A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Over the weekend I bought a digital metronome (Korg $30). I was curious to see how well I kept time (something I stuggled with as a youngster) and how quickly I play tunes. I was surprised at the results. My rhythm was slightly shakey but not too bad at all, which is what I expected, but I was surprised at the speed in which I was playing. I discovered I play jigs comfortably at about 115bpm-140bpm, polkas at about 155bpm, reels and hornpipes in excess of 200bpm (my new metronome only goes to 208bpm so I couldn’t get an accurate count).

I’ve seen this debated here and on other forums…how quickly do you play tunes? How quickly should they be played? What is too quick or too slow?

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Please throw that thing away.
No quicker than anyone else.
" " " " " .
Faster or slower than everyone else.
Does that answer the questions ?

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

I sat watching Josephine Marsh play box one night in Kilkenny with her band, and was mesmerised by the steadiness and swing inherant in her music. Out of curiosity I started to count, using the second hand on my watch as a guide. Every set of reels came in at exactly 120bpm. This was without any mechanical assistance or guidance. With all the "power players" and speed merchants out there, it’s hard to beat that kind of playing. It must be in the genes I think!

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

It really isn’t quantifiable in bpm. A good analogy is trying to guage how warm the weather is. If it’s been really cold for a while and you get one sunny day, you’ll say it’s warm. But if you’re in the middle of a heat wave and you get one cloudy day, you’ll be glad of how cool it is. And If you ask an african and then an inuit … well, you get the idea.

The important thing though is that you are comfortable with your speed and you are playing all the notes (including rolls etc.). If you are having any doubts, simply take it down a notch

Posted .

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

The other important thing is to vary it. I would fall asleep at someone playing every set of reels at the same speed, what ever speed that was

Posted .

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Guernsey Pete,

no, that doesn’t really answer my question. generally speaking, would you prefer to a reel played @ 90bpm or 220bpm or do you have no idea about bpm (i never did until this weekend. I was always a person not particularly intereset in metronomes or digital tuners).

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

220 one day, 90 the next. It depends on the circumstances, the company, the weather, how many pints etc etc. not the measurements of a machine.

But if you really are having a problems with wondering if you are playing too slow or fast, simply put on your Bothy Band albums and see if you either think it’s a little pedestrian of you are having trouble keeping up.

Posted .

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

If you are playing at 220, you’re counting four beats (quarter notes aka crotchets) per measure. Usually reels and hornpipes are counted at two beats (half notes aka minims) per measure.

Normal speed for reels I’d say is 94 to 120 bpm. I’ve got data for about 340 sets of reels from commercial recordings. About 10 percent are below 94, about 10 percent are above 120. About 80 percent are between 94 and 120. Of course there’s a huge difference in the feel of a reel played at 94 and one played at 120. About 60 percent are between 104 and 116.

Of the 90 hornpipes I have data for, 80 percent are between 70 and 107 bpm. (Again, two beats per measure, not four.) The middle 60 percent is 80-98 bpm.

Of 165 jigs, 105-139 bpm is the middle 80 percent. 112-132 is the middle 60 percent.

Regarding Backer’s timings, I’m curious about the methodology. If you time once through a reel AABB, and it comes in at 32 seconds, it’s 120 bpm. But an error of one second in timing that stretch is a difference of four bpm. So I’m a bit skeptical of the word "exactly".

I’ve noticed that some players use a very narrow range of tempos for each type of rhythm and others use a much wider range.

(Note: this is just data; I didn’t use the word "should". Maybe later.)

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

That’s interesting Garry, I might well take a look at these with my metronome. But what’s your preferance? Players who use a very narrow range of tempos for each type of rhythm or players who use a much wider range?

Posted .

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Gary - Thanks for the data. Very interesting.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

If that’s a factor in determining who I like to listen to, it’s operating at too subtle a level for me to understand.

