Ask the Expert: New Instructor Needs Help With Using Music

Today’s question about using music is an excellent one for newer instructors.

I am a newly qualified indoor cycling instructor and I really want to have great classes that are inspiring and equally taught well!

My question is regarding music and class refreshes.

I have 4 classes a week at the same studio… How often should I be looking to refresh my program? I don’t wish for my students to get bored, but equally not to change it too soon when they was just getting into the rhythm of the class?

Please help! I’m on my 2nd week now and not sure if I should be aiming to mix it up weekly, fortnightly or other.

Many thanks, Desta

Desta, thank you for your question. I am sure it’s a common one with brand new instructors, and I am sure this post will help them as they begin this exciting journey. May I ask what certification you took?

As a newer instructor, it can be confusing to know how songs are received by riders and how often you can or should play them. It may take you a few months of teaching to figure out what works best for your students. I’ve got my own views on this, and I’m hoping some other longtime instructors reading this might post their thoughts on this too, so we can get a variety of viewpoints.

The most important consideration is whether your classes are in the same time slot (e.g., Mon/Wed 6 a.m.) or if they are completely different time slots that would attract different riders. While it is possible that a rider might attend a morning class one day and an evening class the next, it’s not as common—most people stick to a time slot due to family/work/school obligations. They may, however, come to a weekend class in addition to their regular class. If they do occasionally encounter a repeated profile and playlist, they are going to be a lot more understanding than if you repeated it in your 6 am time slot.

Here is my advice for repeating playlists and profiles.


  1. since I began using the app Class Builder, I am always excited to teach. Personally, I appreciate all types of music and use songs to enhance and drive the mood of the intended work, drill, profile etc. I love music, it speaks to me and I find that we can actually ride the music. I have not really had any negative remarks on any of my playlists, I have though had a few members ask if I could play more of one genre, so every once in a while I will. I have been instructing group fitness since 1984; cycle since 1994. Using music to motivate has always been important and as long as the members respond in a positive way and keep coming back for more, I do not think there is only one way to go about it. I currently teach two cycle classes per week, one at noon, the other in a morning slot. I use the same profile for both classes. I found that my participants prefer a conditioning profile, they want to know what to expect before the ride begins, what percentage of time in each zone? will the intensity peaks be in the front, middle, back or evenly dispersed. It is a lot of work, but so much easier with Class Builder. Music is expensive, pay is not great, ($25/class) and oh the time it takes to build the profile, (I have six kids). Do I find myself repeating? yep! Do I get complaints that I have repeated? Nope. Keep It Real, Keep It Fun, and if you ever provide a less than steller experience; rework the profile, and do better next time!

  2. Author

    There are some super suggestions here – I even got some ideas! Desta, thanks so much for asking such a great question.

    I’m very similar to Elizabeth except I don’t use a spreadsheet to keep track of them; I just (try to) remember. I’m only subbing right now in the summer but will go back to my regular classes in the fall. As a sub, I’ll bring out some of my most popular profiles from the past.

  3. I take a lot of time to create profiles and music playlists to accompany them so I do really like to teach them more than once. In fact I want to get as much mileage as I can out of them. I keep an excel spreadsheet to log when and where I teach each of my profiles so that I can make sure that I do not teach the same thing to the same group until a good amount of time has passed. This allows me to re-cycle my profiles through a rotation. I have a full time job so I just do not have time to create new profiles every week. Instead, I create them when I have free time and then I add them to my rotation. When a profile gets really old or stale I either take it out of the rotation or re-work it with new music, etc. and then add it back to the rotation. My spreadsheet also classifies the ride based on type so that I can mix up not only the music but the intent of the rides. I have been teaching this way since 2007 and I can say that I have never had any complaints from members about receiving the same workout again. My classes are quite full and no one has ever asked me “hey didn’t we do that ride before?” It may be that because I wait months before repeating the profiles with them that they don’t even remember they had it before! I also tweak up the cueing and the focus a tiny bit each time I teach a profile even if it is the same music so they are really never truly identical rides. Hope this helps some of the time strapped folks out there like me. best, Liz

  4. 18 comments here on this post. So Jennifer, take pride in the fact that this is a subject we are willing to take the time to discuss. Regardless of what side one falls on the subject, the subject is interesting.

