Written By: Ruby Marrujo

Lake Cachuma Los Padres National Forest

As the coxswain can be seen looking down a row of eight long-limbed beings; uncoordinated, unsure of their tall stature and place amongst each other. The announcement for alignment at the start of the race can be heard; followed by a countdown of the race contestants. Nervous movement and excited energy hovers. An arm goes up, silence stills over the water as the span of eight boats are called to row. As the start sequence is called by the coxswain, the crew dials into the lone voice of the coxswain attentive and awaiting the commands. Pry… half, half, three-quarter, full; all the time internalizing rhythm-rhythm-rhythm. The sound of the oars rhythmically slap out of the water *click* whose blades bend and then enter again.

A soundscape is the acoustic environment as perceived by humans, in context. The term was originally coined by Michael Southworth, and popularised by R. Murray Schafer. There is a varied history of the use of soundscape depending on discipline, ranging from urban design to wildlife ecology to computer science.

Just like any soundscape, there are many factors that set the tone for a performance, sport or activity. Rowing, unlike traditional spectator sports, lacks some of these factors like stadium noise, crowds of spectators and sounds that add to the sport based on stroke rates and meters but have other aspects that add much more to the sport itself. Understanding the soundscape of the sport is immensely important to rowing and to the performance of the crew as it needs to be internalized such that the subconscious takes over, directing the mind and controlling the body much like the muscle memory required for any other sport or performa was able to extensively study the sounds and movement of the sport in order to see the different sound environments from up and down the west coast spanning northern to southern California and the east coast of the United States. Exploring these soundscapes in a sport like rowing are important to the success of the teams as the power of nature ebbs and flows with each passing day.

Understanding and finding a deeper connection between music and movement is the foundation of this project answering the question as to how the soundscape of an environment relates to movement and performance, or in other words: how is musicking used to help forms of life find rhythm related to movement and performance? The term Musicking is derived from a study written by Christopher Small stating that the art form of wedtern music is not a thing but rather an activity. Through the years, rhythm became internalized transferring over to the water. Rowers are similar to musicians. Both rowers and musicians practice with a metronome, however rowers use a “human metronome” or a coxswain who, like a conductor who reads a score, the coxswain calls the shifts precisely at 500 meter marking of the 4.8 meter race; coordinating a whole orchestra made of rowers.

Extending the inquiry of his early groundbreaking books, Christopher Small strikes at the heart of traditional studies of Western music by asserting that music is not a thing, but rather an activity.

The University of California Santa Barbara Rowing Team (UCSB) practices at Lake Cachuma. Cachuma is the home to several teams in training over the past years. While time on the lake may vary throughout the day, rowing remains typically a rhythmic soundscape of a sport with few voices heard before and throughout practice. Although the rowing shell is quieter than most of the boats on the lake, it is hardly silent as a rhythmic pulse can be heard from the oars, boat and shell making contact with the water. Aside from the rowers and coxswains, there is also the natural soundscape of the lake. With the noticeably CLUNK of the oars flipping into the feathered position at the finish, there are a couple sounds that stand out to be the key indicators that the rowers are together. Oftentimes the coxswain will listen to align the finish as it will be a louder noise breaking the drive rather than the catch which is a quieter entry point for sound. As the crew starts to push the oars to stern through the drive and one of the eight is out late, it can be noticeable as it breaks the rhythmic soundscape of the stroke.

Lake Cachuma Spring 2019

The sounds, grouped in two categories are (1) man made and (2) natural occurrences such as birds, wind in the trees and movement within the water. Lake Cachuma is a protected wildlife habitat and home to numerous animals and plant species which bring the many sounds to the sport; at least for the crew at UCSB. This audible atmosphere is an important aspect to the sport as it relays information to the participants either consciously or subconsciously as to where they are at that moment in their stroke.

To fully understand the connection between the body and its movements, one must be able to understand the scenes and soundscape that is painted in order to recognize themselves in that space. Once a being is able to recognize the space around them, only then are they able to focus on their movements in relation to the ambiance they have placed themselves in. These seem as if understanding the four steps shown in image “A” below.to how movement and sound can contribute to success is the driving factor behind a soundscape in relation to music off of the water. While training indoors differs from outside, many athletes take a rhythmic conciousnance with them into the boat through a subconscious effort to recognize the soundscape and become in tune with their body’s movements and athletics.

