions of flow, while all three showed improved shooting performance. The netball
players also reported that the intervention enabled them to better control emotions and
cognitions critical to performance. Pates et al. concluded that music with imagery has the
potential to enhance athletic performance by triggering emotions and cognitions associated
with flow. A possible limitation of this study was that the mental rehearsal and recall of flow
states, which were a central part of the intervention, may have caused the performance
improvements, rather than the music.
In an applied context, music is very often used as part of a pre-competition routine. The
music used by three gold medallists at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney illustrates its
potential to influence pre-competition mindset. For rowing champion James Cracknell,
listening to Blood Sugar Sex Magik, an album by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, proved an
The Role of Music 22
effective pre-competition strategy for optimizing his arousal and aggression. Audley
Harrison, the super-heavyweight boxing champion, listened to Japanese classical music to
ease his pre-fight nerves coming into the final, and Richard Faulds, the winner of the double-
trap shooting, was inspired to seize the moment in the tensest of shoot-offs, by Whitney
Houston‟s classic One Moment In Time. Even the greatest Olympian of all time, American
swimmer Michael Phelps, regularly uses music to manipulate his pre-race mindset (see
Boxed Example 17.4). During the Beijing Olympic Games, the first author combined music
with PowerPoint™ presentations to target specific pre-competition feelings. For example, to
reduce the sense of isolation that afflicts some Olympic competitors, Delta Goodrem‟s
evocative ballad Together We Are One was combined with photographs of coach, family, and
friends to engender a sense of togetherness and a collective effort. To facilitate accessibility
during competition, the presentations were converted to mp4 files and loaded onto athletes‟
iPods™. In summary, pre-task music can have a potent effect on human emotions, but the
music selection process demands great sensitivity to the personal preferences of the athlete,
the match between the characteristics of the music and the target emotion, and the
associations elicited by a particular piece of music.
Historically, the healing properties of music have been tapped by many civilizations.
According to the Old Testament, King Saul was cured of his deep depression by the dulcet
tones of David‟s harp. Similarly, Aristotle believed in the healing power of the flute and
encouraged his students to participate in daily music making. In a sport and exercise context,
there has been no empirical investigation into how music can aid recovery from injury,
competition, or training. Hence, in this brief section, we simply emphasize that the power of
music as a recuperative agent has been demonstrated in other life domains (e.g., education,
The Role of Music 23
industry, medicine) with the underlying suggestion that it may be just as relevant within sport
and exercise (see Le Roux, 2006).
In terms of some practical guidelines from our own experiences as consultants to elite
athletes, we suggest that recuperative music should have a tempo in the range 60-70 bpm;
around resting heart rate. In terms of emotional tone, the music should be neutral or relaxing,
while the instrumentation might be comprised of soothing, “warm” instruments, such as
strings, oboe, or gentle piano. The inclusion of sounds of nature, such as breaking waves, bird
song, or a running stream may also be effective for this purpose. Recuperative tracks are
typically longer than regular music tracks (> 10 min), while rhythmically complex
arrangements should be avoided. The key is for the music to be absorbing, and hence jarring
or irksome selections do not work well. For optimal effect, the music should be characterized
by regular pulsation and repetitive tonal patterns based on a limited number of pitch levels.
Good examples of recuperative music include the slow-tempo classical works of Vivaldi,
Handel, and Bach. If you prefer a more contemporary sound, try listening to artists such as
Enya or Enigma.
Clinical research indicates that relaxation is an essential component of injury
rehabilitation (Ahern & Lohr, 1997). This is consistent with the gate control theory of pain
(Melzack & Wall, 1962) which posits that pain is not a direct result of activation of
nociceptors, but is rather modulated by interaction between different neurons. Accordingly,
this theory offers an explanation as to how a hypnotist can relax a patient to the point that
they can undergo painful dental surgery without anesthetic. Along similar lines, music can
activate neurons that are extraneous to pain reception and serves to inhibit the sensation of
pain through indirect means.
When Not to Use Music
The Role of Music 24
We have discussed how carefully selected music has the potential to aid the performance
of athletes and exercise participants. However, there are certain instances in which music
should be avoided. For example, in the early stages of learning, before a skill becomes
autonomous, a high proportion of information processing capacity is required for the learner
to make accurate movements. Accordingly, parallel processing of music and kinesthetic cues
can result in a performance decrement. Along similar lines, while learning a new skill,
feedback from a coach or exercise instructor is of seminal importance, and music provides an
unnecessary distraction that can inhibit learning. The research we have reviewed also
indicates that music is not particularly effective during very high intensity activity. Moreover,
there is evidence to suggest that moderate intensity activity coupled with very loud music (>
100 dB SPL) can result in temporary hearing loss (Lindgren & Axelsson, 1988), which is
obviously to be avoided.