    Jennifer, your thoughts about big city, large gym and in my case HUGE corporate campus with many younger riders (Google) have merit.

    Here at Google (I am a contract instructor not an employee) we run many classes per week. They run the gambit from my very cycling specific classes to soul cycle type classes. We have a great facility to host the more than 40,000 employees here in the Mt. View corporate park.

    Here – like many places – people attend classes based on their schedule first. i have the early morning classes that attracts the relatively older more sport specific crowd. They are not shy about telling me what they like or not. I shall pay more attention to the effect of genre changes. Maybe my own preferences are influencing me.

  5. Author

    Like Christine, I vary my genres a lot too (although it’s safe to say I generally fall into the downtempo, electronic, global music preference). My students know not to get complacent…they may come in to an all-classic rock and roll or 1980’s class, or all female vocalists, or be thrown off by a hip hop or angry-rock song (a la Tom Scotto) in the middle of a string of Tiesto-esque songs. That works when you are trying to “throw” them off!

    I’m wondering though…Chuck’s comment about sticking to genres may be more of a regional thing (“bigger city” thing?) or be related to the culture of the facility. And it may generally apply to those who really ONLY like mainstream music (they are the least flexible when it comes to music). Christine, you and I teach in smaller communities. I’d like to think I could train my students to appreciate my variety of music wherever I taught…but I’ve not yet tested that! 😉 Sure, I get great acceptance of my music at conference and workshop sessions anywhere I’ve taught, but that is a different audience than if I taught in a large gym in a big city.

    So…I’m not 100% sure!

  6. Sorry, Chuck, I but I disagree that you will encounter resistance if you radically change genres of music. That flies in the face of your statement that the instructor matters more than the music. And it suggests that we can create every scenario/mood/effort profile with one or two genres.

    I agree that instructors perform the best when they are motivated by the music and that students appreciate knowing what to expect from an instructor. I need to fight staleness and boredom in my presentations so I have trained my classes to expect diversity and change from day to day. They have become experts in understanding why I choose each piece I use and like the introductions to entirely new genres and artists.

  7. I’m in Brigitte’s camp. I came to instructing from the front row. My favorite instructors were motivating and knew their regulars and what music they responded to. Like Brigitte, I also could never tell if profiles were being repeated – but like many say here – each time they coach the same profile they got better or more subtle.

    As a rider I was too busy getting my work out to pay a lot of attention to the music on such a level. Sure there were songs these instructors used more often than others. What I noticed is genre. Most instructors stick to the kind of music that inspires them and in my opinion this is important. Why?

    I’ve had many mentors over the years. Some from this very forum. But the best advice, when it came to music was this. “Use the music that motivates you the instructor. Your riders will get their energy from you and the music to motivate them. All you have is the music.”

    There have been some great profiles shared in this and other spaces. But frankly the music choices that accompany these profiles rarely works for me. How about you? There are exceptions like Tom’s recent, Ascension to Elysium. But in profiles like that we become coaches more than class leaders so the music supports the coaching more than it moves the rider.

    Also as seasoned instructors we have thousands of playlists. Circling back through, one finds some pearls and some you wonder what you were thinking when you put the playlist together. I like to go back use older playlist/profiles. They become new again.

    Finally, one of the reasons we get full classes is that our regulars have an expectation of what we deliver. I like to think come back because they have a good reason to but moreover, they know what they’re going to get before they get there. Music is a part of our style, to be sure, but it is us, not the music, that keeps them coming back. Radically changing your music class to class – especially genre – and you will get a good number of stink eyes.

    The trick is too understand when your stuff is getting stale. Change is inevitable.

  8. In my before-instructor days I attended 2 classes per week run by the same instructor. I have to confess I could never tell when she used the same profile for both classes, there was maybe a song I recognised, but that was it. I tend to focus on the beat and on my workout.

