Aspects of Standard Ballroom Music, Part 6, Tempo (revisited) – by Chris Bruce

Chris and his wife Monika at a Dancesport competition.

Aspects of Standard Ballroom Music, Part 6, Tempo (revisited)

We have already said that Tempo defines the speed at which the music is played.

We looked closely at one way of measuring Tempo – beats per minute. However, in ballroom dancing, tempo is typically measured in bars (or measures) per minute. But we’ve also seen that not all bars (or measures) are the same….

Think of it this way. If a Ford is being driven down the road at 60 miles per hour, and a Holden at 90 kilometres per hour, which is going faster? Similarly, if a Quickstep is played at 50 (4-beat) bars per minute, how does this compare with a Viennese Waltz played at 60 (3-beat) bars per minute? The Quickstep music is faster if both are converted to beats per minute (200 vs 180).

Listen to the ‘soundbite’ below. This is a recording of a drum being beaten at 30 bars per minute in 3/4 time (an acceptable Modern Waltz tempo).

Now listen to the next ‘soundbite’. This is the same drum now being beaten at 30 bars per minute in 4/4 time (an acceptable Foxtrot tempo).

Because a bar is defined by the Time Signature to contain a fixed number of beats (the top number in the Time Signature), we can easily translate between beats per minute and bars per minute. To translate from bars per minute to beats per minute we multiply the tempo by the number of beats in a bar. To translate from beats per minute to bars per minute we divide the tempo by the number of beats in a bar.

Let's look at an example. We are told by a musician that a piece of music is in 3/4 time, and that it is played at 90 beats per minute. As dancers we want to know what this is in bars per minute. Divide the given tempo (90) by the number of beats per bar (top number in the Time Signature – 3 in this case), and we get 30 bars per minute.

 

Chris