It is slightly ironic that some governing bodies of sport have banned the use of music or
personal audio players in competition (e.g., the International Amateur Athletics Federation).
This is perhaps partly due to the potential work-enhancing effects of music, but also relates to
the fact that music can be so intoxicating that it can place athletes in mass-participation
events in mortal danger of, for example, being struck by a car. For this reason the organizers
of the New York Marathon banned the use of personal music players in the 2007 event,
which prompted considerable media debate on the effects of music in sport, plus hundreds of
complaints from competitors. The complaints continued to come thick and fast right up to the
2009 event, but the ban was not relaxed. Of course, banning iPods™ and other mp3 devices
in such large-scale events is very difficult to police.
Asynchronous Music. There are five notable trends to emerge from the many studies that
have examined the impact of asynchronous music. First, a change in tempo from slow to fast
The Role of Music 25
can elicit an ergogenic effect in aerobic endurance activities. Second, use of asynchronous
music during submaximal exercise can reduce RPE by up to 10%, although the degree to
which this effect is mediated by the motivational qualities of music requires further empirical
investigation. It would also be advantageous to use psychobiological measures, such as
salivary cortisol, to examine the mechanisms that underlie the benefits that have been
observed at submaximal work intensities. Third, from an applied perspective, slow
asynchronous music (< 110 bpm) is generally inappropriate for exercise or training contexts
unless used to limit effort exertion or as an auditory backdrop for warm-up/cool-down
activities. Fourth, rather than a positive-linear relationship between exercise heart rate and
music-tempo preference (Iwanaga 1995a, 1995b), recent research has suggested a quartic
relationship, that should guide practitioners in their prescription of music for activities at
different work intensities. We also recommend that researchers re-examine this quartic trend
to gauge whether it is manifest across a range of exercise modalities. Finally, in support of
Rejeski‟s (1985) load-dependent hypothesis, asynchronous music has a negligible effect on
psychological and psychophysical responses beyond the anaerobic threshold (70-80% VO2max
[A DOT ABOVE THE V IS REQUIRED]).
Synchronous Music. The few studies that have evaluated use of synchronous music
indicate that it can be applied to aerobic and anaerobic endurance activities to bring a number
of psychological and psychophysical benefits, as well as ergogenic effects. Most recently,
research has shown that synchronous music used during submaximal cycle ergometry can
facilitate a ~7% decrease in oxygen uptake (Bacon et al., under review). This finding
warrants reinvestigation using a range of exercise modalities; in particular, rhythmic and
repetitive exercise, such as running and rowing. At present, there is a paucity of research into
the application of synchronous music and the mechanisms that underlie its benefits.
Moreover, this area is in need of development of specific theory to underscore research
The Role of Music 26
efforts. Our own investigations have shown large positive effects with recreational exercise
participants, and although these are unlikely to be as pronounced with high-level performers,
the exploration of music-movement synchrony with elite athletes remains a tantalizing
prospect for sport scientists.
Pre-task Music. Research has shown that pre-task music can be used to manipulate
activation levels prior to sport or exercise performance. According to Bishop and
Karageorghis (2009), this may be due to a combination of emotion-mediated activation of
visuomotor decision-making pathways in the brain and the priming of increased corticospinal
excitability of motor circuits. Pre-task music can also facilitate task-relevant imagery/mental
rehearsal, enhance self-confidence, and promote the attainment of flow. Despite much
anecdotal evidence of famous athletes using pre-task music to good effect (see Boxed
Example 17.4), there have been relatively few scientific investigations to ascertain the precise
effects and their underlying mechanisms. Accordingly, this area is potentially fruitful given
the broad interest in pre-performance states that is evident in the sport psychology literature.
We anticipate that the use of music, video, and priming in combination will become
widespread in elite sport during the next decade. Indeed, researchers have already begun to
examine the interactive effects of these media (see Loizou & Karageorghis, 2009).