  9. I teach between 12 and 14 classes a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I teach the same profile/playlist on a given day but don’t repeat that one again for at least a year (with the exception of some tried and true holiday favourites). I am a better instructor because I get to teach the same schema three to five times in a day. I can feel my approach becoming more subtle as the day goes on. But I have reached my limit at that point. Continued repetition would be detrimental to my performance.

    I have an established clientele so I need to freshen up my profiles annually. I try to add 25-30 new ones per year. About 80% of those are brand new to me (and my students) and the others are the same fundamentals with new music/mood attached.

    Like Jennifer I try very hard not to repeat music within a year. I have a short list of very effective songs that have somewhat become my trademark. I give myself permission to use those when I am stuck.

  10. I have taught a Sunday class the for four years now, and in that time I’ve never repeated a playlist, and I only repeat a song maybe once (or twice if I really love it) in a year, and of course in a totally different profile. I started an evening class a few months ago, and as just about all the people are different, I’ve tried to go back and use previously classes, just maybe tweaked or updated in case some of the same people are in.

    It truly is a lot of work, and I keep a notebook of ideas and try to work on a couple classes at a time. I love it, although I admit there are times I’m teetering on the brink of burnout.

    Then I go to another instructor’s class, it’s the same old pop music and the same people, so I do wonder if people just don’t care as much as I do. But I know if I’m not inspired by my ride, I won’t be able to get my riders excited about it.

    1. Author

      Bonnie, hopefully some of our profiles at ICA can help you from teetering at the edge of burnout! 😉

      I’m like you…if I’m not inspired, I won’t be able to get my riders excited as easily.

      Sometimes, we think our students don’t notice. Many don’t say much. But, I’ve found that after leaving a facility, years later I’ve run into some previous students who raved (in RETROSPECT) about my profiles, music and coaching. They say they miss it, and won’t I come back, blah blah blah. While I appreciate hearing that, I wish they’d say it at the time! Ah well…it’s taught me to realize that we often talk ourselves into thinking our students don’t care.

      I bet they do care more than you think! =)

  11. I am celebrating one year as a Performance Cycling Instructor and have always changed my music profiles from class to class. I like to have ‘themes’ to my rides and I have found that participants in my classes now look forward to what the ‘ride’ will be. I find that people appreciate the variety in the music. I ask for music recommendations and do my best to include those requests in my playlists, it makes class participants feel that I am really there for them and that our workouts are personalized, not just something generic.

  12. I have been teaching for 4 years and currently I teach 2 classes a week (Monday @ 9:30 and Saturday @ 8:45). What I have done is created 52 profiles, one for each week (profiles that I have used over the years and which I improve on each time I use them). I also have a few profiles that were created for specific purposes such as Tour de France and indoor charity rides. At this point I have become comfortable enough in my teaching style to make subtle changes during class depending on the dynamics of the group. I do repeat some songs simply because they ‘fit’ what I am teaching but I am always on the lookout for great music

  13. Hi everyone

    Thankyou for all your replies, it is most helpful!

    I am certified in indoor cycling by the indoor cycling group ( via YMCAFit. I am also attending a specific keiser programme as these are the bikes I teach on.

    My classes are on wed 7.30pm, Thursday 8.30pm, Friday 7.30pm and Sunday 11.30am (these are all the last classes for the studio)

    Hope this helps a bit with my query



    1. Author

      Thanks Desta, hope you are getting some ideas from these great comments! Thanks for asking a question that I bet many newer instructors were wondering too.

  14. It does take time to find out what your culture of riders like but i do feel we also teach them about how a variety of music genres can evoke different feelings and help support the work or goal for the work effort. I have brought about small increments of change that way. I remember clearly one lady and our very first encounter she informed me that she would not ride if i didn’t play good music she likes and wants. Well, i have brought her around to the point she is my new BFF and has learned to like other types of music and understand the purpose of it being in my profile. I didn’t throw this at them all at once. I use music in my Opening segment and in another time in the profile. I mark my music in my itunes as to which profile i used it in so i can quickly check how many times i’ve used a particular song and change accordingly. Variety all around is key

