What Does BPM Mean In Music?

    Tempo markings can be written as a word, or as a number (BPM). What does that number actually mean?

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    What does BPM mean?

    In music, BPM stands for beats per minute.

    Have you ever wondered how musicians know how fast a piece of music should go? What about if it is brand new?

    Maybe you have seen a conductor waving their arms or hear a musician count of a group with "1... 2... 3... 4..." If you dance, you know that you move to what feels like a pulse of the music. The pace at which all of this happens is measured in beats per minute (bpm).

    Think about the second hand of a clock ticking. There are 60 seconds in a minute, so the second hand is ticking at 60 beats per minute. If you tap your foot along with the second hand ticking you will feel that this would be a pretty slow song.

    Some popular songs that have a tempo of 60 bpm are Inside Out by Britney Spears, Culo by Pitbull, and Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean.

    The BPM of a piece of music is also called the tempo. A piece of music's tempo can vary from extremely slow (20 bpm) to very fast (200+ bpm).

    BPM on a Metronome

    A metronome is a tool musicians use to hear the tempo (or bpm) of a piece of music.

    Imagine that I want to practice a brand new piece of music that I have never heard before. At the top of the page, there should be a tempo marking. This marking could be written in beats per minute (example: Quarter note = 120 bpm) or as a tempo marking like "Allegro."

    Unless I had a strong internal sense of time, I would need to use my metronome to feel how fast or slow 120 bpm really is. Every metronome will show tempo primarily in terms of bpm. So, I would just need to set the number on my metronome to 120.

    Another important piece of information I would need to know would be which note value received the beat. Most commonly this will be the Quarter note or Eighth note. I can determine this by looking at the time signature.

    Developing an Internal Metronome

    An easy way to develop an internal metronome is to begin associating tempos with your favorite songs or pieces of music you know really well. Let's take one most people know, The Star-Spangled Banner. It's the song we hear at the start of every sporting event and it is typically performed at 104 bpm or "Andante."

    Try to hear The Star-Spangled Banner in your head right now and tap your foot along with the pulse. The quarter note gets the beat in this piece, so right now you are tapping at Quarter = 104 bpm.

    Another way to estimate a tempo without a metronome is to use a watch. We already talked about how seconds tick at 60 bpm. If you were to count the seconds as "1... and... 2... and..." with the "and" happening between the ticks, you would be counting at 120 bpm. If you were to count as "1... la... le... 2... la... le..." with the "la" and "le" syllables happening between the seconds, you would be counting at 180 bpm. You can use these as benchmarks to get into the ballpark of a tempo.

    SongArtistBPM / Tempo
    Hey JudeThe Beatles74 bpm
    Bridge Over Troubled WaterSimon and Garfunkel80 bpm
    My GenerationThe Who96 bpm
    Eye Of The TigerSurvivor109 bpm
    RespectAretha Franklin115 bpm
    Buddy HollyWeezer121 bpm
    Party Rock AnthemLMFAO130 bpm
    Hotel CaliforniaThe Eagles147 bpm
    Hound DogElvis175 bpm
    Tutti-FruttiLittle Richard185 bpm

    If you can think of these songs, then you can recall any of these tempos whenever you need them!

    BPM Tool

    Still struggling to figure out the tempo of a song? Check out our BPM tool - it's an easy way to tap along with a song and figure out the tempo.