Recuperative Music. Investigation of recuperative music is almost entirely virgin territory
for sport and exercise researchers. There is a need for a conceptual framework to be
developed and for this to act as a springboard for both nomothetic and ideographic
investigations. The latter approach is likely to be more relevant to the application of
recuperative music given differing individual needs for recovery from injury and heavy
training. We advocate that music could be used in a far more systematic manner in order to
facilitate the mental and physical well-being of sport and exercise participants. To aid
scientific investigation of recuperative music, it would be advantageous for researchers to
The Role of Music 27
develop a scale, similar to the BMRI, for assessing the sedative qualities of music in a
physical activity context.
We have presented three complementary conceptual approaches underlying the study and
application of music in sport and exercise contexts (Karageorghis et al., 1999; Terry &
Karageorghis, 2006; Bishop et al., 2007), which provide some guidance for future research
endeavors. We have also established that music can be applied to exercise, athletic training,
and sports competition in many different ways. One of the main demonstrated benefits of
music is that it enhances psychological states, which has implications for optimizing the pre-
competition mindset and increasing the enjoyment of exercise or training activities. When
applied synchronously, music can boost work output and make repetitive tasks, such as
running or cycling, significantly more energy efficient. We have provided a number of
suggestions for future research involving more detailed investigation of the psychobiological
and neurophysiological mechanisms that underlie the benefits of music. We have also
provided examples of how music can be applied in sport and exercise and would encourage
others to adapt these in order to meet the needs of individuals or teams.
1. What are the main constituents of music?
2. What were the main weaknesses associated with early research in the area of music in
sport and exercise?
3. What are the documented psychological, psychophysical, psychophysiological, and
ergogenic benefits of music?
4. What qualities does “motivational music” have?
5. Why has music sometimes been referred to by journalists as a “legal drug”?
The Role of Music 28
6. How does asynchronous music influence ratings of perceived exertion during
7. What is the nature of the relationship between exercise heart rate and music-tempo
8. How can athletes use pre-task music to attain an optimal competition mindset?
9. What are the main qualities of recuperative music?
10. Under which circumstances might music be detrimental to performance?
The Role of Music 29
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The Role of Music 35
Boxed Example 17.1
The Samba Boys
The Brazilian national soccer team is known colloquially as the Samba Boys. The team
uses music in several different ways. The players enjoy upbeat Latin American music
in the changing room while they prepare mentally (pre-task music). As they step onto
the pitch they are usually greeted by a throng of percussion musicians positioned
strategically among their supporters and, once play gets underway, the drums pound
relentlessly in the background (asynchronous music). On occasion, the players seem to
lock collectively into the samba rhythm, which promotes their flowing patterns of play
(synchronous music). After the match, many of the players like to listen to an entirely
different Brazilian rhythm – the bossa nova – which is soft and soothing (recuperative
music). They report that there is no better antidote for the knocks and strains
encountered during 90 minutes of soccer! Insight into their use of music is provided by
the following quote from former team coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, in 2006:
“Psychologists say it is very important in the dressing room and coming from the
hotel to the stadium that you do something with your hands, with your mouth …
If you just sit there worrying, clutching your hands, that does not help. If you play
something it helps them relax. That‟s why we give them the drums and things …
Since 1970 we have done this. We buy instruments for them and they play on the
bus instead of saying, „Oh my God, we are going to play Germany or England in a
World Cup game.‟ That does not help.”
This video link illustrates how music forms an integral part of the Samba Boys‟ pre-
The Role of Music 36
Boxed Example 17.2
Sean Dreams of Olympic Glory
Sean is a club runner with big ambitions. He was a talented athlete at school but stopped
running during his college years. Sean found it hard to motivate himself to train on the
dark, cold winter evenings. The lethargy of the winter soon spilled over into the summer
months and like many students, he drifted into some bad habits; late nights, fast food, too
much alcohol, and precious little physical activity. Sean was interested in movies and it
was while attending his university‟s film club that he saw Hugh Hudson‟s classic Chariots
of Fire for the first time. He loved the imagery in the movie as well as the inspiring
soundtrack by Vangelis. In the summer of his graduation, Sean took a close look at
himself, didn‟t like what he saw, and decided that it was time to re-initiate his training
regimen. He hooked-up with his old coach and began to make dramatic improvements. In
the fall, he felt his motivation waning a little but recalled the positive influence of the
Chariots of Fire theme while he was at college. Now, whenever Sean lacks the motivation
to leave the house for training, he plays the theme on his hi-fi at full blast while he
stretches his muscles and imagines himself representing his country in the 400 m at the
Olympic Games. In 3-4 minutes he is primed and ready to go.