If it helps, some of my favorites are:
Mary MacNamara
Kitty Hayes
Cathy Custy
Brian McNamara
Andrew MacNamara
Josephine Marsh
Liz & Yvonne Kane
Paddy Canny
Joe Ryan
Mike & Mary Rafferty
etc.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

I was given a sheet of Metronomic indications for Step-dancers. The nominal speed for reels is 1/2 = 113, Breathnach posted 1/3 = 224 in an early version of Ceol RInce. Hornpipes vary with the dancer: 1/2 = 115 for a rank beginner, as slow as 1/2= 69 for the very experienced. I like ‘em at 90-100.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

If you are playing for yourself then please yourself. If you are playing for an audience (performance/concert/gig) then play whatever you think the punters will enjoy without compromising yourself or the music too much. If it is a session it will depend on the mix and mood of other musicians.
If it is for dancers then this another whole question.
From Kevin Warrens and Colm Keoghs CD
Category Dance Tempo
Beginners Reel (122)
Beginners Light Jig/Figure Jig (116)
Beginners Slip Jig(128)
Beginners Single Jig(132
Beginners Treble Jig(88)
Beginners Hornpipe(138)
Intermediate/PreOpen Reel(116)
Intermediate/Pre Open Slip Jig(116)
Intermediate /PreOpen Single Jig(118)
Intermediate/PreOpen Jig(76)
Intermediate/PreOpen Hornpipe(116)
Traditional Set Dance-St. Patrick’s Day(90)
Traditional SetDance-Blackbird(142)
Traditional Set Dance-Job of Journey Work(142)
Traditional Set Dance-Garden of Daisies(142)
Traditional Set Dance-Three Sea Captains(85)
Traditional Set Dance-King of the Fairies(133)
Open Reel(113)
Open Slip Jig(113)
Open Single Jig(116)
Open Jig(73)
Open Hornpipe(113)

Cheers
Donough

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

" sat watching Josephine Marsh play box one night in Kilkenny with her band […] Every set of reels came in at exactly 120bpm."

I seriously doubt they played that fast. I would say they were more in the 100 — 112 range. Josephine once told me, "I don’t go for that speedy-o-maniac music, Jack."

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Donough that looks about right, but there is an interesting mix of 1/2 and 1/4 note readings. I can’t feature the Beginners HP at (138) either way. 3 Sea Captains and St Patricks are about right for 1/2 notes, all the rest would be quarters.

I’m a little confused why anyone would want to run a metronome on 1/4 notes anyway, because over about 66 bpm it all turns to clatter and noise.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

A good tempo is one you’re comfortable with, and which your listeners (or dancers) like as well.

Trevor

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

As a rule of thumb I’ve found that dancers (set or step) usually like the tunes fast with the exception of competition hornpipes and "hard" jigs. When playing purely for listening it’s up to the musician. Personally I think it’s the tune that dictates the pace (eg Miss McCleods and Foxhunters are normally belters while ones like the Bank of Ireland and Devanney’s Goat sound better at a steady tempo). Michael is right when he says that you need variation in tempos at sessions - being dictated to by a metronome for a whole night would drive most musicians mad.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

The point I was trying to make is that a metronome is absolutely irrelevant to the session playing of ITM.
If you want to use it in the privacy of your own room ( there is a rude word for this which the server will not permit ) by all means enjoy yourself.
Trevor_J is absolutely right.

On the other hand, modern technology has its place and its uses; we all know the old song "Skewball", about the underrated race horse which won through. The story behind the song is that it was an American horse brought over to Europe. Nobody rated it because of old superstitions about piebalds. However the owner had this new-fangled gadget called a stopwatch, and knew his horse was faster than anyone else’s, and cleaned-up at the bookies. (Courtesy of Martin Carthy).

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

I play jigs about this fast: "da de dem da de dum da de dum", and reels about this fast "diddley diddley diddley"

I used to play them a bit slower, like "d i d d l e y d i d d l e y", and the Bothy Band play them like "diddleydiddleydiddley".

You only have to worry when you play them like "di d dl ey didd le y d id d ley d i ddle y". If you can avoid that, I’d say you’re fine.

;-)

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Your reels sound like slip jigs Plimkey !

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Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Ah. Y’know, as soon as I pressed "Post", I thought "You’ve done that wrong there, you clever-arsed bugger".

Darn.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

I hate when that happens.

Although it never happens to me ‘cos me spelling is perfecked.

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Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

All I know is that set dancers like things played way too fast—those folks like to work too hard—give me a nice relaxed ceilidhe dance any day.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

I think our ceilidh band must be working our dancers ‘far too’ hard some nights,

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Please keep using your metronome but don’t worry so much about bpm. Do worry about keeping you tempo steady and learning where each note falls in the beat pattern. In sessions I have been going to there is a problem developing with unsteady rhythm and it is mostly from those that refuse to use a metronome. I also find that these people are the ones who don’t like backup because it throws them ON the beat.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

thanx all

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

That’s a nice one, B.Lady - the idea that maybe Melody players are dismissive of accompanists because they don’t want to be forced to play it time. There could be more than a snippet of truth there(!)

