Friday, November 14, 2008

BPM vs RPM - a comment from the perspective of a German instructor

Dear readers,

My goal of presenting this topic of BPM vs RPM was to create a discussion of what works for different instructors when it comes to music choice. My experience and opinion, expressed in my first two posts on the subject, are just that - my experience and my opinion. You may have a different experience, and as a result, a different opinion. I've known of instructors who do use BPM, but not as many here, and only the occasional MI in the US - that I know if - focuses on it. Because I originally had a bad experience with it, I am very curious to see how good instructors use it. And I know they do, and that they have good results. (Maybe I just need some faster music)! I am already learning a lot just since my first post on Monday, and have lots more to present to you as I pay more attention to the bpm in my classes this and next week.

But first, I received an excellent email from an instructor in Germany, Anita, who shared her experience with me. I'd like to post it here in its entirety, get some comments from you, and then answer some of her questions right here on this blog. I am thrilled to have this interaction and this discussion of our different teaching styles from one corner of the earth to the other! I can't wait to go to Germany and take Anita's class one day! ;-)

So, may I present to you Anita, with some great points about teaching with BPM.  I'll respond in a couple of days...

Hi Jennifer,

There is such a lot to say about music that I really don't know where to begin. When I became an instructor, I used the mood of a song for the different techniques. "Lady in black" by Uriah Heep was a hill for me (today I find it great for standing flat!). In class, I saw that my students did not always follow me in cadence and I could not explain why. Then I met another instructor who asked me if I did not count my music first and then put it in a profile. I learned how to count and this helped me to guide my students better. In my clinic (in 2003), we got no instructions by the MI about using music.

As far as I know, things have changed and I think most of the German MI use the bpm for their profiles. It is quite common to teach bpm = rpm and it seems in the Netherlands it is the same. Music has become a part of the clinic by now and the MI explain about the bpm and how to count them.

In the German forum we discuss these things as well, but it is more like if we should use the musical bow (every musical bow consists of 32 beats and the first one is known as the "big one", this indicates a change in the song, you can use it for a technique change or for jumps for example) or not. 

This sounds more like an aerobic instructor than a spinning instructor. This is how it has developed since I've been teaching and I find it good on the one hand as it makes it easier for the students to follow the beat of the music, especially on a hill (like Robert said) and bad on the other hand as the music dictates what you should be doing next (and it stresses the instructor in finding the right beat to change!). This is a limitation and leads to less variety in putting profiles together. Many profiles sound like mathematics with all the bpm and minutes to stay on. Outside, you will never find a road like this! But it is not bad if you want to improve your skills. Once, I did a ride with only 95 bpm music and the students had to change intensity or technique to reach different heart rates.

Sometimes, I wonder if there is a difference how to teach spinning in different countries. We Germans are not very rhythmic people, so we hear the beat first and not the rhythm. 

But you are right, it is not all about the beat, but if the beat is in front of the music, it is hard to ride a flat road instead of a hill. I would like to ride with you to learn more about how you use the music. By now, "Drippy" is just a hill for me! Maybe I will come to WSSC once (if I can afford it!).   

Your experience in San Francisco is a good example how the beat can be misinterpreted and overdone. I can give you an example vice versa: I took an endurance ride during a spinning event where the instructor played only techno music with approx. 138-140 bpm. Of course, the goal was to find your own cadence and to stay there for the ride. It was pretty hard!! I saw many people bouncing in their saddles, because they wanted to go that fast and there were also a few who made a hill out of it. So what do you think - was it a stroke of a genius or just bad music choice? Music is a motivator and supports you - I found it just the opposite! Ok - you can say you need a lot of intrinsic motivation to go through such a ride - but where is the fun factor?

I wonder how you teach the different cadences in your rides when you don't use the bpm and it is the goal of your class. Do you use cadence checks for that? How often? Every time you change cadence? It is great if you have a spinning computer, but what do you do if you have not?

