I often hear from clients that they have trouble choosing the right music for their freestyle. Or, they worry that the music they like might not be what a judge would like… So, I wrote up this list of judge guidelines with some helpful analysis that might help guide you on your way!
When the judges are listening to your music, what are they listening for?
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “How do the judges evaluate my music?” I’m going to go over the guidelines that are given to the judges so you can be on the same page as they are.
There are four categories that the judges must consider when listening to and watching your freestyle. They are:
- Phrasing and dynamics
Let’s go over them one by one. Hope this helps get you on the same “page” as the judges!
The actual definition in the USDF rulebook says, “The music matches and expresses the horse and the gaits.”
What does this mean? “Matching the gaits” means that the music tempo or beats per minute (BPM) is the same as your horse’s down beat in the foot fall pattern of the walk, trot, and canter. (For the upper levels, it must also match piaffe and passage.)
The downbeat of the measure (the one you tap your toe to) should match the down beat of your horse’s gait. For example, in the canter the main down beat of the right lead would be the third beat, when the right front hits the ground. If the judge can tap his toe to the music and it matches when the right front foot is hitting the ground in the right lead, then the tempo matches your horse’s gait.
Matching your horse’s “expression” can be a bit more subjective although it’s very obvious when it does NOT match. If you’re riding a big springy warmblood, then cute circus music is not appropriate. On the flip side, a smaller, more average mover would look even more average if he had a large piece of music. Large music may draw wrong expectations from the judges because of the depth of the music. Bigger music is not always better.
Cohesiveness is defined in the rulebook as, “Music that is linked by genre, theme or orchestration.” This means that the judges should easily be able to hear the connection between the pieces of music.
The music should sound as if it were one piece for all the selected gaits. The link could be music of the same genre, like jazz or rock and roll, or the same instrument could be featured throughout the piece.
The link could also be music from TV shows, or a movie series. In any case, the connection of the music should be obvious to more than just you. You may think that the connection is apparent, but ask a few friends if they “get it” before you finalize your selection of music.
Want to listen to examples of music that work together? There’s the obvious, which you’ve probably already done: Search YouTube for the Olympic and other Championship FEI Freestyle performances (you can’t beat free when you’re doing research!) Then, if you want to listen and ride yourself to some music, take a look at the thematic albums that I created specifically for learning to ride to music. Use this link for 50%+ off the popular Jazz & Big Band album.
Editing is defined as “Music that has a smooth flow; there are no abrasive cuts, transition or fades.” If you can hear a cut or clip in a piece of music, it’s not a good edit.
Remember that music has phrases. You should never cut or edit a piece of music in the middle of a phrase. It would be like leaving off the end of a sentence. You’d leave the judges hanging.
Imperceptible edits are seamless. Elements that play an important role in a good edit are pitch, key, and where the beats are in the measure.
Phrasing and Dynamics
Phrasing is defined as “The way sequences of notes are grouped together to form units of melody; the expression of musical sentences.”
This means that a line of notes or measures are grouped together with a clear beginning and end, like a sentence. You should almost feel like taking a breath at the end of a musical phrase much like you would at the end of a sentence.
Dynamics are the variations of the intensity of sound such as the changes in volume and intensity that would help define a change in a movement. For example, going from working trot to a lengthening, or a collected trot to half pass would be more enhanced with a clear, dynamic musical change.
The judges don’t want to guess when your lengthening was supposed to start. They want to hear a clear change in the music, volume, or intensity.