Tips for Cutting Good Music
If ice is the canvas on which a skater paints, then music is the palette. Good music and an expressive skater can combine to make a truly beautiful performance. What are some of the things you should think about when you cut new music?
- Use music that the skater likes: Within limits, at least. The skater will best interpret music that she finds meaningful or understands. Choreographed movements that have no meaning to the skater look exactly like choreographed movements that have no meaning to the skater. On the other hand, you must consider the audience too. Most judges are quite a bit older than most skaters, and may neither know, understand, or like the music that appeals to young people. Very few judges would purposely mark your skater down if they dislike the music, but when the music is familiar and/or appeals to them, they are more likely to understand the skater's interpretation of that music.
- Incorporate Tempo Changes: A well-composed program will have both fast and slow segments. The tempo change creates interest and allows the skater to demonstrate both power and artistic skills.
- The music should emphasize the skater's strengths: Powerful, driving music demands powerful skating; beautiful drawn-out music demands elegant, well-extended skating; quick light music probably calls for quick footwork. Don't expect a skater to interpret music which is inappropriate to his/her style of skating. As noted above, you should try to incorporate some changes in the music style, but make sure that in your selections you give more weight/duration to those things that the skater is best able to demonstrate.
- Use age-appropriate music: 5-year-old skaters look really cute skating to "Supercalifragilisticexpialidoscious". A 16-year old probably wouldn't look nearly so cute. Similarly, a really sultry piece is probably not the most appropriate choice for an 8-year old.
- Identifiable Segments: Try to ensure that the music is uniquely recognizable throughout. Music is a great memory tool (can you really say the alphabet without singing the song???), and if the skater can associate each musical phrase with particular program elements it will make it a lot easier for them to avoid "getting lost" during a competition. It also makes it a lot easier to pick up a program in the middle during practice or if they have to restart an interrupted competition program. Music that is very similar throughout or highly repetitive invites mistakes.
- The beginning should be "gentle": Make sure that the start of the music is loud enough to be heard, but not so loud that it startles the skater or the judges. Generally its best if the tempo at the beginning allows a gradual start to the program. If the skater has to start off really fast and for some reason misses the beginning, it will be hard to catch up. If the beginning needs to be quiet, or demands a quick startup, it may be helpful to record a quick beep or click a second or two before the real music starts. This will help the skater to identify the impending start. The referee won't start the stopwatch until the skater actually starts moving, so the beep won't hurt anything.
- Avoid excess dynamic range: You should have volume changes in the program. But keep the loudness "range" somewhat limited. If the program goes from painfully loud all the way down to so quiet you can barely hear it, you're probably inviting problems. Either they'll have the volume turned way up when the suddenly-loud part comes on, or they'll have it turned down so much that your quiet part completely disappears.
- Use the correct duration: Freestyle programs allow up to 10 seconds over or under the stated time (except for adults). Short Programs must stop at (or anytime before) the stated duration. Remember that some tape players play a little bit fast or a little bit slow, and it doesn't matter how long the program plays at home, its how long it plays during the event that counts. Don't cut too close to the limits in either direction.
- Don't make a new program from a shorter old one: Its tempting to extend an old program when you move up a level, especially if the skater really likes the music. Its ok to do so if its really important to you, but it does have some dangers. A skater who has been doing a program for a long time has that program's elements mentally bound to specific musical segments. The new program will probably require different elements or a different placement - its going to be hard for the skater to not "go on autopilot" sometimes, and if it happens during a competition the result might be really unhappy.
- Avoid long silent portions (and/or really quiet parts): if the music stops for a while during the program, or gets very quiet for a while, you risk having the referee think there's a tape problem. He may signal the music people to stop the tape to make corrections. Even though they'll probably let you restart, it will break your skater's concentration and possibly fluster them enough that they are unable to perform at their best.
- Consider professional help: Cutting good music is tough. Its difficult to make nice edits without special equipment; its expensive to develop a good enough "library" to suit the needs of all skaters. There's lots of people in business specifically to create music programs to your specifications. It costs more than doing it yourself, but if you consider the on-ice costs of choreographing the program, the costs of the new dress the the skater will probably get to go along with it, and the amount of time the skater will probably use the program, you might find that the cost isn't all that significant.