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"Disney Song Stats Part 3 - Tempos and Meters"

Hey everyone and welcome back to Disney Song-Statists. This one’s called “Part 3: Tempos and Meters.” And another quick reminder that the Data Spreadsheet and Charts we’re going to see in this video are available at proper if you want to take a look. Furthermore, here’s another bubble telling you where to go if you want to skip straight to the data presentation, otherwise, let’s start with some exposition:


Okay, first off, I found 93 unique tempos in 70 songs, ranging from 40bpm-272bpm, all rounded to even numbers. There were plenty of time signatures as well, ranging from 2/2 cut time to 12/8 compound meter, there was even a 5/4 in the study, which is fun. Somewhat problematic was that sometimes the tempos would waiver quite a bit, and so for those I took an average over time using my tap tempo device along with my best guesstimations. These figures couldn’t be like, 100% accurate, but hey, sometimes it’s hard to quantify or to catch free ranging beats.


Meters on the other hand, or time signatures, these were not that hard to wrangle, since they were all written out in the sheet music I got, plain to see. Additionally, meters don’t change based on wavy tempos—they change by beats, and beats are hard to miss. The only slightly tricky thing with meters is that it can sometimes be subjective what meter you’re in, based on how you subdivide those hard-to-miss beats, or by how a composer or transcriber wants to write them down.


Speed can also be a factor: so basically, the slower a song gets, the easier it is to start using more beats and fewer subdivisions; and likewise, the faster your music gets, the more it wants to break down into fewer beats and more subdivisions, like eighth and sixteenth notes and whatnot. But yeah, sometimes, the closest you can get is when like 30 people would use one meter over another, and only like 2 people would write it down another way, then it’s fair to go with the majority.


Okay, so: finding BPM averages can play tricks on you, as can Meter Subjectivity, but there’s one more thing: “swing”, or swung 8th notes. These guys have been known to confuse the internal subdivider of many a musician, because the thing with swing, is that any time you see it written out, or hear people count it, they use a simple, 4/4 meter, but in reality it sounds like it’s in a compound 12/8 meter, using triplets, and what’s happening here is that players convert the duplets to a triplet feel by ear.


I’m not 100% sure how it happened this way, but it’s probably just that since swing tunes don’t use the middle triplet all that often, we use the 4/4 time signature to save time and ink. But yeah, whatever happened, that’s the way it is. But, don’t worry too much, because, to help out with this anomaly, I found some ways to incorporate “swung” meters into the charts, which we will look at right… now!


Okay, all right: tempos first, so the blue line represents all of our tempos ranging from 40bpms up to 272bpms. And, as promised, I got my little red line here too, representing the 14 of our 93 tempos that were swung. And just so you’re not confused, these red ones on the right, they’re blue underneath too, it’s just the red’s on top the way the computer presents it. And I mean, aren’t we all a little blue underneath?


Anyways, starting out here, we have our lowest place tempo of 40 beats per minute from the song “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” And yes, a tempo this crazy slow is possible here, because: while the meter is 3/4 time, the beat itself is governed by the measure and not the quarter notes. They call this counting it “in one.” And again, at these outer limits, it can be subjective how you count it. I’m saying most people would probably count it in one, but if someone wanted to count the beat in three, that’d be fine too.


Next we got our first spike, made up of 60 and 62bpms, and another more trapezoidy spike for 68-70bpms, then just one solitary 76bpm tempo from “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” in the otherwise vacant 72-80 range. Our next little trapezoid is from 82-84bpms, and then we start our primary camel hump of tempos:


So yeah, from 88bpms to 126bpms we have a streak where every tempo has at least one instance, and further up the mountain we see that everything from 100-116bpms has at least 2 instances, and our top tier of three tempo instances is standing tall from 106-116bpms. So yeah, if you’re the type that writes songs, you could do worse than setting your beat machine, or whatever you got, to one of these tempos, and just, you know, having at it.


