YIKES! No Music? What Am I Going to Do?

There was an interesting discussion this week on one of the Facebook indoor cycling forums about teaching without music. The lack of music could be due to a power outage, it could be stereo malfunction, or your iPod battery (or system) fails, or perhaps even your own fault because you forgot your music.

There were even some who said they preferred teaching without music. While I do believe the profile comes first, and that coaching trumps music, I could not do it except for that rare emergency situation. I do not believe Spinning® would have taken off like it did without empowering music to motivate riders. There are scientific studies that prove that music can motivate exercisers to work at a higher level than without music, lowering RPE for a given output. Do you know anyone who teaches regularly without music?

I thought it could be fun to have a discussion here about teaching without music. Have you ever had a music emergency in which you had to teach your class with no music at all?

How did you initially react? Fear? Panic? Doubt? Anger (at management or fate or whomever might have been at fault)?

What did you do? What did you learn?

What were your riders’ reactions? Positive or negative?

Do you feel like you grew as an instructor as a result of the challenge?

It happened to me in the middle of class about six years ago. At first I thought the speakers just blew out, but I played with the stereo for about 2 minutes to no avail. It completely died. So I just jumped back on the bike and said, “Guess what? We are riding with no music today!” It turned into a fabulous ride; however, I was much more conscious of being “on stage” than when teaching normal classes.

At another club, members were allowed access to the cycling room, including the stereo, which caused all sorts of problems. Management would not lock it up, since this is a homeowner’s association club in which homeowners paid dues; they said they should have access to the stereo. One early morning I came in and every button and switch was messed up. Nothing would work! Now, I admit to not being the most technically savvy person, but I thought I knew stereos. So I started my class without music, which I think is harder to do than finishing a class where you lose it partway. One of the members went and got help, and after about 10 minutes, they got it working. (As we thought, someone had changed a setting or two.)

There was a huge sigh of relief in that studio…but I felt like for those 10 minutes, I most definitely stepped up my game a notch.

Emergencies like this pull the best out of instructors because they realize they can’t hide behind the music and must focus only on their coaching/cueing. I’ve often heard from instructors who have encountered this that they teach their best classes in cases like these—I know I have.

Please share your “horror story” of no music. I bet it turned into a wonderful situation in which your riders got a fantastic workout and learned that they truly can focus without music, and that you learned a lot about yourself and your coaching abilities.

Here’s my question, and challenge, to you (and me):

If it takes an emergency like this to force us to step up our game and pull out all the stops to be the best coach….is that something we can do every time even when not faced with a challenge like this?

Food for thought.



The e-book Top Ten Ways to Stay Motivated as an Indoor Cycling Instructor covers challenges like these, and much more. It teaches you how to be prepared for anything that providence throws your way!


  1. Today was a first. The facility has a CPU which plays saved playlists. It crashed exactly when class started. Fear, panic, you name it & I felt it. I took a nice long deep breath and began. I projected confidence & a light hearted vibe mentioning due to system difficulties I’ll be teaching without music, but this class will be about fun.

    I made it into more of a team participation session. Individual sprints while the team cheered one another on; the option for them to teach a drill or two; mixed in with some hills & flats I coached relatively quiet (I’m working on the art of silence).

    Result? I heard 5 positive comments out of 13 students. Two actually said they were in far better head space & in the zone. What I saw? Focus & determination despite all they had to work with was my voice, their body, & mind. What I learned? That less can certainly be more & to trust your students can train hard without constant chatter & the music bumping.

    Thanks for this article & thanks for letting me share.

  2. No lights no power no music , no problem in all me years doing , in door ciclyng , believe some time for me is a relax talk pulling the student tô do the class is Just fine show never stop ‘ hey try some times Without power Capellá class . God bless you all

  3. the key to the stereo cabinet was missing ;/

    1. Author

      just reading that made my adrenaline flow and HR spike! I can imagine being tempted to break the lock! 😉

  4. I have the ability to speak in rhythm and enjoy doing it so my voice along with my cueing did the job to the best of my ability

  5. My Ipad had major issues and nothing would play. A student (whom I did not know so had no idea what kind of music to expect) loaned me their phone and I winged it. Since I didn’t know the music very well except a few songs it made me pay more attention to what logically would make a good class instead of what the music would (or would not) motivate me. Ended up being great. Another time I had to use Pandora, skipping commercials, and songs that didn’t work. After reading these posts I am half- tempted to do a silent ride even if my music is working perfectly.

  6. I suspect it’s more common than our nightmares suggest (unless you have a lot of bad dreams).

    Once part of the gym lost power. And yeah, the cycle room was in the powerless part. Was it swampy summer in Philadelphia? Yes. My bigger concern was the temperature and humidity. I’d just gone to Puerto Rico so I decided to describe a road out of San Juan. So we had a travelogue.

    As for the room conditions, I clearly made this a low heart rate, low intensity ride and encouraged lots of water and as always, listen to your body: stop if you don’t feel right!

    It was way better than the time that Apple failed to sync my playlists but I had music, albeit Johnny Cash, Joy Division, Jim Morrison.

