By Amanda Maher

    Very few sports integrate music to the extent of artistic swimming, formally synchronised swimming. Combining two of my favourite things, artistic swimming requires supreme athleticism mixed with endless possibilities for musical accompaniment. 

    When my eldest daughter first started in artistic swimming in 2010, most of the music was classical and obviously chosen by coaches. The first time I watched a routine at the Australian Nationals swum to Coldplay’s’ Viva La Vida, an interesting new world opened before me. Now a broad variety of music is used, allowing for much more interpretation in the routines. Sometimes a particular piece of music becomes so popular that you never want to hear it again (I’m looking at you Lion King). There have even recently been routines performed to spoken word pieces such as Nelson Mandela’s’ 1994 Inaugural speech.

    When you realise that the athletes will hear their routine’s music literally hundreds of times in training, you understand that the choice is critical for several reasons. Not only does the music have to suit the ability of the athletes – for younger, less experienced swimmers an obvious beat is useful to help with timing and synchronisation, whereas more advanced competitors are able to swim to more complex accompaniments – but the athletes should be able to enjoy the music so that training does not become aggravating. Having the athletes’ input into the choice of music is helpful for this.

    It is quite common for many pieces of music to be spliced together for a routine – this gives more opportunity for light and shade and differences in tempo in the routine. The different pieces could be from a movie soundtrack or share a theme, for example music about water. Spliced music helps to build a story for the routine. 

    Swimmers hear the music through specialised underwater speakers which are an integral (and expensive) component of every artistic swimming club’s equipment. Although sound travels faster through water, the difference is not apparent when you are watching the routines. 

    Music interpretation does not just affect the performance from a spectator point of view, it forms part of the judging criteria. It falls under the category of Artistic Interpretation which is worth 40% of the routine marks. As a judge, you cannot let your musical personal preferences affect your score. You are looking at how the athlete interprets the music through the choreography and use of their body and face. One of the questions I ask myself when I am judging is, ‘Could this routine have been swum to any other music?’. If the answer is ‘yes’, then the athlete will not receive a high score for music interpretation. When you see a routine with an absolute connection between the athlete(s) and the music they have chosen it is wonderful. 

    Amanda is a Yarraville resident and one of eleven certified Australia FINA judges, of whom only two are Victorian. Amanda recently returned from judging at the FINA Junior World Championships in Quebec City, Canada.

    Golden Fish Synchro is your local club, training at the VU Aquatic and Fitness Centre in Footscray. Find them at

    Recommended viewing on YouTube:

    Watch some dramatic precision by searching: Russian Artistic Swimming perform to Archangel & All Go Away – Rio 2016 | Music Monday

    See a routine performed to a Nelson Mandela speech, search for Ona Carbonell – FULL performance | Super Final Budapest 2019 | FINA Artistic Swimming World Series     

    Be inspired by Billie Eilish backed choreography, search for UNITED STATES duet free – 2020 French Open Paris

    Allow a bit of Bjork humour, search for  Virginie Dedieu’s Solo Routine Gold Medal | Montreal 2005 | FINA World Championships

    Kel writes about the sports, sporting clubs and people contributing to our rich western suburbs culture. If you’ve got a story to share, contact us at

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