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Music and Sports: Why Do Both?

By Liz Hinley | February 6, 2018

Music and Sports: Why Do Both?

Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata—a powerful piano solo that is respected as one of Beethoven’s most challenging pieces. Imagine for a moment being a skilled pianist announcing an impromptu performance of such a piece. Is this perhaps a little ambitious? Do you feel like you can perform it comfortably, soon? How about right after winning an Olympic gold medal?

French Olympic champion and concert pianist Micheline Ostermeyer did just that. Right after winning gold in shot put at the 1948 London Games, she performed this recital in celebration of her win. Ostermeyer was unique in that she was a professional in music and sport. [1] For what experts in these fields may say are too distinct from each other and therefore impossible to master both, Ostermeyer acknowledges how “the qualities that make a true artist are nearly the same qualities that make a true athlete.” [2] She shared how sports helped relax her and playing piano gave her “a sense of motion and rhythm.” [3] For what seems like two different areas of skill, Ostermeyer has proven that they are more alike than at first glance.

Music and sport both offer great skills and benefits that not only improve one’s lifestyle, but they complement each other so that a musician can find benefits from being athletic and an athlete can discover benefits for being musical. Research supports having musical training can increase physical coordination and motor skill ability, and vice versa, that being an athlete can improve a musician’s skills and performances. [4] Although there is currently no research on outcome measures of individuals who study both music and sport simultaneously, there are intriguing findings that offer both musicians and athletes information that can help take their performances to the next level.

Below are a few key findings research offers for musicians who are looking to improve their physical abilities to play an instrument, or wanting to strengthen the control of emotion and mental fatigue:

  • Physically active individuals may cope with stress such as performance anxiety, especially post-performance.
  • Exercise has the potential to improve the quality of long-duration performances.
  • Intention-structured practices, such as yoga, can enhance and support posture and reduce musculoskeletal imbalances.
  • Stretching and fine motor exercises can improve range of motion, blood flow, and fine muscle strength to aid in holding and controlling an instrument.
  • Interventions using strength training, specifically endurance strength, are proven beneficial for not only improving muscular strength but also having a positive effect on perceived exertion while playing an instrument.

Here are example findings on how music benefits athletic performance for athletes seeking an edge in training and competition:

  • Motivational-rated music can improve ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), motivation, and arousal.
  • Music can encourage athletes to work harder during exercise and for extended periods of time towards failure (to failure studies).
  • Since there is a strong response to rhythmical qualities of music, one can improve technique and coordination of their kinetic chain.
  • Stimulative music can influence positive self-talk and “in the zone” (flow state) effects.
  • Music can affect the heart rate by either slightly increasing its rates with stimulative music or slowing its rates with sedative music.

A child growing up with both music education and athletic participation can learn many valuable skills, both cognitive and physical, that lead to a more significant development and success in learning and potentially his or her future career. Therefore, children should be encouraged to stay active in both music and sport as long as the desire and motivation are prevalent. As an adult, a combination of music and sport can provide many positive pathways to improving one’s ability and enjoyment in his or her chosen field of work.  For what seems like two very different worlds of entertainment, music and sport are in fact more related and provide the perfect balance to improve and optimize one’s life.


  1. Olympic News. (2007, December 21). The Athlete Musician. Retrieved from Olympic Games:
  2. Gardner, J. (1991). The art of fiction: Notes on craft for young writers. New York: Vintage Books 
  3. Bateman, A., & Bales, J. (2008). Sporting sounds: Relationships between sport and music. London: Routledge.
  4. Herholz, S., & Zatorre, R. (2012). Musical training as a framework for brain plasticity: Behavior, function, and stucture. Neruon, 76, 486-502.

Further Reading on Music Benefiting Athletics:

  • Atkinson, G., Wilson, D., & Eubank, M. (2004). Effects of music on work-rate distribution during cycling time trial. International Journal of Sports Medicine(25), 611-615.
  • Bharani, A., Sahu, A., & Mathew, V. (2004). Effect of passive distraction on treadmill exercise test performance in healthy males using music. International Journal of Cardiology(97), 305-306.
  • Bishop, D. T., Karageorghis, C. I., & Loizou, G. (2007). A grounded theory of young tennis players' use of music to manipulate emotional state. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology(29), 584-607.
  • Bishop, D. T., Wright, M. J., & Karageorghis, C. I. (2014). Tempo and intensity of pre-task music modulate neural activity during reactive task performance. Psychology of Music(42), 714-727.
  • Bood, R. J., Nijssen, M., van der Kamp, J., & Roerdink, M. (2013). The power of auditory-motor synchronization in sports: Enhancing running performance by coupling cadence with the right beats. PLoS ONE(8), e70758.
  • Chtourou, H., Jarraya, M., Aloui, A., Hammouda, O., & Souissi, N. (2012). The effects of music during warm-up on anaerobic performances of young sprinters. Science & Sports(27), e85-e88.
  • Eliakim, M., Meckel, Y., Nemet, D., & Eliakim, A. (2007). The effect of music during warm-up on consecutive anaerobic performance in elite adolescent volleyball players. International Journal of Sports Medicine (28), 321-325.
  • Pain, M. A., Harwood, C., & Anderson, R. (2011). Pre-competition imagery and music: The impact on flow and performance in competitive soccer. The Sport Psychologist(25), 212-232.
  • Savitha, D., Mallikarjuna, R. N., & Chythra, R. (2010). Effect of different musical tempo on post-exercise recovery in young adults. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology(54), 32-36.
  • Smoll, F. L., & Schultz, R. W. (1978). Relationships among measures of preferred tempo and motor rhythm. Perceptual & Motor Skills(46), 883-894.

Further Reading on Athletics Benefiting Music:

  • Ackermann, B., Adams, R., & Marshall, E. (2002, March). Strength or endurance training for undergraduate music majors at a univeristy? Medical Problems of Performing Artsists, 33-41.
  • Drinkwater, E., & Klopper, C. (2010, June). Quantifying the phyiscal demands of a musical performance and their effects on performance quality. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 66-71.
  • Norris R: The Musician’s Survival Manual: A Guide to Preventing and Treating Injuries in Instrumentalists. St Louis: International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians; 1993.
  • Raub, J. (2002). Psychophysiologic effects of hatha yoga on musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary function: A Literature Review. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 8(6), 797-812.
  • Wasley, D., Taylor, A., Backx, K., & Williamon, A. (2012). Influence of fitness and physical activity on cardiovascular reactivity to musical performance. IOS Press, 27-32.
  • Wilke, C., Priebus, J., Biallas, B., & Frobose, I. (2011, March). Motor activity as a way of preventing musculoskeletal problems in string musicians. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 24-29.
  • Williams, K., Petronis, J., Smith, D., Goodrich, D., Wu, J., Ravi, N., . . . Steinberg, L. (2005). Effect of Iyengar yoga therapy for chonic low back pain. Pain 115, 107-117.

Liz Hinley

Liz Hinley is a multisport coach with KMF Performance based in Denton, TX. She is currently earning her Masters in Kinesiology with a concentration of sport and exercise psychology at the University of North Texas. With her background as an athlete and having earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in music, she is conducting a meta analysis on the benefits of music on athletic performance.

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