Another question: how important is it to teach a certain cadence at a time? What's the use of it if you are just a "normal leisure time spinner"? If a certain cadence stands for a certain heart rate, then ok, but here I would say heart rate depends more on the type of music selection. 

I agree with you: beat is not everything - but it helps a lot, especially those who are not so experienced.

Thanks for reading!


And many thanks to you Anita for writing! Like I said, I'll address some of your questions about how I do it in another post.  

Now you readers have both perspectives; what say you??


Robert said...

Excellent email that sums up the cultural differences (not just national - Rick teaches a different type of gym member and he's only 50miles away from me!).

To answer one of Anita's points, maybe I can relate what Scott did today in his Fire & Ice interval ride. The first interval was a very rhythmic track, with a beat that was... slippery? So that riding it as a seated flat came naturally. The second was a classic climb with a heavy pounding beat. The third took everyone of their comfort zone: a chillout track with no beat for the interval and a funky track for recovery. He said it was a good way to provide the riders with a challenge while showing them that they can ride without a beat.

sweeneybiker said...

As promised, Jennifer, I'm bringing my Pedal-On post over to your blog. Although I don't disagree with anything you have to say, I do run my classes a little differently than you do. I have calculated the BPM for every song I've downloaded or purchased since I started teaching kickboxing classes 7 years ago. Needless to say, I have quite a collection of music indexed by BPM. When I started teaching cycling, I figured there was probably some way I could utilize it for my cycle classes. And utilize it, I do. I choose songs with BPM that fall into the middle of the recommended RPM for each move we're doing. I ALWAYS tell my students that the beat is intended only as a guide and they should feel free to go a little faster or a little slower if it is more comfortable for them. But, I honestly believe that knowing the BPM of your music can be a powerful tool. I have a lot of serious cyclists, some Cat. 1 & 2 racers, and knowing their cadence is important to them. They love that I'm able to tell them, to within 1 or 2 revolutions, where they are if they are following the beat. Now, don't get me wrong, we don't follow the beat through every song in every class. I use plenty of music where the mood or "rhythm" of the music overshadows the beat. I also do multiple moves during one song so there is slowing down and speeding up making it impossible to follow the beat, not to mention cadence drills. However, the beat and/or rhythm is always there acting as a starting place - a guide. I find it absolutely invaluable. My classes appeal to group fitness enthusiasts who love "aerobics" type classes as well as serious athletes and cyclists who are more concerned about class content than music and really like to go at their own pace. The music always fits whatever it is we're doing whether they're pedaling to the beat or not. But, it's an extra added bonus to be able to pedal to the beat, if that's what inspires you. Also, I agree with the gentleman who responded on your previous post (Robert, I think), who said he uses music in the 80-100 BPM range for fast flats - there's lots of music out there that falls into that category and could never be considered "slow".

lamspin said...

I love one of Anita's questions the best: "Where is the fun factor?". Yes, some participants never could tune in to the instrinsic motivation.
From my experience of teaching, I would promise them: there will be weeks we will be in real training (real ride, HIT, pedal strokes, different EZs...), but some weeks we just have fun which when I use my imagination or visualiztion such as: delivery newspapers in San Francisco (hills.. hills), visting some tribes in the jungle (jumps--dance around the fire.. or all terrain), or following a train (Last train to Lhasa is a perfect song because I can relate to my real experience--when I was on a 12-hour day train in my country,VN and wished if I had a bike, I would get off to ride along. With this song I would take them from one station to the other in 11 minutes, go through a tunel and ask them: "did you see the light at the end of the tunel yet? Aha, I squeezed an instrisic motivation and also pedal stroke training in there)
I am not an aerobic instructor who also teaches cycling so I know nothing about the beats. Music is my road or my imagination (some of them are unreal and crazy--ride on the ocean then dive down to the bottom in searching for treasure (song" Tracking Treasure)!!!... but they love it! The rhythm, lyrics, and mood of the songs are my choice to create a profile. I have to be motived with the music first before I can deliver or share that energy out to my classes.
I learned so much from all of you already and our journey continues on...
Thank you,