Okay, and beyond tier three, we have four 4-instance spikes recorded at 96, 102, 112, and don’t forget about 60bpms way back here; and then the grand spike, of Poseidon’s spiky thing is here, at 106 beats per minute. Okay moving on after the hump, a spike at 130bpms, and then we have ourselves a nice healthy suburb of tempos from 134 to 172bpms, with a minor gap from 154-158, and then 150bpms as well as 172bpms are kicking some butt out here with two apiece.


Then we got some farm houses out here at 186, 196, and 210bpms, and then, it’s no man’s land for while until these two little blips at 250 and 272bpms. And yeah, let me explain about these last two tempos: they’re what I’m going to call “novelty tempos”, because they originated from more regular tempos that were sped-up for the fun of it later in the song, and they don’t really stand on their own when taken out of the context of the song they came from. These two in particular were from the song “Everybody Wants to be a Cat,” which originally establishes itself at 124bpm, and then later it speeds up, twice as fast, to 250bpms, and then even later, to an over the top 272bpms, you know, cause they’re cats, and like “rngow”.


And, it’s not just that song either, one of these 210bpms is also a sped up “novelty tempo” from the song “Spoonful of Sugar.” If you’ve seen that movie it’s when like, all the toys are spazzing out and the closet’s eating that one kid. Furthermore, this 186bpm tempo is a novelty speed-up tempo from the song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” And yeah, incidentally, all these speed-ups seem to be happening in songs written in the 1960s, so… you know what that means… that’s right, means that Mary Poppins is really a bunch of cats in a human suit.


But yeah, last, let’s go back to this 210 spike, all out here on its own. Now, he may have seemed conspicuous, until you realize that, cut in half, 210 is 105; and 105 rounded to ‘even’ is 106; and 106 was our survey’s most-common-tempo. Yeah, so like, did I just blow your mind or what? Man oh man, it’s finding this kind of synchronistic voodoo that really just, keeps me going with this whole “song-stats” vlog stuff…of course, it’s also this kind of thing that keeps me going back to my astrologer, Tim, week after week, who also specializes in palm readings for guitar players, he’ll like read your calluses and stuff and have you shake a guitar full of picks over your head and tell the future based on where they all land on the floor … I’m just kidding I don’t have an astrologer named Tim.


Now for a treat, let’s compare this chart with the chart from one of my earlier stats videos that I did based on the “Rolling Stone 500 Study.” Okay, here it is, and what we see is a very similar shape: some early spikes, then the mountain range, which fades into our suburbs and farmland. Now, let’s superimpose the two charts:


But yeah, while you can see that some spikes matched—like here, here, and here, and some didn’t—like here, here, and here, the main take-away is that in general, Disney tempo spikes fall generally behind the spikes found for Popular Music as decided by Rolling Stone. Or, basically Disney has no Punk Rock or James Brown, so it’s slower, overall. That’s just effing science right there man. Okay, I’m not going to get down any more nitty gritty with it than that, but all the data is at the site, so, you can, if you want.


Okay, on to the second portion of the video: the “Meters” chart!

So, we got our time signatures starting at the top, and then instances of swing, and songs using multiple meters down here on the bottom. We also have meters separated by unique instances per song and repeated meters for when tempos changed.


Okay, so, 4/4 time, or common time wins, no surprises there—I mean that’s why it’s called “common time”, right? Cut time, or 2-2 time, comes in second, and then 3/4 time is a distant third. Then we have 2/4, 6/8, and 12/8 time in a virtual tie, not for last place though because we got 5/4 time making an appearance as well.

Alright, let’s stir up some controversy: Now, while cut time came in a ‘technical’ second place, it must be pointed out that when you consider 2/4 time is basically the same thing as cut time—I mean the only real difference between the two meters is what composers like to write in, aesthetically—anyways, if you consider this, then cut time is actually in first place.


Like here I’ll show you, I’ll just take the bar out of the 2/4 column and put it in the 2/2 column, and….bam—we have our come-from-behind winner. But wait, not so fast says 4/4 time, that’s not fair because cut time had to cheat by counting tempo change doubles. And then cut time is like, well, let’s make a 3/5ths compromise and draw a mason dixon line, and then 4/4 is like no way, and there’s a civil war and a bunch of tempos die, but at least the staves are free. And yeah, what was I talking about again?


