First some basic, no-guarantee, as-is definitions:
(If, in the music, you can hear and identify a beat, a measure, and a mini phrase, skip to the next section.)
Beat: the smallest, repetitive sound in the music. The building blocks of the whole structure,
usually produced by percussion or bass instruments.
Measure, bar, and note are synonymous. They are the smallest repetitive grouping of beats.
4/4 time: musical structure in which four beats are combined to make a measure. Most dance
music (except waltz) is played in 4/4 time.
3/4 time: musical structure in which three beats are combined to make a measure. Waltzes
are in 3/4 time.
2/4 time: musical structure in which two beats are combined to make a measure. Samba,
polka, paso doblé, and occasionally merengue, will have tempo expressed as
2/4 time. To tempo 2/4 rhythm, simply tempo as 4/4 rhythm, and double the
value to determine measures per minute.
Mini phrase: two measures of music (eight beats in 4/4 time, six beats in ¾ time).
Basic phrasing (in 4/4 time): 32 beats (four sets of eight).
Now, let’s get started. You can get a very accurate determination of musical tempo, expressed in measures per
minute (MPM) by using a stop-watch to time how long it takes for 40 beats of music to play (30 beats for 3/4 time).
The easiest way to count the beats is to count them as mini phrases. Count: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, 2 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, 3 2 3 4
5 6 7 8, 4 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, 5 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, 1. Start your stop-watch precisely on the first 1 and stop it on the last 1. It
is important to include the time between the last 8 and the last 1 so the total time for all measures is included. Once
you have your time, which should be between 10 and 40 seconds, divide the time into 600. A typical popular-music
foxtrot might give a time of 18.5 seconds. 600 ÷ 18.5 = 32.5 MPM.
Waltz could be counted 1 2 3 4 5 6, 2 2 3 4 5 6, 3 2 3 4 5 6, 4 2 3 4 5 6, 5 2 3 4 5 6, 1. The start and stop points
are still the 1s, and the conversion factor is still 600.
Samba, polka, and paso doblé are probably best treated as 4/4 rhythm, then double the MPM value to express as
Why 40 beats (5 mini phrases)? The longer you time the music, the less significant minor inaccuracies in your
measurement or slight variations in the tempo actually being played become. Five mini phrases give a pretty good
snap shot. Since 32 beats constitutes basic phrasing, adding the fifth mini also gives some measurement from at least
two basic phrases.
Alternative – count two mini phrases (click watch on first and last of 17 beats) and divide the value into 240. This is
best reserved for approximations, or very slow music (boleros or night-club two steps).
There are a lot of variations on the above method. You may get good results by timing a straight numeric count from
1 to 41 (1 to 31). You might prefer to count each mini phrase as 1 to 8 (1 to 6), then repeat for a total of five mini
phrases. That’s OK! Most of you have five digits on which to count. Use whatever method works for you – just
don’t forget to stop your timing on the first beat after the measures you are timing. If possible, check your
methodology using a selection of music with a known tempo.
How To Tempo Music
|How to Tempo Dance Music in Measures per Minute
Some, but not all, of the ways