Using Music to Improve Performance


The following is a summary of the article entitled Physiological Effects of Music in Sport and Exercise: An Update on Theory, Research, and Application by Terry and Karageorgis. I chose this article because music played a significant role in the success of the men’s soccer team at Swarthmore College. I have always relied on music in a variety of ways in my athletic career and it bears exploring.

The article opens with a list of how music can possibly enhance athletic performance. Music can: help focus, energize, create emotions, change mood, evoke memories, improve effort, and reduce fear. The authors then explain what experts have determined as the most beneficial aspects of music. These four factors are listed below in level of importance:

1. Rhythm Response: This is the body’s natural response to music. For example some runners will listen to music with a faster tempo in preparation for a race.

2. Musicality: These are the pitch related elements

3. Cultural Impact: This refers to how much music influences one’s particular cultural. I feel safe in saying that athletes in this country are strongly influenced by music. There are images on TV of professional and Olympic athletes with headphones on during warm up.

4. Associations with music: This is how music can make one feel based on an association. For example, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Because this song is often played right before a game, many athletes begin to associate it with heightened arousal. They might hear the national anthem while they are relaxing at home and suddenly feel energized. Another local example is the song “Eye of the Tiger.”

In researching the impact of music on sport performance, the authors discovered that sport psychologists were arbitrarily selecting music with real evidence on its impact. This led some to systematically examine how music can enhance performance. The two scales mentioned are the Brunel Music Rating Inventory 1 & 2. The article reports despite a methodical and systematic approach to music selection, there are too many individual differences between athletes in terms of how music impacts performance. I have encountered this concern as a coach. Some of my players rely heavily on music to enhance their pregame preparation, whereas others do not use music at all. Personally, music had a significant impact on my on the field performance. To this day, I experience strong emotions when I hear songs that were part of my college pregame play-list. I actually came across an unfamiliar term that describes one of the physical symptoms of hearing an emotionally powerful song. Frisson is defined as: asudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill. This is often associated with music.

The authors explain that asynchronous use of music is when there is no conscious effort to match movement with tempo. This is when music is played in the background. For example, when athletes listen to music in the locker room, there is no connection between movement and the music because the athlete is still. Conversely, synchronous music involves performing repetitive movements in time with the tempo of a song. An Ethiopian runner broke the 2000 meter record in 1998 when he synchronized his stride with the song “Scatman.” It is postulated that the tempo of the music is the most important factor when music is used in the background. Some research indicates that faster tempos are preferred with physical performance, but other research has concluded that slower tempos can increase efficiency, they prolonging performance. I made sense of this concept by comparing a sprinter with a long distance runner. The sprinter might prefer a fast tempo because he needs a burst of adrenaline. On the other hand the long distance runner might come out of the gates too fast if listening to fast music, therefore hurt her overall performance. Other researchers have found that changing from slow to fast tempos seem to help when effort plateaus or during the late stages of a game, race, match, or training session. It must be noted that there has been some conflicting research, but the common results are:

1. Slow music is inappropriate for sport unless you are trying to limit effort exertion.

2. Fast music is likely to increase in-task emotions during performance.

3. An increase from slow to fast music can increase muscle output in aerobic endurance activities.

4. Asynchronous music probably loses its benefits during very high intensity activities

5. Synchronous music can improve performance of non-elite athletes and exercise participants, but there is limited research.

The authors continue with a list of guidelines when selecting pregame music; however they warn that because preference for music varies greatly, they generated this list with reluctance.

1. Consider the context. What is the purpose of the music? What sport are you playing?

2. If it is a team sport or a group is involved, consider the timing. Are you traveling, are you five minutes from playing, are you receiving post-performance treatment? Ask the group what they can agree upon?

The authors conclude with examples of successful integration of music in sports.

1. The Great Britain bobsled team medaled for the first time since 1964 when they listened to Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” while visualizing themselves calmly seizing the opportunity.

2. Olympic champion, Audley Harrision used Japanese Classical music to manage pre-fight anxiety.

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