ABBA clearly appreciated music but as ETM instructors do we, or is it just a background beat?

When I began teaching ETM (back in the last millennium) I would take a weekly trip to ‘Our Price’ (anyone else remember them?), pop on a pair of headphones and listen to the latest releases on vinyl, practicing jacks, grapevines and dance steps to see if the music was the correct speed, had the right energy and mood, offered lyrics that inspired dynamic movement, didn’t offend, and had that extra ‘something’ that stimulated my creativity.

Well whilst Our Price is, sadly, long gone- now we can go online and choose as much fab music as we like whilst staying at home, or sitting at our desks, supervising the children in the park and so on. In fact ‘MyGroupFit ‘even have an app that you can load on to your Mobile phone so you can select your class music any time, any place, anywhere!

Maybe because it has been made so easy for us, we don’t take the time or go out of our way to be as selective or creative with our music choices or how we use them; maybe we leave it to the last minute, are ‘time poor’ teaching too many classes, have another job, family responsibilities or maybe we are bored stiff with our current classes and associated playlists and lack the motivation necessary to search for the sort of inspirational music, that will light a creative ember within us.

Certainly there is a lot of fantastic pre-mixed music available to us, with up to the minute tracks, expertly mixed to make our research and decision making far easier. Fitness music companies such as My Group Fit, Fit Mix Pro and Pure Energy and others have done the legwork for us – they’ve pitched, harmonized and taken out those awkward bridges and uneven phrases too. However our work is not yet done if we want to produce inspiring, creative, original and ‘unique to us’ classes that stand out from the rest.

It’s a competitive market particularly if you teach a franchise or large brand class.

I have always loved to use the latest music but still, occasionally, enjoy returning to my back catalogue of vinyl and CD’s, revisiting old favorites and classics too – I thrive on matching the various genres of music to the style of movement and choreography. That’s why I still love and am excited by creating and teaching my group exercise and dance classes even after all these years. How can I ever get bored when there is such a variety of music to choose from (with more being created and made available daily).

Different moods, styles and speeds of music entices us to move in various unique and original ways (even if the base moves are the same, the feel and attitude will be different), it’s a ‘crime’ against ETM (he he) not to allow the music to guide how we want to move, it’s a natural instinct and when we relax and ‘play’, making time to freestyle and Jam we can all be creative and original.

If a teacher is not exploiting their music to it’s full potential, I can see how they will get bored, and bored teachers becoming boring teachers!

Without doubt de-bridged and pre-mixed music can make our life easier, we can create blocks of choreography to fit sets of 32 counts, throw on some music that’s the right BPM and we are ready in a flash – essential for a ‘time poor’ teacher. Having a professional music provider recommend BPM for certain activities can help us select appropriate music for our class content and target group i.e. not too fast, preventing full range of motion and allowing momentum to do the work or too slow, making movements feel sluggish, heavy or impossible to do at that speed.

However these rules are not cast in stone and, if we use the theories of how to control intensity, effort and learning pace, we can explore/play around with different styles and tempo. After all, as long as everyone gets a safe, effective and enjoyable session that keeps them coming back for more, we have achieved our goal haven’t we? We want to keep the regulars inspired and the newbies coming back for more, changing the way we use our music can help refresh our teaching and stop us from slipping in to a rut.

Class management is far easier when an instructor knows their music well (de-bridged music is reliably consistent which helps), can understand how to use it i.e stay in time with the musical beats and phrases, using bridges, unique quirks and sound effects) and cue clearly, ensuring the safety (i.e. no collisions or mistimed movements) comfort and professional presentation of the class. I’ve been to several classes where the instructor is out of time with the musical phrase resulting in mayhem and frustration – not enjoyable at all and I’m routed to the spot unable to move – I’m not alone either you can see the discomfort of the musically sensitive and the energy levels of the class are often very flat.

I’m always listening out for fab tunes (in the car, out at the shops etc.) and my ‘Shazam’ app is well used!  Even my class members are on the look out for fab music and I get recommendations weekly from them regarding a track that they think I would like or they would like me to use – isn’t that great! It really helps me out and I love that they are so involved in their classes.

I often select one of the tracks on a mixed CD (or a single track) and create a routine specifically to match that track. I use the rest of the music (which is the same BPM and often style) to break down the movements and build the routine, taking as much time as is necessary to create our ‘dance fitness masterpiece’. By working like this I’m not time pressured because as the track is ending the next one mixes in smoothly without disrupting my teaching flow and allows us (my class and I) to maintain the exercise intensity and learning pace comfortably.

It’s a quick and easy way to create a unique, original, bespoke routine using the musical resources that you already have.

I have lots of other tips to share with you regarding music, creativity and effective teaching as a fitness and dance fitness professional in future blogs, but for now I set you this challenge.

How can you make more use of the potential for creativity in the music you use in your ETM classes (this includes all styles: circuits, step, HIIT as well as aerobics etc.)? Take a little time to really listen to it beyond just the beat and tempo. Why not try pulling out one track from your latest mix CD and create a routine that fits that track perfectly. It doesn’t have to be aerobics or dance it can be any fitness activity set to music! Let me know how you get on – I look forward to hearing all about it and welcome any questions you might have for me.

Helen Carpenter- Waters

Helen has enjoyed an exciting career in Professional Dance, Choreography and Fitness (with many TV, Film, video and live show credits). She is an international presenter, educator, writer, sports consultant and Director Of DYBO, providing a variety of health and fitness services for the public and further training and education for Dance and fitness professionals including the popular  ‘Independance’ events.

Helen is a multiple GB Sports Aerobics and Gymnastics champion and recipient of the Fitness Professionals ‘Fitness Leader of the Year’ award & MyGroupFit Ambassador

‘INDEPENDANCE’ runs 4 times a year in Surrey and is a must for anyone that simply loves to dance their butt off.

Participants enjoy creative dance masterclasses; experiencing a range of different styles, led by Helen Carpenter-Waters and supported by an amazing special guest presenter.

2019 Events

  • Sunday 3 March – with guest Zoe McNulty
  • Sunday 19 May – with guest Antonio Susinni

You will have great fun and lots of giggles at INDEPENDANCE, as you experience new ways of moving and dancing.

For more information and to book visit

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