I have a number of very loyal students who on occasion ask for some Christian music in class. In general, I try to meet student requests for music but, at the same time, I am aware that some students don’t wish to be “preached to” in class. What’s the answer?
The guiding principle here has to be respect for every student in the class and their beliefs. All are your students. All deserve consideration.
But what to do?
Every situation is probably different. Each one becomes a judgment call based on the values of your club or organization, your specific class makeup, and the need for sensitivity to all. In some cases it can be a delicate issue. Indeed, one of my students is the wife of a minister. She noted that even the use of Christian music in a Christian church can be controversial because there are so many different styles and types.
But in addition to the differing tastes of Christian music devotees, you have to consider the views of many others. Your class may contain Jews, Hindus, or Muslims, in addition to Christians, as well as those who just may not want any religious message in their cycling class.
Music is an important part of indoor cycling. Not only does it give energy and background to a class, it can also provide context and inspiration and can be a powerful tool for engagement and inspiration. But, like any powerful tool, it also requires care in its use.
It seems to me that there are two equally valid answers to the question of how to use Christian music:
One course is simply to not use music that proclaims a strong point of view be that topical, political, or religious. This is a sensible position, relatively easy to implement and defend. But there can still be differences of opinion. For instance, some may find offense in rock lyrics that others might find pretty commonplace. Other instructors have no issue with using overtly explicit but popular hip-hop songs, and while it might turn some students away, they’ve found it attracts another crowd.
The alternative point of view is to regard Christian music as another form of music similar to rock, pop, electronic, global, or jazz. Seen this way, Christian music can be occasionally included in class music. In fact, Christian music can include pop, rock, hard rock, grunge, rap, and hip-hop.
Tom Scotto, a well-known and respected master instructor, says, “My viewpoint is simply to find music (from this genre) that is inspirational but does not proselytize. This would include lyrics that promote courage, fight, heart, determination, inner strength, etc. I like words that could also have a double meaning and could be used in a Christian or secular fashion.”
Gene Nacey of Cycling Fusion, another highly regarded and well-known instructor, reports the successful use of well-chosen Christian music in his studio. He says, “I’ve used Christian rock music in my Spinning classes since the very first time I taught. I still use Christian rock today, even in our commercial Global Ride DVDs, because so much of it is not ‘in your face,’ but instead, uses lyrics that are common to every human being. I use this music because of how inspiring the words usually are. I consistently get people who love the music and have no idea that it was a Christian group.”
Gene says that he usually steers clear of “contemporary Christian,” which is the kind of pop/soft rock that you would hear on a Christian radio station. The style of music and the choice of words make it unmistakably apparent what is being sung about, and you are bound to offend someone. Not only that, but these songs often are lacking a driving beat necessary for most indoor cycling.
On the other hand, Gene has also conducted “Gospel Spins” and “Worship Spins” at his studio, but he is very clear about the nature of those classes in his class description. Students know in advance that the themes of spirituality are going to be obvious. He says the “Worship Spins” were solely taught on Sundays or Saturday nights and were indeed a type of worship service on bikes—even including a preacher—but obviously the demographic was very specifically targeted. The Gospel Spins, on the other hand, were widely appealing amongst his students.
Jennifer Sage admits to using some songs from Christian groups, but she says that she didn’t even know they were Christian until after the fact! That shows that often the lyrics are not at all blatant, and if you take the time to listen to them closely, you would simply notice lyrics with a positive message. Using this kind of Christian music will guarantee that you won’t hear some of the themes that you find in many mainstream songs, including sex, drugs, violence, money, and profanity.
Like Jennifer, Gene, and Tom, I sometimes use music with a Christian message but that has also become a part of secular musical culture. For example, the Annie Lenox song “Take Me to the River” is a favorite of mine. I think it is one of the great climbing songs of all time. Black gospel music is perfect for riding and is generally accepted in both popular and secular culture.
If you choose to use some Christian music, here are some guidelines you might consider:
- As with any form of music, use it in moderation. This is especially true when some might find the use of the music to be too much in their face.
- Be sure that the use of the music is very well suited to the class plan. This is true of all music, of course. The main purpose of any music is to convey the purpose in your class profile.
- Avoid Christian music that seems heavy-handed. Listen to the lyrics carefully. Again, we should avoid “over the top” music in any category.
Jennifer Sage said that she has received several requests at ICA for Christian music suggestions. One instructor even said that she worked at a facility that was owned by a church and instructors were required to only play Christian music. So you see, there are many variations of acceptance for this genre of music.
So you get to choose. There is no universally “right” or “wrong” answer here. Most importantly, we need to be respectful of all faiths and views. How have you approached this issue in your classes? Do you get requests for Christian or other religious music? How have you responded in the past, or how would you respond if you were faced with this question? And, if you do use Christian music, please share your favorites in the comments!
If you do choose to try some Christian music, here are some songs—one great gospel tune plus mostly Christian rock (sometimes pretty hard rock) recommendations from Jennifer Sage, Gene Nacey, and Tom Scotto:
- Rise Up, Sunkids feat. Chance (130 bpm—great gospel song, clapping throughout)
- ReadyFuels, Anberlin (84 bpm)
- Breathe, Anberlin (71 bpm)
- The Fight, The Classic Crime (110 bpm)
- Dangerous, Decemberadio (86 bpm)
- Ride With Me, Decyfer Down (66 bpm)
- Rise Up, Disciple (80 bpm)
- Silent Screams, Eowyn (84 bpm)
- Helpless, Eowyn (82 bpm)
- Fire in My Eyes, Fireflight (90 bpm)
- Fire on the Inside, Pillar (97 bpm)
- Awake and Alive, Skillet (81 bpm)
- Meant to Live, Switchfoot (75 bpm)
- Fire It Up, Thousand Foot Krutch (64 bpm)
- The Part That Hurts the Most (Is Me), Thousand Foot Krutch (82 bpm)
- Welcome To The End, 12 Stones (88 bpm)
- Stand Up, Remedy Drive (108 bpm)
- Bittersweet, Falling Up (100 bpm)
- Exit Calyspan, Falling Up (96 bpm)
If you are on Spotify, find Gene Nacey and subscribe to his Christian playlists. He has one called 7-Star Christian Rock, as well as some from some of the artists listed above.
Bill Roach is a Star 3 Spinning Instructor, personal trainer (NASM-CPT, CEX, WLS), and lead indoor cycling instructor for the Des Moines YMCA’s. He also has a background as a long-distance competitive cyclist. He is retired from a career in communications (PRSA/APR) in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.