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

A metronome is a good tool for learning, and especially for practicing to play something faster than you have in the past and practicing to play at a steady rate. But like all tools, don’t get too wrapped up with it. If the only tool you have is a hammer, the world begins to look like a nail, etc, etc.
I have a pretty good sense of rhythm, one of the few bright points in my otherwise rudimentary abilities. But like baglady and Ottery have said, I need to listen, because not everyone I accompany wants a perfectly steady beat. The tempo should not wander without a destination, but there are good reasons for letting it breathe once in a while, letting it flex with the melody in spots, and letting it change as the tunes do.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

I take a metronome along for our dance gigs. It allowes us to be more consistant and the dancers seem more satisfied as well. I only use it to count in the tune, but as soon as we’re under way we ignore it. It’s very handy for practicing as well. I would never bring one to a session.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Depends why you are playing- for dancers- yes there needs to be some consistency but otherwise the"right" tempo is the one that feels good with that tune at that moment for that situation. I’m not into prescritive anything.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Hmmm. I might be way off the mark here, having only ever played for a pretty ropey caliber of dancers, but I’m not 100% sure that in playing for dancers, particularly dancers who are good, strict tempo IS everything. I’ve watched really good set dancers, and they seem to draw out certain moves in the way that a musician draws out certain phrases. Surely the musicians job is to follow them. (Like I said, the only dancers I’ve played for have been in need of a hammer beating out the time on their skulls)

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Spend some time talking with set dancers around Ireland and you’ll find out they have their preferences even though they can do a fine job regardless of tempo. The local dancers here are a very devoted group of mixed heritage that include Irish nationals. They make frequent trips to Ireland and invite top set dance callers from Ireland to come to local events. Some callers prefer a slower pace and I’ll set my metronome starter at a lower notch to accommodate them. But once you establish their preference they’re happy with the consistency. The locals prefer us to play at around 116.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Here’s my philosophy, which was enforced by my teachers in CB:
This is all dance music. Whether you’re playing for a ceilidh or step dancers, for yourself, or for an audience of stuffy old prats sitting in chairs.
If you play it too fast, it becomes undanceable.
I’ve had this conversation many times with my friend who runs one of the local stepdance schools. She said there is nothing worse than having live musicians who play the tune waaaaay too fast. Because, the steps they’ve coreographed at a set speed may become impossible at a higher tempo.
And anyone who insists on playing really fast all the time is likely trying to show off, IMHO.
The other great piece of advice I got from my mentors was this:
Above all else, try to keep a nice steady tempo.
It’s forgivable to speed up a wee bit here and there, but do NOT slow down (unless you’re changing time signatures of course).
hope that helps :)

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Hi,
I don’t have all the answers but I’ve been trying to look at tempos for a few days now, based on a few CDs of classic recordings of Irish music (first half of the 20th century) .
Reels seem to be usually about 115 bpm (per half-bar), often a bit faster about 122bpm, and on occasion very slow (95) or fast (135).
Hornpipes seem to be always slower, I suppose, to accomodate the playing of even semiquaver runs, typically about 105 bpm.
Jigs seemed to be always faster. Even the modern players who prefer a slower reel (eg. Kevin Burke - 120 or less) seem to go for the jugular on the jigs (150).
Some older recordings have reels at 135, jigs about 155, so perhaps such a big jump as 120 to 150 isn’t really justified?
Polkas were coming in something close to jigs - about 150 bpm.
These numbers reflect just a small selection of recordings I listened to in past days, hope they aren’t too much in error.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Sorry, not all the jigs were so fast, many were in the 135 bpm region. Irish dancing websites have an in-depth breakdown of different tempi for different different types of jig.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Sorry, about the hornpipes, I meant to say triplet-semiquaver runs, and they vary in speed too, sometimes much slower, down around 90 bpm.

Re: A good tempo for tunes (bpm)?

Here’s a wrench in the whole thing.
When one says, let’s say, 125 for a double jig, what is the meter set for? 1/4=125, 1/8=125, or how I was taught - dotted 1/4=125.
as I said - there is this wrench in the works for some. I count 6/8, 9/8 & 12/8 the same…1 & a 2 & a….and so on, thus giving you a dotted 1/4 note the count, not the 1/4 or the 1/8th notes. It’s a rhythm thing.

Then you have hornpipes being played as reels, reels played as barn dance, barn dance played as polkas, and so on, and so on.

I like one of the answers earlier, play at the speed you can and play it well.

My 2 pennies worth….