What does BPM stand for?

Musical tempos are often written in BPM or beats per minute.

What does bpm mean in music and how does it relate to metronomes?
written by andrew swinney

By: Andrew Swinney

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 a music. The pace at which all of this happens is measured in beats per minutes (bpm).   Think about the second hand of a clock ticking. The 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 musics 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 ands 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.

Popular Songs to Develop Your Sense of Time

Song Artist BPM / Tempo
Hey Jude The Beatles 74 bpm
Bridge Over Troubled Water Simon and Garfunkel 80 bpm
My Generation The Who 96 bpm
Eye Of The Tiger Survivor 109 bpm
Respect Aretha Franklin 115 bpm
Buddy Holly Weezer 121 bpm
Party Rock Anthem LMFAO 130 bpm
Hotel California The Eagles 147 bpm
Hound Dog Elvis 175 bpm
Tutti-Frutti Little Richard 185 bpm

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