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"BPMs Musicians Use Most"

  Hey there, and welcome to the Tonal Trends dot com Spotter Stats blog.

  This video’s called “BPMs Musicians use most.”

  In this video we’ll be taking a look at what Tempos people use the most, or the least, when writing pop songs!

  Alright, first, let me talk about how I sampled this data. If you don’t care about that, and you’re just anxious to see the results, you can skip ahead. I won’t be offended.

  OK first, what did I sample? The short answer is: pop songs, mostly the songs from Rolling Stone Magazine’s Greatest 500 Songs List, and then also some more modern pop tunes, mostly ones that my students have asked me to teach them over the years.

  So yeah: pop songs, not Classical, and not a lot of Jazz, mostly top 40 type hits, and other songs that critics have felt to be important to the popular music lexicon.

  All in all, the total number of song tempos for the upcoming graph is 553 tempos sampled.

  OK, the next most important thing to note, is that all tempos sampled were rounded up or down to Even Numbers. Mainly I did this because after a while, you realize that humans tend to not be robots, and so you end up having to round up or down in the first place.

  And also, I just think it makes the sampling a little more comprehensive, and true to what we’re trying to do here.

  For the tempos that were in fact robot-computer-click-tracked at solid ‘odd’ tempos, I rounded up a point.

  Next, you should know that for the couple songs with two tempos, I counted them as two separate samples. So what I mean is: I didn’t like, make those tempos worth half as much, in the average, or some crazy math like that.

  OK, so a little bit of rounding and splitting is all fine and well, but what do you do when songs fluctuate more than a couple BPMs, But not enough to where it could be considered two different tempos?

  For instance: The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love”, comes out of the gate at a punk rock 180bpms, but drops down 10 whole bpms to 170bbpms over the course of two minutes.

  Well, all you can do then is take the AVERAGE, so yeah, 170-180? I’d just call that a round 176bpms.

  Though…sometimes you just have to let’m go—like the end of the Door’s song “The End”: that one fluctuates from around 110 to 240bpms! That’s a gradual speed-up of well more than double!

  So yeah: just let that one go, the average of that isn’t going to be any kind of help to anyone trying to spot the trends.

  Or like “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground: that song never even claims a solid tempo, going anywhere from 70-158 (and all tempos in between) throughout 7 minutes! So yeah, in the interest of posterity, gonna have to leave that one blank too.

  Oh, also, when averaging, you gotta allow for a little subjectivity. Like, if after listening to a song, I had a bias towards where I felt they’d locked in most of the time, and it was different from the average, I’d usually split the difference, we’re only talking a couple BPMs here, and in that case it’s OK to claim Spotter’s Prerogative…

  Speaking of subjectivity and prerogative, let’s talk about compound meters, like 6/8 or 12/8, just about any 8. The question is: should we record their tempos by eighth notes--like da-du-du-da-du-du, or by their dotted quarters, like DA-du-du-DA-du-du…

  Well, I found, that the answer lies in the question—how do you move to it? How do you dance, tap, or sway to it?

  And, when you think of it this way, most of the time, you’re gonna end up leaving the triplets out of the equation.

  So yeah, word to the wise: lots of the slower BPMs are Compound meters.

  OK, well, that’s enough pre-ambling, so let’s Look at the charts!


  Hey! Welcome to my Computer!

  All right, the Range of samples is from 46bpms--from the song, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” by Aretha Franklin--up to 238bpms--that’s from “Graceland,” by Paul Simon. And I should say about that one, as with most songs up in the 200’s, that it was a 60-40 decision to not feel it half time. What won out was the rock and roll back beat. The 2&4 was going at 238, and that was good enough for me.

  OK, now this isn’t to say, that songs can’t be--or feel--faster or slower than these tempos, just that they didn’t make the cut for this study.

  If you want to know: the slowest song I ever heard of was “Angel” by Sarah Mclaughlin, that’s the “puppies are dying song,” from the television.

  That one clocks in at a computer-click-steady 39bpm, and yes it’s in compound meter, or maybe dog-pound meter…I’m sorry that was bad…

  The Fastest song I ever heard of is “Thousand” by Moby, which goes up to, you guessed it: 1000bpm. But really, once you get up that far, it might as well be a Trillion. It’s all just gonna sound like Rambo shooting triple bullets at a candy cane waterfall.

  Anyways-- let’s get up on over this hump!

  OK, we got our first little spike in tempo use at 60 and 62bpms.

  Next spike is at 74bpms, pretty big one indeed.

  Then we dip down and come back up, 10bpms later, at 84.

  Then it goes back down a bit and hovers a while just under 1.5% of songs, before spiking way up to 100bpms.

  Then we drop almost 2 whole percentage points before reaching our peak tempo usage around 110 and then our winner is 112, 112bpm weighing in at a hefty 3.6% of sampled songs.

  Ok, now we’re at the top, let me pause a minute to talk about this other study my uncle told me about.

  A couple years ago, Researchers at the University of Toronto and Freie Universität Berlin examined the top 40 songs on Billboard Magazine’s year-end “Hot 100” chart from the last five years of every decade starting in 1965.

  I don’t know why they didn’t do the first 5 years of those decades too, but maybe the guy they put in charge of those year’s tempos, like got addicted to Tetris, or murdered by pirates or something, and so they had to make do with what they had. I dunno.

  Anywayz, Between 1965 and 1969, the average tempo of all songs was slightly more than 116 beats per minute, somewhere in here.

  And in 2005-2009 the average tempo had dropped to 100 bpms, around here.

  So yeah, just wanted to share that info with ya, not only because that study lines up pretty dang well with this study, but also because it lends credence to the theory that, hey—maybe there are certain tempos people like to hear more than others.

  If you want to check that study out some more, the link to the article is in the transcript of this video at, if you’re not already there. Though, you should know that that link just goes to an article about the study. If you want to read the study itself, you have to buy it, for like $35 or something. If that’s too expensive, ask for it for your birthday—that’s what I’m doing.


  OK moving on, 118 and 120 are kicking some butt.

  Then, the last of the super-much used tempos up here on the mountain range, is 128bpm, and then it just plummets…

   Down to this weird gap around 144, not sure what that’s all about. But I do know that 144 is the largest Fibonacci number to also be a square, like 12x12 at the end of the times table. So, maybe Dan Brown can write a Davinci Code novel about why this crazy drop-off happened?

  Anyways after that conspiracy, we have another little tiny mountain range with peaks at

150, 156, 166, and 176bpms.

  And then we begin to drop off into the barn-burner’s ‘no-man’s land,’ where only the fleet of foot, articulate of tongue, and nimble of finger, dare to tread.

  So yeah that’s it for this blog, ‘hope you enjoyed our comprehensive study of the “Tempos Musicians use the most”. We’ll see ya next time here at music blog.


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