The Art of Making a Class Playlist

I’m lucky. Really lucky. I get to completely design my own classes for teaching yoga and lifting at Balance 365 Fitness (a boutique gym) where all instructors are encouraged to really own our lesson plans. I teach half Vinyasa yoga with traditional music, and half rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop yoga (basically bootcamp style with appropriate music). It’s incredibly fun and I get to end every savasana by reading poetry, but designing a class playlist that will at least partially appeal to all students is a huge challenge.

With traditional yoga classes, the music is easy. Few students have a strong preference for one type of “yogi music” over another. With rock and hip hop music, it’s different. People have opinions—strong ones. Plus, I have a disclaimer put on my class descriptions. A lot of hip hop and some rock has (no surprise here) graphic lyrics. No, I’m not downloading separate “clean” songs. If you show up to a hip hop yoga class where Tupac is on the playlist, you’re going to hear the real thing.

That being said, I don’t seek out the dirtiest trap music I can find either. Kanye and Lil’ Kim have to take a back seat a lot of the time. Kanye gets to come out and play for my lifting classes, though. Things get even tougher when you don’t really know your students yet, or who will show up.

So, let’s address this ancient question: Can you at least try to make everyone happy?

Music is the Universal Language (of Figuring Out Who Has Crap Taste)

Here’s the thing about pop music no matter the genre: It’s popular by default. That’s why it’s on the radio. That also means there are big chunks of people who love to hate it whether genuinely or because they feel like they “should.” There are the music snobs, the ones who can somehow listen to the same song 578 times and not be sick of it yet, and the ones who want to play DJ.

No, you can’t make everyone happy. The best you can do is try to ensure that everyone at least kind of likes one song on your playlist.

But here’s the other thing: Nobody is going to sign up for a rock or hip hop class expecting you to cater to them. They won’t even expect you to cater to anything beyond the mainstream. I was a child of the 80s who grew up as an only child with parents who only listened to music from the 50s, 60s and 70s when I was growing up. I knew who Diana Ross was way before Paula Abdul. I fell in love with Joe Tex at eight years old. I was a teenager in the 90s, which means that was the decade that sticks close to my heart. With every class, I include songs from a variety of decades, sprinkling in only a few uber contemporary ones that are still on the radio (because, just like you, I can’t stand to hear the latest Rihanna one more goddamned time—no matter how much I liked it the first time).

The art of the playlist is like any other art. Make it for yourself, and “your people” will find you. They’ll appreciate some, make fun of others, but if they want a yoga class without Yanni-esque wails and gongs, they’ll take whatever you’re dishing up happily. They’ll keep coming back. And it won’t matter at all if they can’t stand ZZ Top when they’re doing an all-legs movement to the cheesy “Legs” song complete with Warrior 3 as the grand finale.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. yogibattle says:

    Would your studio get mad if you played nothing at all? Curious.


    1. Jessa Mehta says:

      While I haven’t asked, I’m pretty sure the owner would be alright with that (however, since it’s a gym and not a studio, there is some obvious “gym sounds” so it would be far from quiet).


      1. yogibattle says:

        Thanks Jessa! Best wishes on your class.


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