As much as training on the water is important, so is the training off the water. This can be compared to the practice a musician does in a practice room or at a stage run before a performance or even the stretches and aspects of a movement that need to take place in order to reach the actual performance for both musician and athlete. This is where musicking is relevant to the sport of rowing as both require a specific soundscape and process. Rowing however differs from other sports as it is the actual movement of the athlete that directly connects with the surrounding soundscape. An article in World Rowing states

““There are many similarities to using music in training and recreationally,” explains Karageorghis who looked at what goes on in the brain during exercise, “but significant differences also.” In both settings, music is a natural mood-booster. While most people feel this intuitively, studies demonstrate that in exercise and non-exercise contexts, listening to music increases enjoyment and happiness while reducing negative emotions like anger and tension.”

This brings up the question: how is musicking used to help forms of life find rhythm related to movement and performance? The correlation between music and sport can be found within many distinct movements. Understanding and finding a deeper connection between music and movement is the foundation of the project as I will explore several sources comparing times, and the relationship between movement and music.

Over the years rhythm became internalized transferring over to the water. Just like musicians, rowers practice with a metronome, this may be a human metronome reading the charts of a monitor like a conductor reading a score; the coxswain is the one calling shifts precisely at the 500, and coordinating a whole orchestra to play a four note chord on one single beat. meter marking the key component to a successful performance is time.

The focus of this project is to understand the direct correlation between movement and musicking and how when achieved with great precision accelerated success can be documented. The use of disciplined sound all contributes to the strength and performance of a boat as a whole.

The human body is one of the most amazing organisms studied to this day.

Positions of the Rowing Stroke Cycle

The movement in rowing goes something like this: toes and sole of feet pressed into shoes as seen in image no. 2 above, a slight compression of shins making the position almost uncomfortable as your hips are pivoted slightly over allowing your body to drape over your legs (image no.3), extending the spine tall into the shoulders, loose relaxed with a slightly bent elbow tracing an imaginary line from wrist to same ear depending on the side the athlete is rowing on. This position here in technical terms is commonly referred to as the “catch” shown in image 3 above. Some may consider this the end of the stroke or even the pivot point of movement for the actual start of the stroke where the friction of water is pressed into propelling the boat to move forward. Although there is the rest of the actual stroke to talk about, the catch, as one can imagine, can be a victorious movement if achieved with excellence as it sets the athlete for success. Throughout this sequence, there is a certain sound that can be heard both from the environment that person is in, the equipment and their body. If a listener was to identify where the rower was in the stroke, they would be able to based off of the sounds made from these three parts, catch, drive, finish, that add to the soundscape.

One of the most important aspects of both music and rowing is how to read and evaluate the actions in relation to the sound. Similar to reading and performing music, recording it, and listening to the playback of the performed sound, in rowing there are graphs that; in rowing there are graphs that are made by the ergometer that indicate the movement that is put into a single stroke. Both can be visually moderated and connected to specific movements the performer or rower make. Being able to understand the sound waves and wavelengths in a musical recording can be very beautiful. The visual aspect of the sound can be artful and a foundation to understanding the movement of the music and the movements of the musicians in relation to dynamic changes, performer movements and any additional sounds caught within the recording. Although seemingly different, when a rower sits on an erg or in a boat they are able to see and hear the measurement of force that their body is creating through a monitor connected to the boat or erg. The monitor connected shows the athlete’s movement or any external interruptions that that athlete experienced either internally or physically. Below, there are four images that correlate both the movement and sound aspects shown and compared between music and rowing. The example demonstrates the sound waves and wavelengths can be formed with the combination of both sound and movement.

Starting with the musician, when a cellist draws a bow across the string there are many steps that need to happen before the sound can be translated into a soundwave in a recording. One of the things that stand out for both musician and athlete is the breath right before the initiated stroke across the string. From connecting the brain to the movements of the musician’s body to starting the stroke by lifting the bow from the shoulder, a sound is created and is caught in the recording. Examining the athlete from the breath, water, and the erg machine are heard and become the sound document of that rowing experience. Explained below, the diagram outlines steps needing to be taken before an initial sound can be drawn out of a string on a cello. The amount of steps and attention to detail can be seen as similar to that of the rowing stroke.