Oh yeah, tempo changes. So, as you can see—at an average of 60% of the time—cut time really likes to switch tempos, 4/4 and swung tempos like to slow it down and speed it up a healthy amount, all the while, meters that can be divided by threes, like 3/4, 6/8, and 12/8 are much less likely to switch tempos. So that’s kind of intriguing.


As far as multiple meters go, the Disney Songs in this study used more than one meter about 9% of the time, which is above the national average, I’m sure. Okay let’s close out this video by mentioning just a couple of my favorite toe-tapping types:


First, the Slowy/Speedy’s: or, The faster and faster or sometimes slower and slower technique. So, one piece of music we already mentioned that does this is the “You Can Fly” melody from Peter Pan, but also, the songs, “I’m Wishing”, “Winnie the Pooh, and “When you Wish Upon a Star” also had gradual tempo fluctuations greater than a few bpms. And yeah, just like the Novelty Tempo speed-ups from the 60s, we don’t see any of these grander fluctuating tempos anytime after 1964, so yeah, I’m telling ya, people just don’t do these laffy taffy tempo stretchies in songwriting as much anymore—probably in part because of today’s loop-based on-a-grid computer production, which doesn’t really lend itself to tempo tinkering of this type.


Okay, one more thing, so, if you’re not high on catnip, or high flying above London on pixie dust, there’s one more, subtle option, called, “Poco Piu Mosso, or, “just a little bit more motion.” We find an example of this in the middle of the song “Beauty and the Beast”, where just a 6 bpm tempo boost for that first dance really helps those unexpected lovers sweep the floor. Okay, Novelty Speedup, Laffy-Taffy Stretchers, and Pocu Piu Mosso.


Next, let me gush a little about some of the more “Unique” tempos found in this study. So, probably my favorite is one Alan Menken selected for the song “Part of your World.” See, this rhythmic palette is slow enough to comfortably and covertly accommodate both a triple and quadruple subdivision of the beat. I mean, don’t you just love the way the music flows between the two feels. It’s like it deserves its whole own meter, called like “Menken time” or something like that; it’s expert.


Also gotta give a shout out to the 5/4 complex meter from “The Incredits”, the epitome of a “unique” meter, in that it was only found once, and it might even be the only complex meter in a Disney song. I mean, I haven’t come across any other complex meters in the world of Disney. So, if you spot one, please let me know!


Next real quick we got the category of the “Change Everything” tempos. So, sometimes, you’re in the middle of a song and you figure, what the hay, why not give the beat a complete make-over, by changing the tempo and the meter! Examples of this technique are to be found in the songs “True Loves Kiss”, when it changes from 4/4 to 3/4; also “Seize the Day”, going from 2/4 to 4/4; and again in one of our songs with a slowy-speedy as well, “Winnie the Pooh,” going from a 3/4 to a swung duple.


Last, perhaps even more crafty than these “Change Everything” song twists, is when the meter changes—without—the tempo changing. I’ll call these the Same-Switcher tempos. And yeah, there’s nothing so slick as changing your song’s rhythmic structure without most people even noticing. So yeah, like for example, in  “The Incredits”, they keep the same Tempo but completely switch the meter, going from 5/4 to 3/4.


And you can also do it where you merely chop out a beat or two here or there, quickly recovering back to the same meter, like in “When She Loved Me.” Or, my favorite, you can even keep the same Tempo, but switch the tuplet, like in “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”, when it switches from duples to triples without the metronome budging. Same-Switchers, they’re super fun.


Okay, that’s it for this one, but I’ll see you at the next video in this series called “Disney Song-Statistics Part 4: Song Forms for Book and Film. Thanks so much for watching this far, and please make sure to click us a like on Facebook, subscribe to the youtube channel, follow me on twitter, join the mailing list, and tell all your friends about the songwriting and music theory videos at Peace y’all!

Click Picture for link to the "New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs" on Amazon.