  7. I was at an Indoor cycling class at Cleveland Clinic last spring when the instructor didn’t show up. There were about 12 people there on bikes waiting. I pulled out my iPhone that I have with me 24/7 with most of my profiles. Although the music wasn’t very loud and I didn’t have a microphone, the participants appreciated my stepping in at the last minute.
    Another time at the YMCA where I teach regularly the stereo system quit one day and the work-around was to use a CD boom box instead. Again with no microphone my vocal cords were trashed by the end, but we had a great class anyway.

  8. This is a great topic. I think I’m a bit OCD so I have my iPad and iPod with me at all times, as well as two CD’s with two playlist/profiles just in case, so knock on wood I have not had that happen to me yet. I will say that after doing some research on growing as an instructor (shameless plug here for ICA) 🙂 I decided to purposely try a silent ride. It took some work, as the corporate gym where I teach does not have a private room so picture 30 bikes in a corner of the gym floor, lots of outside noise and distraction! Luckily I have access to a great AV team so I brought in 2 large screen TV’s and was able to quiet the gym down a bit. I created my own visual ride (through some work on PowerPoint). I included imagery and positive quotes, added the appropriate times and transitions. It was an endurance ride of course, which my folks really needed. I’ll add that I did not announce this prior. I find endurance rides are looked at differently and if I promoted it too much I knew they would try to skip out, so it was part of our training plan…period. I just told them they were in for a treat at the beginning of the ride. We worked on using our imagination, working with our breath and focused on form. I sprinkled a few moments here and there of some guided meditation and what an awesome ride it turned out to be! I took them through a scenic ride that started at sunrise on the beach and ended at sunset. Hills flats, scenery, a few challenges in the saddle etc… From an instructor perspective it was a bit intimidating at first but to this day, folks ask me to do that ride again, they also mentioned how challenging it was to stay seated for longer periods of time and focus on their heart rate etc… It absolutely taught me a big lesson on what true coaching is. Motivating is one thing, getting in someone’s head to help them see what they can actually do is a totally different ball game! PS…The sound of the energy your body creates on a bike is music in its own way.

  9. We lost our music system for a week! The workaround was to get to class 30 minutes early and move the bikes to the training studio complete with a stereo to teach class. Then move team back so the trainers could have their space back.

  10. In my case it was a power Black out, no more electricity in the building, 15 minutes after the beginning of the class. So, I’ve ask to take a pause, and I told them the experience I had with Spinning (R) Master Instructor, Ralph Mlady, may be some of you know him. The year before I had the chance, even privilege, at the WSSC Conference to be in his class, and part of it was an experience that he was undertaking and he asked the participants to willingly go through that experience with him: first has if we were blind people, so we had music in that part but could not see the bike or anything else for the matter, and the second part was as if we were deaf. No music at all, just signs. Well, that was a powerful human experience, there was a lot of emotions in the class that day. Back to my class with the power shortage. So, during the pause I showed them the kind of signs that would give them the information, either, cadence building, resistance building, standing, seated and of course the change in the road. Well, they were amazed about how good it felt, exactly how we felt with Ralph on a beautiful day in Miami. Very humble exprience. Gary

  11. I’m paranoid about forgetting music, so in my gym bag I have a back up ipod shuffle with a few general playlists on it. It’s always in there. I check the charge every so often. In my “teaching bag” is the iPod I use, (as well as spare cable, (having learned the hard way, when someone took the cable), a couple of batteries, (I trust my own batteries and don’t have to worry about someone not charging the ones at the gym), and some bottled water for me or someone else)) My playlists are on my iPhone as well. I used to carry a cd, but I think 3 digital devices should get me by.

    If the sound system itself breaks down, well, take command and be in charge. Remember, they will listen to you.

  12. Author

    Has anyone else besides me forgotten their music? Admittedly, it was a very long time ago in my early days. I started the class without music, and a friend who was in the class was able to find another instructor who scrounged up a cassette for me to use (see? that’s how long ago it was), so I didn’t have to teach the whole class without music, but what a fail—as well as embarrassment—on my part! But I do remember describing my profile objective and plan in great detail and fanfare, and had intense focus from my riders. That alone was a positive outcome of the lesson I learned.

    1. I keep a dedicated iPod touch in my car complete with workout music and Spotify. Unless that thing dies I always have something to use. I also keep old school CD’s in my locker as well as a tiny nano player. I guess I try to be ready for pretty much ready for anything.

  13. The Day The Music Died….happened to me recently. Instead of panic which i knew would make the situation worse, not, better for me or my participants I chose to embrace this class as a chance to grow. I introduced my ride as one of a mind body connection that would truly take one out of their comfort zone, a different kind of HARD, I was sure they hadn’t experienced as of yet, and if they could make it through they would be far stronger in their mind and body. yes, i had to be on top of my cueing and motivation so being well prepared and knowledgeable of my profile and riders went a long way to the hour not being a total loss, as well as, having my Cycling Fusion app to still guide me through the planned profile.
    Afterwards, riders thanked me for not canceling class as other instructors had done so previously and expressed how they learned something new about themselves and IC. The following week, other riders who were new to me as an instructor shared that they returned because of how well i was able to deliver a class, keep them challenged, motivated and didn’t give up and cancel class.

    1. Author

      Awesome Renee!
      Did your iPad play your music through Class Builder, enough for you to hear? How did that work?

      1. IPAD could play the music but not through the room’s sound system so it really couldn’t be heard. Great learning experience.

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