A question about bpm

A question about bpm

Can anyone tell me how bpm is measured ? Say in a reel for example, is it the first beat of every 4 beats? Or is it every downstroke ? As in the first and the third beat of every 4 beats.

Thanks
Ray

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Re: A question about bpm

The best way to think about bpm is how often you tap your foot. Generally in a reel I would tap my foot 16 times through the A part. That’s twice every bar or once every four short notes. Reels are often played around 112 bpm. If you get it wrong you’ll either be playing at half speed or, incredibly, at double speed.
Reels are often notated (though I know that writing music down can get you into trouble with the trad police) in 4/4. This is technically incorrect. It should really be 2/2 (often called cut time) or 2/4. In 2/2 there are just two beats in each bar - probably what you call the first and third beats of every 4 beats (in 4/4).
Jigs are in 6/8, again two beats in the bar, each beat being made up of (a possible) three notes. Jigs should be played around 126 bpm but often end up faster.

Re: A question about bpm

You’re getting "beat" and "note" confused I think. Each up- and downstroke on your banjo is a "note". A "beat" is where you tap your foot. You can either think of reels in 2/2 or 4/4. If you think in 2/2, you’re tapping your foot every 4 notes, assuming there are no long, held notes in your bar. Some people like to "double tap", however, and will tap their foot every 2 notes, i.e. on your downstrokes on your banjo. This is more like 4/4, and you’ll see a lot of professional musos tapping like this. The convention when talking about bpm is to think in terms of 2/2, so for reels are going to be about 100-125bpm, and your "beat" is going to come on the 1st of every 4 notes. It’s easier to keep your rhythm tight if you double this to 200-250bpm and get every downstroke exactly on the beat, but for some reason it’s less common to express bpm like that.

Re: A question about bpm

Cross posting.

I totally disagree with DonaldK’s assertion that notating in 4/4 is "technically incorrect" btw, but… meh.

Re: A question about bpm

Meh?

Re: A question about bpm

I presume you mean that notating in 4/4 is technically correct, then. But how can 2/2 and 4/4 both be technically correct? They mean different things.

Re: A question about bpm

Oh, I’m not into all these urbanities. I live in the country. And I don’t watch the Simpsons.

Re: A question about bpm

No you’re making too much of a presumption there. Both have been used to try and make some sort of representation of the timing of a reel on paper, but neither does a particularly good job. It boils down to what’s conventional, but just because something is conventional doesn’t mean it’s technically any more appropriate than any other representation. If 2/2 is "correct", then it’d be difficult to explain why so many great Irish musicians double tap.

Re: A question about bpm

DonaldK don’t think I’m deliberately getting at you here. It’s an interesting question and I just wanted to say my bit.

Re: A question about bpm

What I’m trying to say is that some musos probably play with more of a 2/2 feel, and some more 4/4 and some closer to a compound 12/8 or 12/16. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say one is more "correct" than another.

Re: A question about bpm

Well, ok, let’s say it’s conventional. I don’t know why some players double tap. It may be a peculiarity of Irish musicians. They must have great stimina in their ankles. In stepdancing you would do left-right (or is it right-left) for each bar, not left-right-left-right.
Could reels be notated in 1/1 or 8/8?

Re: A question about bpm

Gosh, Dow, you type faster than me. But then I had to go and retrieve the dogs from my neighbours incinerator (which, thankfully wasn’t incinerating at the time).

Re: A question about bpm

And, actually, I do follow conventions when notating tunes. Reels in 2/2, marches in 2/2 and strathspeys in 4/4. So a march can become a strathspey if I tap my foot more often!

Re: A question about bpm

Some players double tap because they think of reels as being more of a 4-beat vibe. There’s nothing "peculiar" about it. Try it - you might like it. A great musician once told me to try it and I dismissed it, only to try it later. I found it improved my playing of reels and changed the whole way I think of them.

Re: A question about bpm

Donald, next time you see a great musician in concert, watch their feet. So many of them double tap alternately with heel and toe. Others tap alternate feet. Others do complex tapping where they’re doing 2/2 with one foot and 4/4 with another (Martin Hayes being a good example). I’d think of that as something to learn from rather than it being a peculiarity of someone who must have a lot of stamina in their ankles.

