Sunday, October 20, 2019

What it is: beats and BPM

Following up the tempo equivalency post from the other day:

There's a lot of confusion among drummers on the internet over what “BPM” means. I don't want to have to re-explain it every time I mention it, so I'll link back to this as necessary.

It means beats per minute. It does not mean notes per minute. Drummers on the internet like to talk about speed, and talking about numbers of notes gives you higher numbers, which makes it more fun, so they talk about numbers of notes. It's become a thing largely thanks to Metal drumming and the World's Fastest Drummer competition, and it's a symptom of people not understanding how rhythm, meter, and music work generally.

beat is the primary felt pulse of a piece of music. If people were dancing or marching or tapping their feet, it's the pulse they would be dancing/etc to. If there were a conductor, it's the thing his or her conducting pattern would be marking.

A legit tempo or BPM indication consists of a number + what kind of note the number refers to, e.g. quarter note = 100 beats per minute. If the note value is not indicated, it is assumed that the number refers to the normal beat for the time signature of the piece, e.g, quarter notes in */4 meters, dotted quarter notes in regular */8 meters, half notes in */2 meters.

For talking about speed without a specific musical context, I give the rhythm value, the beat value, and the tempo, e.g 16th notes at quarter note = 120. Sixtuplets at quarter note = 140. The default beat value is typically quarter notes. Absolute speed of notes as a statistic, without a rhythm or beat reference, is for me not musically meaningful— there's no reason to assign numbers to that, unless people are just into training for its own sake.

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