The coxswain or conductor looks to the sound created by the athlete or musician and to the entire production as a whole whether that is a regatta or practice or an orchestral performance. The musicking is specific to the artform but directly correlated to the movement and sound that is built together in connection to human movement and the sound created by that and the surrounding soundscape.

Looking at figures A. and B. below, the connection between movement can be made between both rowing and dragging the bow across a cello string. The graphs indicate the force and energy being applied as well as the style and shape that is created as a product from the movement. While both make a rather different type of movement, both can be compared alongside one another as both are the product of a horizontal movement created by the body.

Graphs A. and B.

While observing the graphs, the movement produced not only is the result of force and energy exerted from the body but also creates a sound within itself familiar to the musician or athlete. The sound created differs but can be visually represented below in graphs C. and D. While these graphs do not look as similar to graphs A. and B., the information being represented is directly correlated to the product of the first two images. These sound waves represent the differences between the soundscapes of the cello and the rower as energy and force are applied to the movement in a new direction looking for different outcomes in overall goals.

Graph C.

An important aspect displayed in images C. and D. can be better understood by looking at the product of the plucked cello string and the distance that sound travels, sometimes even overlapping the next notes or tones that are played.

Graph D.

This image can be seen amongst the soundscape of rowing while boats are in the water the stroke is rarely interrupted uness oars are checked down and the boat is held to a stop just like a musician would place their hand on the string to mute the flow of sound.

The importance of the awareness of the soundscape remains to be responsible of the coxswain and in the musicians case, the conductor where they may see it necessary to interrupt the soundscape of the movement as they are once removed from the physical movement and product of the sound itself. A stop in movement is a result in change in sounds, graphs and soundscape.

Now what outlines success? This is something many competitive athletes contemplate as they move through their career asking themselves what that looks like for them. Is it winning every race? Being a team member or role model? Displaying personal growth in efforts to contribute to the team or joining a community to connect with?

While these are all very important aspects to the sport of rowing, the connection between sound and actual movement as tools that can both contribute and guide an athlete to personal and team growth. As stated earlier, there are many sounds that contribute to the sport of rowing, both on the water and training on land.

While looking at the chart on the right side here labeled “Division of Sound While Rowing on the Water,” there are four main groups that form the soundscape while rowing on water.

graph information taken from survey completed by varsity rowers

The largest group is composed by the Soundscape Internal that takes place within an individual’s head; their inner voice, breath, grunts or anything coming from an athlete internally. This is one of the largest aspects of the soundscape as rowing is as much an individual sport as a team one. It may seem strange that this is the largest portion that an athlete can actually hear, but in order for one soundscape to become complete there needs to be an ecosystem of sounds in relation to one another.

graph information taken from survey completed by varsity rowers

The second largest portion of the pie chart for Internal sound adding up to 50.0%, and External sounds coming to 30.0%, indicates the soundscape that an athlete can recognize the sound found within the natural resources around. This includes the sound of the water being disturbed by a boat, oars hitting the water, wind, the high pitched whistle created from the wind blowing through the gunnels of the boat, birds flying away off the water, and the ambient sound of calm. This takes up a large portion only because it is in close relation with the internal sound as both need each other in order to be consciously active and connected within the boat. Secondary soundscapes include the internal sound of the boat including any other rowers external sounds, movements, boat seats moving, foot plates breathing, other boat members breathing and exhaling their internal soundscapes. Hard enough to believe, the smallest portion of sound that is contributing to the overall soundscape on the water is the coxswain and coaches’ voices. There is a common misconception of sound that the coxswain can effectively contribute. As the voice of a coxswain is crucial at high peak performance, the athletes are reliant on the coxswain to effectively pace and push the crew. The right movements in practice and during races both taking place on the water can be directed by the coxswain. While steering is a large component, for the coxswain to effectively communicate these aspects without interfering with the athlete’s soundscape, the voice is often turned into by the athlete at moments during a race or practice.

The breakdown for a race can be predictable as a routine is formed for the rower to follow. The coxswain, in this instance, can provide a concrete format that can contribute to the overall soundscape in a small but important way. Below, I have attached an aggressive race plan that had been used during the 2019 Head of the Charles boat race in Boston that took place along a portion of the Charles River. Note the key strokes, calls and meters noted by the coxswain.

That’s 4000.

● ten to the five BRIDGE BEND. Stacked. Aligned. Angeles.

○ Find the finish. Back it in. Go.

