Music is my everything. And, if we’re being specific, hip hop is my everything. I’m not really sure what I would do without it, actually.
It has seen me through countless hours of studying, dissertation writing, car rides, household chores and of course, workouts/classes. Music can make all the difference in a workout for me, no matter if it’s running outside, lifting, jumping rope, doing yoga or whatever. The right playlist can do wonders for motivation, focus and will. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true; the wrong playlist can kill my whole vibe.
I find this is especially true for group fitness or yoga classes, which is why I spend a great deal of time preparing playlists for the classes I teach. I know how much it affects me when I take other classes and the music doesn’t move me.
The same applies for when I teach. If I am hyped up and feeling the music, it will absolutely reflect in my teaching. Granted, not everyone loves hip hop, but I make it a must to let people know what they will be getting in my class descriptions.
I teach everything to hip hop and some R&B (cycle, bootcamp and, yes, yoga too) and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think it’s pretty safe to say that there are a handful of people (or more) who take my classes solely for the music and they could care less what I am doing for the workout. That is so fine by me; they still showed up and will still get their sweat on regardless. I think I also have some Instagram followers who just like the music I use with my videos. Again, totally fine by me!
I get tons of questions about where to get music, how to select the right songs and how to create class & playlists for different types of workouts so I thought I would share a bit of my process!
1. Respect the DJ
I use to go clubbing a lot. I paid attention. If you notice, DJs have an exceptional way of building up the music to a certain peak point. They also know how to gauge a crowd. They have certain mixes that they use repeatedly and others that are new.
They also know when to take requests and when to kindly ignore them. I have a bunch of DJs that I love and that I have learned from and even received mixes from some of them. I have mad respect for DJs and try to collaborate with them as much as possible. There is always more to learn!
2. Fill Your Crates
You’re playlists are only as good as your library will allow. I have a ton of music. I spend a lot of money on music (I don’t even want to talk about how much…let’s just keep it moving).
My computer is overloaded with music files, but that is a huge part of my job, so it is what it is. I need to organize my iTunes a bit more, but start investing in some good music. I am slower to use Spotify because I am so anal about protecting my playlists, but I’ll get there. Point is, however you get your music, start collecting. Pay attention to when new music drops, utilize the blogs and websites out there that review new music, allow you to play songs etc. I love Datpiff.com.
I also find DJ websites like extremeremixes.com to be helpful in getting remixed versions of songs, mashups, etc. There are plenty of similar sites. Become familiar with them. And, become super familiar with what’s in your library so you know what you have right at your fingertips.
3. Know Your Workout
This is crucial. Know the layout of your workout, know the vibe you want to create. Do you need a song that will hype you up right from the time you hit play? Or do you need a slower 2-3 song build to get you going?
Go back to the DJs: About how far into your workout do you need to have your peak? And how many songs will suffice for that peak? Are you working strength, hills, endurance? Or is it sprints, speed or agility type movements? Or is it slower paced the whole way?
My idea of a “perfect workout playlist” is one that I can use in my outdoor conditioning runs (hills, stairs, pull-ups, cool down) as well as in my yoga class (warmup, flow, abs, floor poses, cool down). I have a few playlists that are right on the money and a ton that are “good enough” for both.
4. Listen For Flow
I am not using DJ software to mix my own music (yet!) so finding songs that flow together, especially for classes. I go through and listen to the beginning and ending of the songs and move them around until it sounds like something that “fits” to me. It’s not perfect, but it generally works.
I also test my playlists as often as possible. If I’m teaching a class, I will build the playlist and try to use it for another workout or while I’m working at home to see how it flows together.
5. Organize Your Playlists
I have all my playlists in folders by type of class or workout. I number them so that if I want to go back and use them, I can.
If I choreograph very specifically to a song, this makes it WAY easier to go back and find where I have used that song before and cross check it with my workout for that class. It also helps me track how often I use certain songs, how long ago I played a song, etc so that I add variety whenever possible. Special themed playlists are always marked as such too: Old school, Valentine’s Day, All Jay-Z, etc so I can easily access them again when necessary or applicable.
6. Learn As You Go
I’m all about creating systems if you haven’t noticed (see Sweatfficiency). Test things out. Try your playlists with varying types of workouts. You might surprise yourself with how well they work. You might surprise yourself with how much it doesn’t too, but that’s ok. I have gotten to a point now where I can hear a song and almost instantly know if I can use it for running, jump rope, cycle, yoga, or all of the above. Just like anything it takes practice, but it is so worth it. If you’re working with music that you already like, you can only go so wrong.
And with that, I couldn’t leave you without sharing at least one of my playlists. This is one I used for my Muscle & Flow class (90 min) at the end of 2013, but I also use it for running and other workouts quite a bit.
My “Muscle & Flow” Playlist!
- Aquarium by Mac Miller
- Holy Grail by Jay Z feat Justin Timberlake
- Vanity by Wale
- King Wizard by Kid Cudi
- Survivial by Eminem
- Black Skinhead by Kanye West
- She Knows by J Cole
- Picasso Baby by Jay Z
- Thank you by Busta Rhymes feat. Q-Tip, Kanye West & Lil Wayne
- Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke feat T.I. & Pharrell
- Get Lucky by Daft Punk feat Pharrell Williams
- Collard Greens by Schoolboy Q
- Happy by Pharrell Williams
- Let Me Move You by Push T feat Kelly Rowland
- Bad (remix) by Wale feat Rihanna
- Suit & Tie by Justin Timberlake feat Jay Z
- Ticking Bomb by Aloe Blacc
- Drunk in Love by Beyoncé feat Jay Z
- Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe by Kendrick Lamar
- Old School Love by Lupe Fiasco feat Ed Sheeran
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