Music Makes the Moves--and Movies

When the Academy Awards are presented tonight, most people will concentrate on the best picture and acting awards. Rarely do they pay much attention to, or comment on, the Oscars for music. And yet, it seems to me that music has as much to do with a movie's success or failure as almost any other of its components. The right film score enhances what's on the screen by telling the viewer how and what to feel, but inappropriate music torpedoes a scene faster than even terrible acting.

If you've ever seen a rough cut of a film without the music, or experimented by watching a video at home and substituting your own soundtrack, you know what I mean. Imagine "Psycho" without Bernard Herrmann's creepy cues or "Rocky" without Bill Conti's stirring anthem. Now imagine the two films switching scores.

Nothing artistic evokes emotions or reactions the way music does. Music can rouse you when you're tired and lull you when you're wired. It's easy to see how the rise of aerobics' popularity coincided with the early years of disco. Your body responds physically and mentally to the beat: It's involuntary, the way your toe begins tapping at the opening chords of, say, "Johnny B. Goode"; and, at a wedding, when "Twist and Shout" strikes up, you can't seem to help yourself from running out onto the dance floor.

Which is why I make music such a big part of my exercise routine. I use music to motivate me before exercise, and then during exercise to keep exercising. Let's face it--the treadmill (or even driving, for that matter) can be a deadly bore without the support and encouragement that exciting music provides. And with Elton John as a partner, running a 10K is a lot more pleasant and seems to go much faster than when running alone.

Something that works really well for me is a personal compilation tape--90 minutes of my favorite songs strung back-to-back. I get out my CDs and tapes, and play deejay, recording onto a cassette only those songs that get me really pumping. My taste is kind of eclectic, so I may include everything on it from pop to African to Caribbean to oldies to reggae to classical. I then plug the completed tape into my auto-reverse Walkman and go. Whether I'm at the gym or the track, I never fail to appreciate how the music instantly manipulates my mood and my body.

I've honed the selection process on some of these personal soundtrack tapes to take advantage of the way my body (like yours) responds unconsciously and involuntarily to the music, by wanting to follow the beat. Different tapes are for different activities. Let's say I want to achieve a particular pace while walking. I'll start the tape with warmup songs--those in the 118-beats-per-minute range, a calypso or folk beat, for example--then build up to 135-bpm songs (big band, disco or a faster rock beat), and finally back down again. If I want to do interval training, I'll be able to vary my pace by alternating sets of fast songs--those in the 145-bpm range, like a fast salsa beat--with sets of slower songs.

Clinical studies have proven scientifically that music keeps you exercising longer and more intensely than working out without music. But, of course, everyone who's ever strapped on a pair of running shoes and a Walkman already knew that.

One reason for this, I suspect, is that music distracts your mind from focusing on the normal messages that your body transmits when it's working out. For instance, listening to music instead of yourself breathing fast and hard helps you forget that you are, in fact, breathing fast and hard. And as it inspires you through emotion, music also turns your attention away from your exertion.

The way I see it, without the "Rocky" theme, Sylvester Stallone would never have made it up those stairs.

Copyright 1998 by Kathy Smith


* Kathy Smith's fitness column appears weekly in Health. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her book "Getting Better All the Time." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number with your question.

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