○ 4300m base 31 — Turn it up a notch. And Add a gear.

○ Easy. Squeeze. Give me one more.


○ Base 32/33/34 Move it.

That’s 30 strokes

(10 30–31r shift on the third drive hard



3shift 31 solid. -10 strokes now

(20 31–32r shift on the third drive

(30 32/33/34 every three on the drive



3 32r drive



6 33r drive



9 34r drive


○ 200

Pictured shortly after the race from left to right: Coleman McGrath, Blake Bradfield, Ruby Marrujo, Nathan Foster, Connor Thrasher

The organization of the coxswain notes for the race taken from my Head of the Charles race plan for the 2019 head race, you can see the crucial points to the calls. During this race in particular, the boat completed the course in a record time for UCSB Crew, as the plan was executed with expectation of the sounds that would be provided to their external and internal soundscape. While bringing up the rate seen in the last thirty strokes of the race, only one bridge was crossed throughout that portion of the race that had some of the most external soundscapes throughout the whole course.

Eliot Bridge Cambridge, Boston

This particular bridge requires a heavy press from starboard as the course leans to port whipping around a tight turn as many boats pass here back to back. While maintaining one boat’s headspace, it is crucial to keep the rowers active in the work as there can be many outside distractions that can either take away from the boat or feed the speed of the last twenty or so strokes after the final bridge. With this bridge being the closest to the finish as well as one of the hardest to navigate for the coxswains this can be a crucial turning point for the boats placement in the race.

Crossing under the Eliot Bridge HOTC (final bridge to the finish)

The video inserted depicts the UCSB crew of 2019 passing through this bridge as they claimed a close placement to UCLA during these last couple moments of the head race.

Head Of The Charles Regatta: race course map

Here is a diagram of the map of the racecourse to better understand the calls and points at which the soundscape changes. Throughout the course in this race, being a head race, the race follows a river several thousand meters long. Along many parts of the river there are not many unfamiliar external sounds. During the sharp turns, coxswains may communicate with other coxswains to yield before a bridge. After the first bridge, spectators can be added into the external soundscape adding to the athletes internal dialogue.

Returning to the initial statement: how is musicking used to help forms of life find rhythm related to movement and performance? Well, by looking at all aspects of the soundscapes that contribute to the overall movement as a whole, both need to work together in order to create the soundscape.

Without the rower moving the boat, the coxswain steering, and the sound of the external crowds unifying the whole movement as one, only then can the soundscape be complete.

This examines only one race, but it is important to look at all of these aspects in water practice as the movement in practice on land (on the rowing machine) has different aspects that contribute to the soundscape of the movement.

Differing from the first pie chart representing the division of sound while rowers row on the water, this chart represents the soundscape of the sport while training on land. Usually land training is integrated within the lake practices or upscaled during winter where most lakes are frozen over or the mornings remain too dark to go out early. Land practice is a very important aspect of the sport as it determines the seats of the boat for the athletes based on their performance on land. As seen in the chart, the Soundscape Internal takes up a lot more of the pie chart for the athlete as they no longer have to rely on the other natural sounds in order to control movements with the water, wind and boat. As this is more of an individual workout for the athlete, the Soundscape Coxswain’s portion of sound contributes very little to the overall soundscape as they use their voice to shift or change pace.

To be able to fully understand how a soundscape is created, or to be able to integrate your artfrom into a true form of muskicking we have covered the importance of the roles, how to be present within the body and how to understand the sound that is natural and being created. With the integration of both creation and natural sound, these aspects can be examined and studied to better the practice whatever that may be.

Looking into the graphs and relationship between energy and movement, we can see that both rely on the creator itself to direct the flow of energy into the creation of their soundscape. Being immersed within an activity has its great benefits not only for a body’s mind and soul but the outcome of the performance as well. Although it can be hard to sometimes get in this headspace let alone teach it, the individual is able to understand and grow only once they make themselves aware of the soundscape that they are welcoming and joining.

Of course it can be difficult to be fully immersed within all of these key points in being a contributor to a single soundscape but many forget that oftentimes they are a part of a soundscape already within the subconscious and only become aware of it once they welcome their own sound into the natural. Some of these sounds as outlined throughout the study are individual and recognizable where many that are the base foundation to and platform to a soundscape are hardly at all noticeable until fully integrated into the movement.