The Role of Music 37
Boxed Example 17.3
Haile impressed by Hermens
It‟s no surprise that the world‟s most prolific distance runner Haile Gebrselassie makes
frequent use of synchronous music during his record attempts given that his manager, Jos
Hermens, was a pioneer in the use of music for running. Hermens was the best Dutch
distance runner of his generation and was selected to represent his country in both the
Munich and Montreal Olympics. In 1975 and 1976 he twice broke the world record for the
distance covered in one hour on a 400 m track:
“For weeks leading up to the record attempts, I was working at home to get
all the right music on a tape that was exactly an hour long. Obviously, the
music was slowish and calming in the beginning, Joan Baez and Rod
Stewart, for example. Further on, I had Pink Floyd, David Bowie and some
harder punk. Of course, my record attempts concluded with Bruce
Springsteen‟s Born To Run! I‟m convinced that the compilation of the tape
at home in the weeks leading up to the record attempts played a big role in
enhancing my mental focus.” Jos Hermens (personal communication,
January 2, 2009)
The Role of Music 38
Boxed Example 17.4
Michael Phelps’ Playlist Revealed
American swimmer Michael Phelps has been hailed the “greatest ever Olympian” after
winning six gold medals at the 2004 Athens Games and then surpassing even that feat
with an unprecedented haul of eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games. Phelps is an
avid music listener prior to competition, using his iPod™ until about two minutes before
his race begins. One of the most frequently asked questions on Olympic-related blogs
from both Athens and Beijing was “Just what is Michael Phelps listening to?” Well, his
playlist includes mostly rap and hip-hop sounds, with artists such as Jay-Z, Young Jeezy,
and Eminem featuring prominently. I’m Me by Lil‟ Wayne was on his pre-race playlist in
Beijing, which includes the lines:
“Yes I am the best, and no I ain‟t positive, I‟m definite. I know the game like I‟m reffing
The Role of Music 39
Figure 17.1. Conceptual framework for the prediction of responses to motivational
asynchronous music in exercise and sport. (Adapted with permission from Taylor and
Francis; Journal of Sports Sciences, 17, 713-724) [PERMISSION FROM TAYLOR
AND FRANCIS REQUIRED]
Figure 17.2. Conceptual framework for the benefits of music in sport and exercise contexts.
(Reproduced with permission from Australian Psychological Society; 2006,
Proceedings of the Joint Conference of the Australian Psychological Society and the
New Zealand Psychological Society, 415-419) [PERMISSION FROM THE
AUSTRALIAN PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY REQUIRED]
Figure 17.3. A model of young tennis players‟ use of music to manipulate emotional state.
Data from 1first interview, 2diary, 3questionnaire, and 4second interview (Reproduced
with permission from Human Kinetics Publishers; Journal of Sport & Exercise
Psychology, 29, 584-607). [PERMISSION FROM HUMAN KINETICS
Figure 17.4. Hypothesized quartic relationship between exercise heart rate and preferred
music tempo (adapted from Karageorghis & Terry, 2009) [PERMISSION FROM
ROUTLEDGE IS REQUIRED AS A VERSION OF THIS FIGURE IS
PUBLISHED IN THE TEXT “SPORTING SOUNDS: RELATIONSHIPS
BETWEEN SPORT AND MUSIC” EDITED BY A. J. BATEMAN & J. R. BALE]
Figure 17.5. Trendlines for RPE and in-task affect in a treadmill walking task to exhaustion
under conditions of synchronous music, oudeterous music, and a no-music control.
Note. The time series data for both variables are scaled to represent the time endured in
percentage terms. Hence, 100% represents the total time endured by each participant.
The Role of Music 40
The Role of Music 41
Greater work output
Improved skill acquisition
Antecedents Intermediaries Potential Benefits
The Role of Music 42
Mode of delivery
e.g.,mp3 player, car
e.g., tempo, pitch,
Attentional focus shift
e.g., visual, auditory
Improved or maintained
e.g., heightened or
depressed motor activity
Desired emotional state
e.g., traveling to competition
or working out in the gym
Present emotional state
e.g., good mood, nervous
e.g., past performances,
e.g., rhythm, melody,
I can climb a
e.g., radio, music TV
content and intensity
Peer and family
Film soundtracks and
with artist or lyrics
The Role of Music 43
30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Exercise Intensity (% maxHRR)
Preferred Music Tempo (bpm) ..
The Role of Music 44
010 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Feeling Scale Scores
Linear (FS Motivational) Linear (FS Oudeterous) Linear (FS Control)
Linear (RPE Motivational) Linear (RPE Oudeterous) Linear (RPE Control)