Tag Archives: Tempo

Book Review: How to Read Music in 30 Days

While dancers definitely don’t need to be able to read music, it is helpful to be able to dig up sheet music for a song and understand the meter and tempo markings. This can act as a sanity check against what you hear, tap out in a tempo counter, or find by just stepping out the dance.

The catch is that the simple idea that 3/4 meter is a waltz and 4/4 is everything else only gets you so far. What is 12/8 or 2/2? Can you even dance to music that is marked in those ways and others? How to Read Music in 30 Days describes simple and compound meters and tempo markings in enough detail to get your head wrapped around these markings and translate them back to something meaningful to a dancer.

Last year, I wrote a blog post about how musicians and dancers might think of tempo differently. In that case, it was a simple matter of the written music and the musician thinking about the pulse or underlying beat as being twice the tempo as the dancer does.

In the case that prompted this post, I was asked about “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” by Meghan Trainor featuring John Legend which is marked as 12/8 with a dotted quarter note = 72 beats per minute.

12/8 meter

This could be translated to a 3/4 meter at 72 measures per minute or 216 beats per minute. That would be a very fast Viennese Waltz, which is what 6 people have voted for. Alternatively, one could translate this to 4/4 time 72 beats per minute or 18 measures per minute, which would make a good Slow Dance, Blues Dance, or a very slow West Coast Swing, all of which have votes. See the book for how to do these translations; it’s explained better there than I can manage.

Since I can only have one tempo listed per song, I’m a little stuck on being able to get the “dancer’s tempo” correct for songs that can be danced to different interpretations of the beat. I’m starting to think about reworking music4dance so we can override the tempo on a per-dance style basis. That’s a pretty significant lift for a small number of songs. But this keeps coming up, so let me know what you think. If I get enough people asking for this, I’ll figure out how to make it work.

This is a topic that I’ve touched on quite a bit, so here are some other posts and resources that might be of interest:

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.


How to Read Music in 30 Days: Paperback

How to Read Music in 30 Days: Hardcover

How to Read Music in 30 Days: Spiral Bound

Note: If you found this book through this blog, please be kind and click on one of the links above to purchase it. This helps support the blog. If you’re feeling especially generous (or just like the blog a lot), clicking on the Amazon links in the blog or on the music4dance site and then doing your regular, unrelated shopping, which also helps support the site as a very small fraction of those proceeds will be directed to musci4dance.

New Feature: Filter by Song Length

If you’re trying to get a playlist together for a social dance, it would be nice for the songs to be a reasonable length for your audience. 

I realize that DJ tools will let you manage this in multiple ways, but sometimes it’s just easier to start with songs in the length range you’d like. There are probably other good reasons to be able to filter on the duration of a song; let me know if you think of any.

Again at Arne’s prompting, I implemented the ability to filter on song length using the advanced search page. My quick and dirty implementation is to filter on a range of seconds. This implementation will let you do things like get all the Salsa songs in the catalog between 90 and 180 seconds between 150-180 beats per minute. Or any other variations that you come up with.

I already store the duration values for songs, so this wasn’t a heavy lift. But I did take some shortcuts to get this feature out quickly. I’d prefer a slicker control to choose the length, and it would be awfully nice if when you searched or sorted on the length that the length showed up in the results. Neither of these would be particularly hard to do. Still, I’d like to hear if others are using this feature and how they’re using it before I invest more into it.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

Ask music4dance: Why is the tempo that you’re listing for Ricky Martin’s “Casi Un Bolero” wrong?

I’ve seen a number of questions recently about why information on the site is wrong.  So I’ll start with one of the easier ones, which I’ve seen a number of variations on but is basically, “why is the tempo wrong”.  Here’s the specific question that prompted me to write this post:

There are a lot of Ricky Martin songs where the beats/minute are twice what they should be (186 for “Casi un Bolero” ?!?!).

The quick answer is that this is wrong for a dancer – listening to this music, I would dance to it at 93 beats per minute rather than 186.  And the fact that people have voted for this song to be danced as Bolero (96-104bpm) or International Rumba (100-108bpm)  indicates that others would agree.

So why was this listed incorrectly?  Unlike other things on the music4dance site like which dance you would dance to a song, tempo at least of a particular recording of a song is not subjective.  And even amongst recordings of a song, there is generally not that much variation.  Sheet music generally has some kind of tempo marking which will tell musicians the tempo at which they should perform the music.  This can range from a general marking like Presto that indicates a range of about 168-200bpm to actual metronome markings of a precise bpm tempo.  Music Theory Academy has a great explanation of reading tempo markings if you would like to dig deeper.  But my main point is that there is generally a “right answer” to what the tempo is of a piece of music.

