July 30, 2014

Choosing Figure Skating Music

After having reached out to my lovely readers through the Figure Skating Advice Facebook page, it became apparent that an updated article which discusses music choice for figure skating was needed. And thus, this post is born! Back in 2010 (2010?! Where does the time go?!) I wrote this article, which I will now refer to as v.1 of our discussion on choosing your skating music. Go ahead and read that one over first if you'd like, or keep reading here for my updated version - v.2!

I have purposely only briefly scanned over what I wrote in that 2010 article, because I do not want to exclude any good pieces of advice from that post under the pre-text that it's already written somewhere else. So you may see some overlap between the two articles, but rest assured that I plan on covering more ground in this v.2 on skating music choice. OK, let's jump right in!

Appropriate Music
Did you ever see a little girl skating to Romeo and Juliet, or Carmen, or to a tango piece? If you have (and I'm betting you have, unless you are literally just starting out in skating and haven't been to any competitions yet), then you'll know what I mean when I say that music needs to be age-appropriate (this criterion also spills over in the costume). The music a skater chooses will be with him or her for an entire season, and taken to many different types of competition, and in all probability a testing session or two. It is important that the music fits the skaters life stage (that is, age), such that it does not over-power the skater, both in terms of aesthetic and skating ability. Now let's use a male analogy: did you ever see a young boy skating to some very powerful music (think Man in the Iron Mask, or The Godfather soundtracks), which he didn't seem to be able to keep up with? It's important at this point to understand that I am not saying all young kids cannot keep up with powerful or fast music, there are exceptions where this will fit their skating style, but this is generally quite rare. 

Choosing a piece of music which over-powers the skater on the ice causes them not only to not look like they are in the program, but in fact it is far more detrimental than that. It makes that skater look slower than they actually are! Where a young skater might appear light and airy to a tinkling piece of classical, they may look sluggish skating to a very powerful piece which they struggle to keep up with both in terms of tempo and emotion displayed (we'll get to that further down - keep reading!)

Your coach will be able to help you find a piece of music that really brings out the skaters abilities - the purpose of the program is to show off all the things the skater can do in a coordinated and hopefully beautiful way. Seeking guidance from coach (who has a wealth of experience and who will have seen both of the scenarios we've discussed above plenty times) is a sure fire way to get off on the right foot when looking for a music or musical style to explore more in search for that perfect piece.

How to Find Music
So once you've decided that you'll be staying away from sexy tangos from Cabaret or Bach's Concerto No. 1 because you've ascertained pieces and styles that won't fit your skating ability or that they are not appropriate, you can start your true search for that perfect piece. But how do you find skating music anyway, and where should you start? I mean, there's a lot of music out there! What's a skater to do?!

Well, step 1 is to start today. Think you just need to worry about choosing music at the end of season, in preparation for the next round of comps and tests? The earlier you start compiling a list of styles, composers, artists, genres, or actual individual tracks you love, the easier it's going to be when crunch time comes around. Start now, by keeping a skating music diary in whatever format you find to be the most convenient for you. If you are subscribed to Spotify, you could create a "Skating Music" playlist, and add things you like into that playlist as and when you hear them. Perhaps you're like me, and prefer the old school approach of a notebook and pen (buy yourself something pretty from the stationery store, treasure it, scribble in it, and not only will you have a practical tool, you'll also have a great keepsake in years to come). Or maybe you'll be content to type names of tracks you love into your smartphone for easy access at all times. Whatever you decide, keeping track (pun intended...) of things you hear and like will make your life easier further down the line.

But how do you discover new music anyway? Well, there are a few ways. I won't lie, it's quite an effort, but hopefully some of these suggestions will help you incorporate musical discovery into your everyday life! 

♥ Listen To Classical Radio ♥
Find out what the classical radio station is in your area, and stick it on while you're driving around, to and from the rink, or going grocery shopping. You'd be surprised how much great music I've discovered listening to Classic FM (a UK classical music radio station) over the years on all the drives to the rink.

♥ Watch Old Skating Programs ♥
Well, I didn't have this luxury as a young skater because we only got a computer years after I'd started skating (and even then, all I did on it was load photos of Evgeny Plushenko, which appeared pain-stakingly slowly, on a fan page of which I was in awe) and YouTube didn't exist back then. But it does now, and you can harness the power of having so much great skating archive footage for your own personal use! Take a look at skater's from a while back, and try to draw inspiration from some of the music they were using. You will want to avoid copying very iconic programs unless you're sure you can pull them off with total panache (the majority of skaters agree that they shouldn't try Bolero until they are confident they can do it justice!), and those which appeared on the international stage all of one season ago. But if you look back at what Maria Butyrskaia was skating to in the 90s, you might find a rare gem.

♥ Pay Attention to Soundtracks ♥
Original sound tracks (this often gets abbreviated to "OST" - you can use this suffix when searching for music online and hopefully this will help yield better results) are great sources of wonderful music, so pay attention to the music when you're watching a movie! Soundtracks have been a mainstay in figure skating for a long time, and often offer strong aesthetic themes to the skater and choreographer too. Imagine skating to the music from Breakfast At Tiffany's, wearing an iconic plain black dress and a bouffant hair-style! It would be instantly recognisable.