  15. Hi, I create a new playlist every week. I teach between 5-10 classes a week 3 of which are in the same club, another 2 at another. The others are all random. Now even though I may have 2 classes at the same club the group generally is different as it’s on different days. I do however get “overlapping” participants but if they hear the same playlist twice a week they are not bothered. Depending on how I feel – if I don’t want to get nauseous hearing the same list for the 10th time that week I reuse old playlists.
    Generally never teach to the same music if I have two classes back to back. I notice however, that if you create a good playlist that you keep and then find yourself reusing it you can change the workout quite a bit, depending on the level of the class and the energy you feel that day.
    Someone suggested to me once that they create 1 playlist a month if they have one group once a week only. This way first time they practice, maybe tweak it. Then the clients know what to expect so they really get into the workout. Then they can actually see if they got stronger/better when they do it for the 4th time. I can see a point here: if you work on an old school bike with no data this “let’s see if I can climb through the whole song this time” is a good idea. However if I took the class only once a week, I would have no recollection of how I did a week earlier so not entirely sure of that approach.
    I always have all the playlists that really work with me, so sometimes I ask people, especially if I sub if they want endurance or more of sprint workout etc and go with the flow.
    I do tend to have a different music for 6:45am class as I wouldn’t for example teach the Anatomy of Sprint in that slot 🙂

  16. When I was a newer instructor, I was less confident, so stuck to the same play list for a week or so. It would take ages to come up with a good class (or so I thought), and for me to find the music that would go with it.

    Now I can come up with stuff pretty easily and I never do the same class twice unless there’s one particular playlist that seems to have been outstanding… then I’ll do that again, but perhaps 2 or 3 months later.

    There’s one I’ve got called Summer Vibes – lovely summer songs (think Kid rock, All Summer Long), a mix of flats and hills. I play it in the summer and ask people to feel the warmth, the relaxation, and the general good feelings that summer brings. Then in the winter, when it’s cold and dark, I’ll play it again and ask the class to try and recall the class in the summer, or if they were not at the summer class, just how lovely summer is.

    The most important thing I ever learnt about planning classes is that the profile comes first, then the music (note this is from a Spinning perspective). It gets so much easier to fit the music to the profile because you already know what you’re going to do and don’t have to work out what to do with the tunes you’ve chosen. The profile drives the class, not the tune, which I think is one of the big differences between the Spinning program and other exercise classes (e.g Body Pump) – in Pump, the tune drives the moves, so much so that it’s really predictable (which is both good and bad, but that’s another story….).

  17. I teach 9.15am & 5.30pm on Mondays only, so I’m lucky I can repeat the same class with totally different people. However, I change my class music/profiles on a weekly basis and as such the members enjoy a fresh aproach each week. Mine is the only freestyle cycle class, all others are RPM. I always like to self promote saying you wont hear my music in any other class. 🙂

  18. i teach the same time slot 2x a week. i too, am a “newer” instructor, but my numbers in class are great, and always growing.
    What i have learned is that even though it is the same tile slot, they are very different groups. i might push the same profile ( or similar) but change up the music within it.

  19. I feel almost the same as you. I’ve been teaching 4 years and I change my playlists all the time. I repeat songs every 6-8 weeks but NEVER in the same exact playlist. I teach one club and one set of college students so I don’t usually use one for the other, unless I’m subbing last minute and need a quick solution. I do sometimes use a specific song more frequently, particularly if it’s new. I have also taken instructors who are still using the exact same playlists with songs in the same order, for the last 4 years, and let me tell you that makes me want to have a root canal right there with you. Or, put a bullet through my head.

    1. Author

      Amazing to me that instructors like that still have jobs, or that people still come to those classes! I guess some people aren’t quite as susceptible to boredom or song-overuse as we are!

    2. Great advice….I teach both regular Cycle and RPM. As for RPM you do not have to play each release from start to finish you can switch out tracks from other releases on a regular basis to keep it from getting boring..You just need to build a library of releases so you can keep classes fresh. Riders that do RPM love the predictability of what each track represents. Some weeks lesson planning for my regular cycle is as painful root canal!

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