Come see me play @ Yoga Six this Thursday

Friends, Family, and Chicago yogis; I’ll be playing a yoga event this Thursday, August 20 2015 at Yoga Six’s South Loop location from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM to celebrate Roosevelt Collection’s rooftop opening. The event will be a Power Yoga class followed by a short walk over to CHOP for dinner. CHOP is offering a post class discount of 20% off for Yoga Six students. Sign up in advance or visit yogasix.com for details. The rooftop is located directly behind the movie theater (walk back behind the movie theater outside on the main level). Free parking is available in the Roosevelt Collection garage. Looking forward to checking out the new views with you!

Flyer

Yoga Sculpt: How to Create a Hit Playlist

One of the most challenging portions of teaching Yoga Sculpt is maintaining an environment that is conducive to the goals of the class. Because the energy level changes so much throughout the sequence, constant attention must be paid to lighting, temperature, humidity, and music. Music is particularly challenging for a number of reasons and not all of them are obvious. This article is designed to address these challenges by relating them to my experiences managing a crowd as a DJ. I will introduce you to some basic musical concepts such as energy, key, tempo and song structure, then I will walk you through my process that I use when developing my own sculpt playlists. I will introduce some of the tools that have aided in my DJ career that are particularly suited to developing a great sculpt playlist. Finally, we will develop a Sculpt Playlist using this new knowledge and the tools that we have at our disposal.

Some Philosophy

Before we begin, I’d like to share a bit of my personal philosophy as it applies to any type of performance. It could be public speaking, comedy, a DJ gig, or teaching a yoga sculpt class. I’m a firm believer that there are 2 universes. There’s one inside your head. It contains your expectations, your hopes, your dreams, the world as you imagine it is, or as want it to be. Then there is the universe as it actually is. As yoga teachers, we face a near constant reconciliation of these 2 universes. When the world as it is is in sync with the universe inside your head, it feels good and you’re at peace. The opposite can produce frustration, or at the very least opportunity for learning. When we deliver a great class experience for our students or when we try something new that our students appreciate, it feels good. When things don’t go according to expectations, we need to learn to modify our behavior to produce the result that we want.

One thing I like to remember as a DJ is that it’s not all about me. Music is uniquely difficult to play for other people because most people are used to getting whatever they want as it applies to music. In their cars, their headphones, at home, and at work, people have an incredible amount of power when it comes to customizing what they are hearing at any given time. When you put a group of people together who want different things, you have to remember that you are there to create an experience that will shape your audience’s experience, not your own expectations. A live DJ will often times rehearse a specific order of songs to be played at specific times, but due to a dance floor being a dynamic environment, a good DJ will be able to read the crowd and play to the energy in the room. Teaching sculpt offers less flexibility, however coming prepared ahead of time will help immensely.

The Basics

All songs have certain properties to them. They have a genre, a tempo, an energy level, a musical key, and many more. Most songs follow a particular structure that can be used as an aid to transition from one exercise to another, or, depending on the song and the talent of the instructor, even from one series of the sequence to the next. A particular song might be appropriate for one portion of the sequence and completely inappropriate for something else. It’s helpful to understand each component of a song, its function, and how it can be used to cue each movement in the Sculpt Sequence.

Tempo, Beats, and Structure

The tempo of a song can be thought of as the speed of its beat. It is measured in Beats Per  Minute. A beat is the basic unit of time in a song and is typically some form of percussion. Most songs have an upbeat and a downbeat. A downbeat is the first and third beat of a bar, and an upbeat is the second and last beat of a bar. In 4/4 time (almost every modern song), a bar is 4 beats, and a phrase is 4 or 8 bars. Each phrase represents a shift in the energy or sound of a song. New instruments are added, removed, and the song will develop at each phrase. Counting bars and beats can be useful when teaching to the beat because you can use each phrase to cue a new exercise, pose or movement. Let’s examine the structure of a typical song using the example below.

Intro

An intro is typically a multiple of 16 beats (or 4 bars) in length, with a new sound added either every 16 or 32 beats in length. Typically, new sounds being added every 16 beats means that you have a 4 bar phrase, and every 32 beats means you have an 8 bar phrase. In the example track above, if you count out the first 8 bars (or 32 beats), you will notice that it is just a low drum kick (downbeat), followed by the combination of a high hat every other beat (upbeat). There is a bit of a melody during this time however the introduction of the next bassline at the 8 bar mark adds a new sound, meaning you have an 8 bar phrase. The intro continues for another phrase, however the buildup will let you know that the intro is over. Tempo in a song will rarely change and if it does, it usually does so in multiples of 2. Dubstep and Traphouse are famous for utilizing these types of tempo changes. As a general rule of thumb, I avoid these genres of music during a sculpt sequence…. and in life altogether really.