Re: A question about bpm

I often tap 2/2 toe/heel with one foot and 4/4 heel with the other. Some times I don’t tap at all. Am I then playing in 0/0?

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Re: A question about bpm

A beat doesn’t have to physically realise itself as a tap of the foot.

Re: A question about bpm

In other words, a great musician who likes to double tap will not suddenly become unable to play if they don’t tap. They have the beat internalised. The physical tapping is only interesting because it gives some extra bodily indication as to how that musician interprets the music.

God that sounds strange, what I just said.

Re: A question about bpm

The reason I don’t buy the double tap justifying 4/4 notation argument is the same musicians I’ve seen double tap reels also double tap jigs, so they are tapping on 1-34-6. If you’re going to argue double tap means reels are in 4/4, then consistency suggests you should note jigs in 1.5 / 4 or something like that. (That is to say, the beats are of uneven length, with every other one half as long as the prior, and twice as many measures because short beats usually come at the beginning or end of a notated measure.)

Re: A question about bpm

Just to confuse matters a little, many classical musicians, especially orchestral players, will automatically equate bpm (ITM’s 2 beats in a bar) with a metronome indication, which they interpret as crotchets (quarter notes) per minute. I realised this some time ago when I was talking about Irish music to orchestral colleagues and I had to mentally translate our bpm to the metronome figure (112bpm = 224metronome) so as to give them a true idea of the speed we play at.

Re: A question about bpm

To reply to Mr llig: there is no such thing as 0/0 - division by zero is not permissible.
As regards foot tapping, I probably heel toe on occasion so that would be four taps per bar (but still only two toe taps).
A lot of the confusion over bpm arises because there is a tendency not to specify what the beats are, i.e., quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes, etc. Though, granted, these terms are purely arbitrary when you don’t have the music written down.

Re: A question about bpm

Sol Foster, that’s very impressive sounding, but unfortunately complete crap. In conventional classical music notation, there’s no way of representing what you wrote as 1-34-6 even if you wanted to, so any comparison is meaningless.

Re: A question about bpm

I know what you mean though.

Re: A question about bpm

To get beats per minute, count the number of times the bodhran player hits the drum in a minute, multiply by pi, and divide by a random number between 4 and 5. If (if?) there are multiple bodhran players, use the geometric mean.

Re: A question about bpm

You could always learn to dance as a way of learning about beats and timing

Re: A question about bpm

I wonder if someone like Martin Hayes has special shoes made for beating the time. I mean, isn’t it a bit like sitting-down dancing?
If you’ve seen MH on stage you’ll know what I mean 🙂

Re: A question about bpm

Check out the Cape Breton Fiddlers Lazy Hound Its part of their tradition

Re: A question about bpm

Dow, either you didn’t read what I wrote or you don’t know what you’re talking about. Two measures of 1.5 / 4 is exactly equivalent to to 1-34-6 (not allowing for swing). 1.5 / 4 can be found (for instance) in Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy.

Though now that I think about it, I think (2+1)/8 might be a more common modern way of notating that time signature. At any rate, classical music has had ways of notating uneven length beats for 60+ years now…

Re: A question about bpm

Hang about…..dancers dance in 2/2 to a reel. Surely the difference in playing is interpretational - ie. how the notes are stressed within the bar? Which in itself seems to be what time signature defines? Having spent a chunk of today notating some tunes I’ve reminded myself the extent to which notation seems to be only useful to within certain tolerances.

Re: A question about bpm

good one andy. Do me a favour and post that in the "it’s nothing to do with 4 men and a dog" thread.

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Re: A question about bpm

Thank goodness that this site is here to remind me that even the most straightforward and benign topic can be made controversial.

Re: A question about bpm

I’ve always understood (i.e. been taught) that 2/2 implies the possibility of two harmony changes within the bar, whereas with 4/4 you can have four such changes. Hence, for purely practical and logistical reasons 4/4 would tend to a shade slower than 2/2. Now aren’t hornpipes supposed to be in 4/4? And they tend to be played a little slower than reels.

Re: A question about bpm

Yeah I don’t know what I’m talking about but you know what I don’t care anymore.