Whether a song has a slow or fast tempo, it also has an underlying heart of emotion to it. In my own mind, I generally categorize that emotion as negative or positive. Some more complex songs—such as many by U2—are harder to categorize so simply. Other singers are generally pretty easy: Eminem? Negative, I would almost guarantee.
I downloaded most of the mp3s I own when I was in college. That was the heyday of illegal downloading, and I most assuredly took part. I didn’t feel bad about it because a) I loved the music so much, and b) I wouldn’t have bought it even if I hadn’t downloaded it, because I was super-poor. (I was one of the people who got sued by Metallica; it is perhaps a bit ironic that the only Metallica song I owned was actually a legal download, one of my only legal downloads.) Now, we could argue the ethics of downloading that music, but that’s not the point of this paragraph or post. The point of this paragraph is that I downloaded most of the music I own in college, and for most of college, I was a ball of mostly negative emotions. Hence, most of the music I downloaded in that period would fall into the negative category. Truly, my husband would tell you I’ve never gotten out of that rut, too: “Another break-up song? Another done-me-wrong song? Really, Sally, another one?” Well . . . yeah. Those moments seem to tend to inspire better song-writing. To me. He disagrees.
When I started exercising regularly, I thought that I just needed music to go with the tempo of my motion: fast for moving quickly, slower for trying to pace myself better, slow for stretching. What I learned about myself is that even though I may love it, negative emotion music is much worse at keeping me going when I’m pumping myself up to stretch my physical ability. If you give me two relatively fast-tempo songs—say “Ain’t No Other Man” by Christina Aguilera and “Forgot about Dre” by the afore-mentioned Eminem and Dr. Dre—even if I love the negative song (and I do love that one; it’s one of my favorite angry songs), it won’t help me push myself in the exercise as I need to do like the positive song will. The lyrics matter. Some songs that fall into a more complex category can be good for exercise for me even if someone else might categorize the song as negative. For example, Pink’s music is so girl-power driven that even if the song’s focus is somewhat negative, it usually still strikes me as empowering and upbeat; “U and Ur Hand”—with lyrics like, “You know who you are/High-fivin’, talkin’ shit, but you’re going home alone, aren’t ya?”—is one of my favorite work-out songs the last couple of months. But, generally speaking, up-tempo music with an upbeat or motivational message actually does push me to have a better work-out. Perhaps this is completely common sense to other people, and it comes across that way to me as I’m typing it. Nonetheless, it’s been a surprise to me. It’s also made me work on incorporating more positive music into the rest of my life . . . though let me be clear that I think it’s important to give yourself space to feel both your positive and negative emotions, and music can be one outlet for that either way.
Here are a few songs that have proven helpful to me as I develop my competency, stamina, and confidence at working out and taking care of myself:
Sample lyrics: “What you don’t have, you don’t need it now/What you don’t know, you can feel it somehow/It’s a beautiful day/Don’t let it get away”
“Some People Change”—Montgomery Gentry (It’s a slower tempo song on the verses, but the simple lyrics pump me up.)
Sample lyrics: “Here’s to the strong/Thanks to the brave/Against all odds/Against the grain/Don’t give up hope/Some people change”
“Thank You”—Alanis Morissette
Sample lyrics: “How ’bout me not blaming you for everything/How ’bout me enjoying a moment for once/How ’bout how good it feels to finally forgive you/How ’bout grieving it all one at a time/Thank you, India/Thank you, terror/Thank you, disillusionment/Thank you, frailty/Thank you, consquence/Thank you, thank you, silence”
Sample lyrics: “I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn to fly/I’ll do what it takes till I touch the sky/And I’ll make a wish/Take a chance/Make a change/And breakaway”
“Change Your Mind”—Sister Hazel
Sample lyrics: “If you want to be somebody else/If you’re tired of fighting battles with yourself/If you want to be somebody else/Change your mind”
“Truth No. 2″–Dixie Chicks
Sample lyrics: “You don’t like the sound of the truth/Coming from my mouth/You say I lack the proof/Well, baby, that might be so/Tell me what’s wrong with having a little faith/In what you’re feeling in your heart”
What songs inspire you as you work out? I could use some new downloads to kick off March (and legal ones, these days, too).