This is a piece of music that is intended to be played ate 120 beats per minute as indicated by the quarter note = 120 marking circled in red

But if you notice the tempo that was listed for “Casi un Bolero” (186bpm) is exactly twice the tempo that we would dance to the music (93bpm).  Take a moment to listen to it (you can listen to a snippet on the “Casi Un Bolero” page on music4dance or the whole song on Spotify.com).  There are two instruments that are defining the beat – bass guitar and drum.  If we interpret this song as 4/4 at 93bpm, the bass guitar is emphasizing the first and third beats and playing occasional more complex phrases.  But you definitely hear a consistent one/three from that instrument.  on the other hand if you listen closely to the drum, it’s playing every eighth note (or 8 times each measure).  If you take the drum as the primary beat and definite that as a quarter note rather than an eighth note, you get a tempo of 186bmp.  Which is probably not what the musicians are thinking, and certainly not what a dancer is listening for.

Why is this important?  Because while many of the tempos listed on music4dance came from dancers who would hear the tempo that they can dance to a song, many other listings are generated via machine learning algorithms.  And the machine hasn’t quite figured out how to decide between listening to the bass or listening to the drums. In fact, both algorithms that I’ve used seem to prefer the drums.  So I occasionally go though and fix things up.  But with a catalog of nearly 40,000 songs and growing I’m not always keeping on top of that task.

As I rework the site, I’m hoping to get a moderation/curation function in to make it easy for others to help out with this.  So if you’re interested in helping out in that way, please let me know.  And as always I’m happy to hear from you with any kind of question, comment or feedback.

Quick Tip:

In this post I talk about the beats per minute of Bolero and International Rumba.  You can find listings of tempos for these and other dances in different forms on the tempi tool and competition ballroom page.

Is Simple Better?

I’m making a good deal of progress on updating the music4dance site to more modern technologies.  The main reason for doing this, as I’ve noted before, is to make it easier to add new functionality.

While I’m still in transition, it seems like a good time to get feedback on the new look.  I’m going for the simpler is better concept.  Where the old site had a different color for each section, the new pages are all themed in the same way.  I’ve also dropped back to using standard fonts and styles.  Among other things, it’s faster to do it this way (which will let me get to new features more quickly), it’s more accessible, and it is generally the direction I’m trying to go with things like simplifying search.

As of now (August of 2020), I’m about halfway through the transition.  Pretty much all of the pages except for the core pages that include song lists and the home page are converted.  So you can compare a page like the song library page (old style) to one like the ballroom page.  Or you can compare the dance style page to the help for the dances style page (which still contains an image of the old page).

So what do you think?  Old or new?  It’s not too late for me to add back in some of the customization if you think that’s a key part of what makes music4dance a place you spend time.

Oh, and while I’m at it – can I get feedback on how useful the help pages are?  I’ve not written help for all of the functionality and I haven’t bothered to convert help pages where the functionality is close to the original even if the look is different.  But if I get feedback that they are particularly useful, I’ll prioritize help higher.

As always, feedback is always welcome on any part of the site.

Quick Tip: If you’re looking for music that is within the specific tempo guidelines for NDCA or DanceSport guidelines, you can find links on the ballroom page.  Each of the tables on that page links to lists of songs listed at the correct tempo for that dance.

Playing with Dance Tempos

I just rewrote the Tempo tool for the music4dance site as part of the current effort to update the site.  In the process I went back and revisited the reasons for writing the tool in the first place. 

The main reason for this tool is to have a single place to do a bit of slicing and dicing of the relationship between the tempo of different partner dances.  It allows one to filter on the dances that you’re interested in (all Swing dances, or American Style dances) and sort by tempo to see the relationships.    This could, for instance, help find dances that one might mash up into an exhibition routine.

Another reason is just because I could.  The Tempo tool is really just a thin layer on top of the data that I use to drive the Counter tool and many other parts of the site.  I almost didn’t rewrite the tool because since I originally wrote it I added slightly less interactive but possibly more directly useful pages that lay out the different competition dances and their tempos in what I hope is an easily digestible way.

This is part of a larger rewrite of the site that I’ve been working on to get the code to a place where I can comfortably start adding more requested features.  The Counter and Tempo tools are a couple of the most isolated pages, but I’ll start digging into more core functionality soon.