Verse (optional)

In songs with lyrics, each verse sets up the theme of the song and builds a natural progression to the chorus. Many house music tracks that have simplistic or repetitive lyrics will skip a verse entirely and move straight to a chorus, or a buildup.

Chorus (optional)

This contains the main message or theme of the song. Typically the most energetic and catchy part of a song. Typically, each line of chorus will last exactly one phrase, as is the case of the example song.

Breakdown

This is a transition between the end of the chorus and the beginning of the next verse, chorus, or bridge. This will typically contain the main melody of the song. It’s usually the peak energy level of the song, which is precisely where you want to put the most intense exercises that you have planned for a particular portion of the sequence.

Verse 2 (optional)

In songs with lyrics, this will be the second thought or concept expressed in the song. The lyrics are generally different than the first verse of the song.

Chorus 2

Typically, the second chorus will mimic the first chorus of the song, however slight variations might be introduced.

Bridge (optional, but typically found in most songs over 4 minutes)

This is a second transition towards the end of the song. A bridge is generally musically different than the rest of the song, however the tempo should remain unchanged. In rock or other acoustic genres of music, this is where instrument solos will be found.

Chorus 3 (outro)

Some songs might have a 3rd repetition of the original chorus. Generally speaking, the 3rd chorus is a shorter version of the original chorus.

Outro

The closing segment of the song is the outro. This is where the song will fade out, return to simple beats, and generally wind down. In the sculpt sequence, this should be your cue that it’s time to give your students a break and prepare to move onto the next portion of the sequence. It is generally the same length as the intro, so be mindful of whether you are using 4 or 8 bar phrases to give you an approximation for how much time you have left.

One more thought regarding tempo

Generally speaking, you want to start off with a slower tempo for Integration, constantly bump yourself up in tempo, peaking at cardio, then finally work your way down to something slow for Abs and Surrender. Genres of music are often classified by their tempo. Hip Hop and downtempo is generally between 80-110bpm, House music is between 120-130 bpm, Techno between 125-140 bpm, Trance can be between 130-150 bpm, and Hardstyle is anything 160+. Never play hardstyle, even during cardio. Or ever for that matter.

Energy Level

Energy level is unfortunately more difficult to quantify because there are many factors that contribute to it. Tempo, musical key and pitch all play a role. Generally speaking, the more high pitched instruments you have and the higher the tempo, the higher the energy level. There are many algorithms that take a crack at it, though I’ve found them to be generally inaccurate. Hip Hop is generally low energy, Techno, Trance, and Hardstyle are generally high energy. I’m biased because it’s what I play in the clubs and afterhours warehouses, but I’ve found that House Music is like goldilocks as it applies to the Sculpt Sequence – just right. The software I use assigns energy levels on a scale of 1-10 so that’s what I use, however you can assign energy levels to each song according to your own scale should you choose not to use any software to help you.

Key

CamelotWheel
Musical key plays a large part when it comes to blending from one track to the next. If you plan to make continuous mixes, you will HAVE to pay attention to key. If you do not plan to make continuous mixes, paying attention to key can still help you develop a cohesive playlist that will “just feel right.” Ever notice how two songs just seem to go together really well when played one after the next? Maybe they sound similar or they feel just right when played one after the next? Chances are, those 2 songs are in key with each other. Without going into too much musical theory, the key of the song is dependent on which chords are played. Certain notes go together really well while others sound unpleasant when mixed together.

The image here is called the Camelot Wheel. It was developed by the geniuses at MixedInKey to help DJ’s profile and mix songs that are compatible in key. From their website:

On this wheel, musical keys can be seen as “hours” on a clock. For example, 4 o’clock corresponds to 4B or 4A. The letter “B” represents Major keys. The letter “A” represents Minor keys.

To use harmonic mixing in your DJ sets, you can change keys with every mix by moving around the Camelot wheel one step at a time. Mix between songs by subtracting one hour (-1), adding one hour (+1), or staying in the same hour as your last song. So if you’re playing a song tagged 4A, your next track can be 3A, 4A or 5A.

For a special effect, you can mix between the inner circle and outer circle. For example, mix from 4A to 4B.

That’s all it takes to start harmonic mixing – just scan your files with Mixed In Key and choose songs that are adjacent to each other on the Camelot wheel. Harmonic mixing works for all music genres because it is based on music theory.

The Yoga Sculpt Sequence, My Process, and Some Tools

How I start

Components

I like to start off by creating various buckets that I then use to create a playlist. I do all of my track management in iTunes because it plays nicely with the other tools I use. Specifically, MixedInKey, Platinum Notes, and MixedInKey Flow. My library has already been processed by MixedInKey, however if you’re just starting out and you actually care about tempo and key, you’ll want to pick up a copy of the software. MixedInKey can be had on their website for about $60 and it’s worth every penny. It will go through your entire iTunes library and identify which musical key each song is, assign an energy level, and give you the tempo in beats per minute. If I am unsure about whether a song will fit in a specific portion of the sequence, I let MixedInKey be my guide.

