My husband and I recently took a class with Matt Sims, a local shooting favorite who is a law enforcement officer and a sponsored competitive shooter. We were mostly focusing on skills and drills for an upcoming IDPA BUG (backup gun) match. But I was feeling rather stuck — one of those slumps that many shooters experience. You know, that dreaded place where you seem to kind of plateau in your skills without much improvement or without much of anything happening, really.
At one point, we were working through Jeff Cooper’s fairly well-known “El Presidente” drill. This drill (which incorporates movement, draw, reload and multiple targets) requires three targets, side by side, and two magazines with six rounds of ammunition each. In this drill, the shooter stands at about 10 yards with his or her back to the targets. At the sound of the beep, the shooter draws the gun and shoots the center of each target twice. Then the trainee reloads and shoots each target two more times to stop the clock. Par for the drill is 10 seconds for semi-automatics. Pros can routinely get into the 4-5 second mark! I tend to land anywhere between 8 and 12 seconds.
For some reason, on this day particularly, I felt up against a block of some sort that would not allow me to go any faster. I could get the gun out of my holster and up on target fairly quickly but for some reason, I could feel my brain just kind of waiting for that perfect sight picture or that perfect bullseye shot. The time kept coming up higher than 10 seconds, and I just couldn’t break out of it. I knew I could go faster. Matt knew I could go faster. But I felt stuck. It was a little bit physical, but it was mostly mental.
As I struggled with my time, Matt ended up asking me an interesting question. He inquired if I was a musician. I said yes, I sing. I write music and have played piano since I was 5 years old. That’s when we started a fascinating discussion about internal clocks and timing and rhythm. Matt suggested that I was, perhaps, stuck in my own internal timing and following some sort of pattern or limit that I was unintentionally placing on myself.
He suggested that I think about a fast, up-tempo song and get it running in my mind, then try shooting again. The first song that came to my mind was “Firestarter” by Prodigy. (I don’t know why, so don’t ask!) I tried to get my rhythm to change and allow my brain to unlock some faster shooting, but nothing seemed to change. At least not then and there. It did give me an idea, though. What if I actually was able to listen to something while shooting? Would a fast-paced song speed up my shooting tempo?
I was finally able to test this theory in real life a few weeks ago with the ToughTested Ranger Bluetooth Earbuds. These weatherproof and sweat-proof earbuds feature rugged, Kevlar-reinforced wires and noise-isolating ear tips, making them a great choice for the shooting range. When paired with a smartphone, inline controls let you listen to your favorite playlist or utilize the built-in microphone to manage hands-free phone calls. The Ranger’s rechargeable battery offers eight hours of play time as well. And the portable PowerStick provides an additional 32 hours of extra power on the go.
I easily (and excitedly) paired the Ranger Bluetooth Earbuds with my iPhone and chose an upbeat techno song to test out Matt’s theory on some steel targets. Sure enough, while listening to “See the End” (from Above & Beyond and Seven Lions), I was shooting steel faster than I ever had before. Somehow, something in my brain just kind of let go. Instead of following my internally programmed tempo, I was able to shoot and almost synchronize with the faster beats of the song.
I even used the same music at a local Steel Challenge match a few days after my trial run. I had the volume on the earbuds set so I could clearly hear the RSO’s commands, the timer’s beep and the steel’s ring, but I also had the song keeping me moving along and not wasting all the extra time.
Did it work? Most certainly. I received my fastest time ever on one stage and my best Steel Challenge match time overall (shaving off roughly 30 seconds)!
People have studied the effects of music for decades, specifically looking into the usefulness of music in sports and exercise. The research includes (but is not limited to) stimulation, motivation and synchronization. I experienced all three of those in my steel shooting, but synchronization might have been the most significant and eye-opening for me. By listening to music, I was able to consistently (and effectively) shoot faster. I was focused on a song that offered a faster tempo than whatever my brain was doing on its own.
Of course, this information is nothing new. According to The Sport Journal, research has found that synchronizing movements with music enables athletes to perform more efficiently. For example, “the celebrated Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie is famous for setting world records running in time to the rhythmical pop song ‘Scatman.’ He selected this song because the tempo perfectly matched his target stride rate, a very important consideration for a distance runner whose aim is to establish a steady, efficient cadence. The synchronization effect in running was demonstrated in an experimental setting by Simpson and Karageorghis (2006), who found that motivational synchronous music improved running speed by .5 [seconds] in a 400-[meter] sprint, compared to a no-music control condition.”
I can personally attest to the effectiveness of music and its relationship to firearms training and performance! While it may not work for everyone, and I know I can’t listen to music every time I shoot, I’m very intrigued by the theory. I am very grateful for Matt’s suggestion and for the wireless Ranger earbuds that are allowing me to try it in real life.
About Beth Alcazar
Beth Alcazar, author of Women’s Handgun & Self-Defense Fundamentals, associate editor of Concealed Carry Magazine and creator of the Pacifiers & Peacemakers blog, has enjoyed nearly two decades of working and teaching in the firearms industry. Beth is passionate about safe and responsible firearms use and enthusiastic about teaching others. She is certified as an instructor through SIG Sauer Academy, ALICE Institute, DRAW School, TWAW and I.C.E. Training and is a USCCA Certified Instructor and Senior Training Counselor.