As always, please send me feedback if you have ideas about the site, dancing, music, or how any or all of those subjects relate. And please consider supporting the music4dance project by sharing with your friends or any of the other ways listed here.

Quick Tip:  Many pages (like the ones mentioned above) have documentation pages that are easily accessible from the page.  Just go to the “Info” menu and choose “Help”, this will generally take you to a documentation page specifically about the feature that you were using.

Tempo Counter (Revisited)

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things that I find helpful is to have access to a tempo counter that allows me to tap a beat and both measure the tempo and show me the dance styles that fall into that range.  I wrote a version of that for Windows Phone way back in the day.  I’ve had a web version up on the musci4dance site almost since it’s inception.  It seemed like time to do a quick revisit and freshen it up a bit.  I decided to use this as a quick test of the newer technologies I’m starting to incorporate in the site.

So check it out and let me know what you think (here’s some updated documentation as well).  If you were a regular user of the old tempo counter, please let me know if there is anything that you depended on that the new one doesn’t do as well.  And of course, I’m happy to hear about what you think has improved as well as any features neither of them has that you would like to see.

Stay Safe. Stay Sane!

Tango, Argentine Tango, Ballroom Tango, Oh My!

I just took a beginning Argentine Tango class and really enjoyed the experience.  I’ve had some experience with Ballroom Tango (American Style) and even taken a little Argentine Tango before, but this particular class really underlined the difference in the actually dance style.  Searching the web, I find plenty of evidence for this.

From the musical perspective, I found that I would be comfortable dancing Ballroom Tango to most of what the instructors played for Argentine Tango.  The character of the music seems very much the same.  The tempo was definitely slower than I would choose, but it was a beginner’s class after all.  The beat was less clear in many of the songs than I would expect in a Ballroom tango played at a school, club or competition, which was surprising.  This was a beginner’s class after all.

Now that I think about it, the Spotify EchoNest integration in music4dance could shed some light on the subject of strength of beat.  You can do an informal analysis yourself:

  1. Go to the songs library page.
  2. Choose Argentine Tango.
  3. Click on the strength of beat sort (the header icon that looks like a drum) once for ascending and twice for descending order.
  4. This will get you a list of the (currently) 578 songs that have been classified specifically as Argentine Tango sorted by the strength of beat.
  5. Or just click here to see the list.
  6. In a separate window repeat step’s 1-4 substituting Ballroom Tango for step 2 to get the 438 Ballroom Tango songs that have “strength of beat” information.
  7. Or just click here.

Now you can see the lists of Argentine Tango and Ballroom Tango both sorted by strength of beat.  At a quick glance the distribution seems pretty similar, but if anyone is at all interested let me know via a comment to this blog and I will be happy to do a slightly more formal analysis.

The other aspect of Tango music for dancers that this brought up was where to draw the line on calling something generically Tango vs. Ballroom Tango vs. Argentine Tango, etc.  I am currently calling anything a Tango that someone has tagged as any kind of Tango, which I think is fair.  Often people will just call something just Tango if they are from a particular community and I think that’s fair too.

If you are interested in stretching your reach and finding all Tangoes of whatever classification that fit a specific tempo criteria, you can use advanced search to choose generic Tango as the dance and choose a tempo range you’re interested in.  Or if you’re a Ballroom dancer you can go to the Competition Ballroom Dancing page and just click on the tempo range for the category of Ballroom Tango that you’re interested in.  I’ve set things up with the current official tempos for DanceSport and NDCA competition classes.

Speaking of official tempos.  Although I’ve found quite a number of sites that advertise and even provide rules for Argentine Tango competitions, I have yet to find anything that defines any kind of official tempo ranges for the music played at the competitions.  I suspect this is something fundamentally different about those competitions.  However, if I’m missing something and there are such official ranges, please let me know and I’ll incorporate them into the site.

And as always, please let me know what I’ve missed.  This is a very nuanced subject and I would love to hear other perspectives.  Feel free to comment on this post or send feedback directly.

What is a fake Waltz?

I was recently asked why there are songs tagged as Waltz in the music4dance catalog that are in 4/4 time.  This seems almost like the dance version of an oxymoron.   In my brief description of the Waltz on the website I start with “Waltzes are dances that are danced to music in 3/4 time…”

To be honest, the main reason that there are “Waltzes” that aren’t Waltzes in the catalog is that I pull from lots of different sources and even with something this fundamental there are different schools of thought.  I intentionally error towards the inclusive in these decisions since I think that dance should be as inclusive as possible.