I place songs in each bucket according to their energy level and tempo. Once I have built up a good number of tracks in each “bucket,” I get to work designing my playlist. If I am making a continuous mix, I will want to have an hour and a half of music, if I am just making a simple playlist, I want to have about 5-10 minutes extra. Your playlist should have about 11-12 songs if it is a simple mix, and about 15-17 songs if it is a continuous mix. In the sections below, I’ll give you approximate ranges for energy level and tempo that are appropriate for each series in the Yoga Sculpt Sequence

Integration

There is a bit of subjectivity here and room for personality. For those of you who like to get the class moving almost immediately, just go ahead and start with some good deep house music but keep the tempo and energy level on the low side. 122bpm tops. If you are mixing in key, 12A and 6A are great places to start because they tend to have a really flowey feeling melody.

BPM:80-122
Energy: 3-5
Example track:Compuphonic – Sunset

Sun A & Sun B

You can pick up the pace a LITTLE here, but at this point you still aren’t technically teaching to the beat.

BPM: 80-124
Energy: 4-6
Example track:Mario Cruz – Little Things

Floor Series

This is where you want to start to crank up the energy. Push-ups are hard, bicep curls are hard. You want something with a solid beat, but not so fast that form begins to suffer. Generally you want to pick up the energy level from Sun A & B but not increase the tempo. Same applies to Squats.
BPM: 120-124
Energy: 6-7
Example track:Go Freek – The Way You Dance

Squats (both)

BPM: 120-124
Energy: 6-8
Example track:Shiba San – Okay

Cardio

This is where you want to really crank up the energy. The tempo should really pick up and so should the energy level. Hear a great banger while getting crunk at the club this weekend? GO BANANAS! The example song I included is pushing the absolute outer limits of what might be construed as acceptable lyrics in a yoga class, but the song is so much fun and gets everyone so pumped up that it’s one of my favorite go-to songs. Just be careful that you know your audience and use some discretion when playing it.

BPM: 126-140
Energy: 7-10
Example track:Chainsmokers – Selfie

Sculpting Series (both)

During the sculpting series you want to bring the energy level down a little bit from Cardio and massively decrease the tempo. Remember that everyone is tired so they’re going to need some good music to power through, but you can’t be too fast or people will be throwing weights all over the room and hurting themselves.

BPM: 122-126
Energy: 6-8
Example track:Mineo – Get Out FIght

Core

You want to slow things down here a bit since most core exercises are complex movements, but maintain the energy level. This is the ONE place where dubstep MIGHT be acceptable. You know what, forget it. Never play dubstep. Ever. This is the place to break out the disco as long as it’s on the slow side because it’s high energy and fun.

BPM: 118-124
Energy: 5-7
Example track:Alex Kidd – You Know I Love Music

Surrender

Surrender is a little tricky. You want to have some energy and beat for the stretches but you want to tone it down to an almost nonexistent beat by the time you get to shavasana. I actually advise that you use 2 songs here, one with a beat and one with no beat. I like to find a nice hip-hop instrumental or downtempo track to start off with, then mix into something more soothing.

BPM: 100 or below
Energy: 0-4
Example track:Pete Rock – Pete’s Jazz
Example track:Trailer Park Boys Theme Song

Closing

I like to finish by actually playing my entire mix or playlist and trying the sequence out. Often times things feel like they might go together well but in practice it just doesn’t work out. Testing your playlist on yourself is a good way to figure this out. I’ll also use this as my opportunity to theme a sequence or think about what exercises I’m going to employ. Always remember that a playlist is dynamic – you don’t have to always play the same songs at the same time in the same order – you just need to be sure that the way you think it’s going to go is the way that it actually works out. Good luck!

At least I made up for lost time

So I haven’t posted any sets lately. Sorry about that. Life has been crazy. Between moving back to Chicago, learning to teach yoga, working on my streaming music service, and putting out a million little fires with my consulting practice, I haven’t been able to afford the time and energy that putting together a really good set really takes. Sometimes though, shutting off your brain and just letting the music do the talking for an intimate crowd of close friends produces the greatest outcome. That’s what last night was all about. I wanted nothing to do with lollapalooza, so instead I decided to throw a little bash at the Braunasium. Attendance was pitiful, but for whatever reason I feel like I fucking nailed this set. For 3.5 hours! I biffed a few transitions towards the end due to being royally fucked up and socializing, however I feel like the overall quality is still worthy of sharing. Enjoy!