Creating a Yoga Playlist

In the modern, western yoga world, music has become as much a focal point of the classes we take as the sequences and messages being taught within them. Music is a powerful art form that has the ability to create an environment and a vibration within a yoga class that can elevate our experience of it to the next level. Music is a big part of my teaching and the craft of creating yoga playlists is something I am very passionate about and enjoy greatly. Humbly, I receive a lot of positive feedback on my playlists and am often asked for advice, tips, and tricks on how to create a phenomenal yoga playlist. So today, I am sharing my process and perspective for creating a yoga playlist!

1. Music is personal

The first thing to keep in mind when creating a yoga playlist is to remember this: like any art, music is personal. While there are some standard dos and don’ts, at the end of the day there is no completely solid right or wrong way to create a yoga playlist. Teach to music that is true to you and moves you physically and emotionally. Dis-concern yourself with whether or not your students will like the songs and artists you play.  As long as the playlist is authentic to you and your style, it will land properly and students will appreciate it. You do you!

2. Music supports, not competes

While music has become a big focal point in yoga classes, do remember that THE YOGA is still the leading star. Your music should support the yoga you are teaching, it should not distract you or your students away from it. Think about a film soundtrack: it helps to add emotion and energy to the scenes in the film but the actors delivering their lines are still at the heart and center telling the story. If you feel that your music is overpowering you, speeding you up, or slowing you down, then you may consider revising. You should feel like your music is scoring your class in sync with your own rhythm, words, and energy. When it clicks, you will know.

3. Genre

Again, music is subjective and personal. When you set out to build a playlist, you can really dabble into any genre that resonates with you. In general, the genres that we are currently hearing the most in yoga classes are alternative and alternative electronic pop, chill wave, synth wave, and folk. Within these genres you may commonly hear some of the following artists: Odesza, Sol Rising, East Forest, MC Yogi, Flume, and Trevor Hall, just to name a few.   

I think that these genres and these artists are a great place to start when diving into building a yoga playlist for the first time, but you are free to explore all possibilities. I have been to classes where all the music is late 60’s/early 70’s rock n’ roll or 90’s R&B or completely Bollywood. As long as the genres feel right for you and the environment you are striving to create, then you are good to go!

4. Style & Feel

When I build a playlist, I strive to create a playlist that sounds and feels like a cohesive body of work. I like all the songs to have uniting elements to them. This often means using songs from the same or similar genres or else looking for other qualities that connect the feel of the music. 

For example, in my playlists:

  • Yoga 22 – Edgy- the majority of the songs include deep, heavy beats, guitar riffs, and metallic effects.
  • Yoga 18- Tropical – the majority of the songs have qualities indicative of summertime in the tropics, in this case, the use of steel drums is prominent throughout.
  • Yoga 7-Celtic – the majority of the songs include a lot of violin and harp strings playing rifts we often associate with Celtic culture from what we see in television and in film.

While there are various artists throughout the playlists, the songs fit together, flowing into each other with an organic feel. I tend to avoid jumping from one extreme genre to another without a natural progression in between. Imagine that you are a music artist creating a new album and you have a certain feel you want for the album – that’s the mindset I put myself in when creating a playlist.

5. Temp & Energy

Obviously, we want the tempo, energy, and feel of the music to match what we are doing in the yoga practice at any given point. When we are warming up and cooling down, we want slower, calmer music. When we are flowing a Sun Salutation or building into a challenging strength series, we want more upbeat, powerful music. You want your music to build and dip in all the right places. Think about how you sequence a yoga class:

  • what parts are slower and steadier?
  • what parts are faster and more challenging?
  • what parts are meditative?

Try to align the rhythm of your music with the rhythm of your class.

See the chart below. On left you will see the various sections of a standard vinyasa yoga class. On the right are adjectives that should match up with your music in these sections.

For example: “soft” means more gentle, calm music, “strong & bright” means more upbeat and fast paced, “steady” means there is a strong beat to the music without being too fast or slow.

How to Build a Yoga Playist - for yoga teachers and practitioners

6. Buffer & Layer

The hard truth is that you are rarely going to create a playlist where the exact song you want for a certain section of class starts and ends at exactly the right time. For example, you might only envision a specific song for Sun B, but there is a high possibility that song is not going to start right as you begin Sun B, and it may not last the entire Sun B either. The solution here is to layer songs that work in this section of class.

For example, in my playlists, I have 1 or 2 songs I intend to be played during Sun B. However, there is an additional song before and after the intended song(s) which give me some space if it takes us longer to start and end Sun B.  Additionally, buffering and layering in this way gives you some more versatility in your playlist! Perhaps you play one of the Sun B songs one week and the other the next to keep the same playlist feeling fresh and new for your students.

7. The Process

Once again, music is subjective and personal, and so is the process of creating with music. You may have a creative process that works for you already, and that is fantastic! Here, I will simply share what works for me and some of my trainees that have resonated with this process.

1. Think of the “vibe” you want for your playlist

  • This can be based off of a song or 2 you have recently discovered or something more abstract you have dreamed up in your head.

2. Identify 1-2 songs to start the build of your new playlist

  • Drop them into a folder or a playlist in whatever system you are using

3. Discover more songs that fit with your original 1-2 songs

  • Find songs in similar genres and by similar artists
  • Find songs with different tempos from slow to fast
  • Drop them all into the folder or playlist at random
  • I recommend 16-20 songs for an hour long yoga class
  • Pro-Tip: Streaming Platforms like Spotify make it easy to discover more artists and songs similar to the one already in your playlist with their Suggested Song feature.

4 – Determine where the songs should be placed

  • This where we get artsy!
  • Listen to your playlist on shuffle, hearing each song intently.
  • Ask yourself: “Where does it go?”
    • Do you envision it playing while flowing Sun B? Or working through a Strength series? Or while Integrating or Restoring? Wherever you imagine it working best, drag the song to the front, middle, or back where it will line up with yoga sequence.
  • Once you have arranged the songs in a general order you think will work, listen to the playlist straight thru from beginning to end. Ask yourself: “Does it work?”
    • Does anything need to be adjusted? What needs to be changed? Do you need to flip a song or two? Adjust as needed.
    • Is anything missing? What needs to be added?
  • “Finalize” your playlist

5 – Use your playlist!

  • Teach class with your playlist and see how it works!
  • You may find that the playlist is perfect!
  • You also may find that a few aspects do not work quite as well as you imagined. Make a mental note of these aspects so you can adjust later.

8. Have Fun!

How lucky are we as yoga instructors that we get to make playlists as part of our jobs? It’s an awesome aspect of our job, so I believe we should enjoy it. Take yourself seriously and put effort into your playlist, yes, but also remember this is meant to be a fun part of our role as instructors, so make sure it is as such.

My fellow yoga instructors, I hope that you have found this article helpful or at least intriguing! Let me know what works for you and what does not as I am always open to hearing different perspectives and learning!

Happy Playlist Making!

3 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I teach Yoga for high school students, and music is such an important part of our class. I have worked hard to make playlists that are songs that the kids like but also work for our class. The skeleton template is a great idea! You are amazing!

    Like

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