A substantial number of these songs come from sources that cater to people looking for wedding dances.  But there are definitely “Waltzes” in 4/4 coming from other sources as well, I’ve certainly seen some exhibition Waltzes performed to music that has almost no discernable beat,  much less a strong 3/4.

I’m not sure where I picked up this term, but these songs are what I have been calling “Fake” waltzes.  If anyone has a better term for this, I would love to hear it.

In any case, a “Fake” waltz is generally a song that is in 4/4 but has a strong downbeat and very weak rhythm otherwise, so that one can dance three steps to a measure without being too distracted by the actual rhythm of the song.   You can find all of the songs that I’ve tagged as “Fake” waltzes by following these steps:

  1. Go to the Advanced search page
  2. Under “Dance styles”, choose Waltz
  3. Under “Include tags” , Choose “Fake”
  4. Click the Submit button

Or just click here for the pre-built search.

You can use the same process, but replace step (4) with choosing “4/4” and you can find all the songs that are cataloged as both waltz and 4/4.

The more interesting variations are to use the same process to find all waltzes that are not tagged “Fake” and not tagged “4/4”.  You can do this by using “Exclude Tags” in step 3 above.

And while I’m on the subject of unusual waltzes, there is another variation on this theme. It is a song with an extremely slow primary tempo where you can fit a very fast waltz half basic (three steps) on each beat. I’ve been labeling these as “triple-time” and the list can be found here.  Although that’s an exaggeration, there is only one song on that list as of this writing – Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful Life”.  Perhaps I’ll find more by the time you read this.

I’m looking into ways to make the fact that a waltz is “Fake” more obvious.  Currently, it’s a tag on the dance which can only be seen when you click on the dance tag in a song list or by going to the song details page.

In the meantime, if you have a strong objection to songs in 4/4 being labeled as Waltz, you’re welcome to sign up and start voting them down or tagging them as “Fake.”

Even more than usual, I’m interested in how other people view this, so please feel free to comment on this post or send feedback directly to me.

Where did all the Collegiate Shag music go?

When I first started publishing lists of swing music on the music4dance site, I grouped all of the swing style dances together and then used tempo ranges to guess at specific dance styles.  This method works reasonably well for some of the core swing dances such as Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, and Jive.

But a helpful Carolina Shag DJ contacted me to let me know that this method did not work at all for Carolina Shag since the dance ancestor might be swing, but the music that one typically dances to doesn’t even have a swing rhythm.  And of course, both Hustle and West Coast Swing are very much part of the swing family of dances but don’t require a swing rhythm to dance to.  So I went back and made the default searches only return songs that someone had explicitly tagged as a type of swing rather than inferring anything from general category and tempo.

Since the only exposure I had to Collegiate Shag was a reference that it was a swing style dance to music between 180-200 beats per minute when I turned off the “infer by tempo” feature,  I stopped listing any Collegiate Shag songs.  Well, that seemed wrong, so I did some digging around the web and found a few lists of Collegiate Shag songs and incorporated them into the music4dance catalog.

Do you dance or DJ Collegiate Shag?  Please, let me know if there are other songs that I should add to this list.

Do Dancers Think in Eights?

I was tickled to hear Nigel Lythgoe talk a little about choreographing tap on a recent episode of So You Think You Can Dance. The commentary is at about 1:13, but please start at about 1:10 so you can see the performance that he’s referring to.  It’s a tap piece that Emma, one of the young competitors, choreographed to “Rather Be” by the Pentatonix.  Just amazing – pause for a moment of silent appreciation for some real talent.

Nigel asked if she choreographed by listening to the rhythm or by counting eights. Quickly followed by the statement – “Musicians only count to four, dancers count to eight.”  Funny!

Besides making for a pithy quote, it ties right into a project that I’ve been working on recently.  I am experimenting with a phone application that I hope will be useful to choreographers and one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is phrasing of music.  It’s a variation on the web-app that I have on the site for counting out tempos. When choreographing for many ballroom dances, the basic unit of measure tends to be a two-measure mini-phrase, which would be 8 counts in most dances and 6 for the waltz.  And then there are longer phrases, which are closer to what musicians think in.  Here’s a quick mock-up of the phrasing page for the app – the idea is that you can count out (or just enter) the tempo of the song, choose a standard length and get a quick cheat-sheet of the number of phrases of various types that one would need to choreograph to fill the song.

Phrasing Page

Would this be useful to you as a choreographer?  Are there other features that might make as much or more sense to have your phone figure out for you?  I’m always looking for feedback, and the early the better since most of this isn’t even coded yet.