♥ Go To The Local Library ♥
Your local library may be a bigger source of skating music inspiration than you would think! Libraries often have music sections, where you can check out CDs for free or a small fee. Get down there, pick out some discs, and then head home and stick them on the stereo system while you're cooking dinner, hanging out, or doing chores like your laundry. The more you expose yourself to music, the greater your knowledge will be, and this all helps you to make a more informed decision. Consider this: if you've listened to 2 tracks and like one of them a lot, you might think "OK, that's nice, but maybe I'll find better." If you've listened to 30 tracks, and find one you love, you'll be in a better position to say "I know that this one is special and works for me." Knowledge is power!

♥ Ask Around ♥
Lastly, this might seem obvious, but don't hesitate to ask any music connoisseurs you know! People are generally flattered when they are solicited for their level of expertise on a subject, so if you know someone who really loves listening to music (be it jazz, classical, OSTs, whatever really!) then ask them for their input. 9 times out of 10 they'll be flattered, and likely to keep an ear out for anything that fits your criteria from then on.

How To Choose Your Music
OK, so you've listened to a ton. You've got 5 pieces you really like. How do you choose your music?
Your music needs to fit where you're at in your skating life right now. It's not just about what fits your age, style, and ability, It's also about what you want to do this season. If you skated to Russian folk music last year, you might not want to embark on American country music, because you might feel like all you do is research and skate to traditional styles that have a very strong aesthetic both in terms of costume and steps that you do on the ice. You might prefer to go for a floaty classical piece which allows you to explore a softer less charicatural side of your performance. When I used to choose my music, I'd always take into consideration what I'd been doing the for the year leading up to the change of program - I went from Chopin to a Queen medley, because I didn't feel like embarking on another year of soft classical loveliness (I wanted to get out there and let loose a little!) You might end up narrowing your 5 pieces down to 3, because two of those choices would have had you repeating yourself a bit, season-upon-season. But that's OK. Finding music you love takes hard work, and now you've done it, those choices can go into the bank for next year! Make sure you note them down!

So you've got it down to 3 choices, what now? Well, you have to go with your gut on this one. Get sitting comfortably, close your eyes, and hit "Play". Let the music wash over you. The images that come to your mind, and the way that music makes you feel (passionate, sad, joyful, etc.) will tell you something about how good a fit that music is. By this, I don't mean music that makes you feel sad is a bad choice. Music that makes you feel something is always a good choice. Beware those pieces which you think sound pretty in themselves, but which evoke no emotion in you - those are the ones you'll get bored running, and skate to with the least passion.

Now What?
So you've got your piece, or a small number of pieces you're still hesitating between. What to do now? Well, a great first step is to get on the ice. Get out to the early patch ice, stick the music over the stereo, and skate around. Hear how the music fills the arena. Hear how to reverberates around the corners of the roof, and comes back to you - the beautiful, uncertain, enthusiastic skater. How your music sounds to you on the ice is the most important thing, because you'll be hearing a lot. Hopefully once you're out there, and you're tinkering around on the ice, listening to your choices fill the bleachers and cover the ice, you'll know. If not, at this point your coach will probably have some savvy insight into what he or she thinks you should go with. This might be their own personal opinion, but push them for their objective professional views, and they are very probably going to have some good advice for you that should help make the decision easier.
OK, you've chosen your piece! That was the hard part. Now, how do you transform this 7 minute 23 second long Rimsky Korsakov masterpiece into a 2 minute 30 second program? You need to cut your music. You can either seek out someone to do this for you within your local skating environment (every rink generally has a resident music cutter - ask coach or other skaters for recommendations), call on a professional company (skating music cutting companies do exist - Google searching will help you locate them), or lastly, you can do it yourself. This might sound daunting at first, but it can be fun and gives you maximum control over what goes into the program and what gets cut out of it. This might be too much to worry about for many, in which case you're better off paying someone to do the honours for you. In the later part of my career, I cut all my own music using the free Open Source software Audacity. Audacity is a nifty tool, and I later ended up using it to cut music for other skaters at my rink. It's completely free, works a charm, and produces high quality edits.

You're All Set!
Well, hopefully this article helped you to understand some of the ways you can facilitate the task of finding figure skating music! If there's something you do that I've totally missed and you think would benefit other readers, then please leave a comment!

Until next time, turn on your radio!
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  1. Thank you! We always have such a hard time finding an appropriate song that my daughter's coach will approve! Whenever we choose a song about love or boys her coach asks her....you are 8 well as of this weekend 9 years old what do you know about love and boys? Choose again it has to be age appropriate she says. Christmas shows are the hardest to choose for music I think! Thank you again for all your advice you rock!

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  2. Great post Gracie! I'd also add to have the skater listen to Pandora, where they can set up a "classical" station and have *it* suggest similar pieces. A few other thoughts on music selection are over at my blog:


    -- Jeff
    L.A. SkateDad

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  3. Keep your potential choices to yourself. Others will steal from you if they like one of them and feel no remorse. Has happened to us twice by people we considered friends.

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