How to Calculate Beats Per Minute

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As a DJ or producer, if you are going to be doing any remixing or live performance, you need to understand the concept of beats per minute (BPM). There are several ways to go about this. Several websites publish lists of the BPM for many popular tracks. Many popular digital audio software suites offer beat counters as well, but for obscure tracks that are not indexed, the best method is still by hand.

Things You'll Need

  • Metronome (analog or digital)
  • Headphones
  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Indexing Software
  • Stopwatch
  • Audio Software Suite
  • Decide on whether you are going to be counting beats per minute by hand, or relying on software or online listings to calculate your BPM for you. It is time consuming to go through all the tracks you will be spinning into your DJ set. Be careful, and go through the process by hand. That way, you are sure to trust yourself to get it right, rather than rely on information that comes from sources you don't know.

  • Ask the audience when it comes to very popular tracks. It is likely that in online DJ communities, many people will have gone to the trouble to calculate the correct BPM for the latest and greatest club hits. If you buy vinyl, many of these records list the information right on the record.

  • Use your judgment for more obscure tracks and samples that do not have readily available BPM values. One option is to rely on the auto beats per minute counting feature in whatever software you are going to use in your rig, such as Serato Scratch, M-Audio Torque or Ableton Live. This can be a good way to mix on the fly and have a good general idea, but if you want to calculate beats per minute with a strong degree of accuracy, you should find the BPM by hand to ensure that there are no mistakes.

  • Take a second to make sure the track or sample you are working with is in 4/4 time, that is to say that there are four beats per measure, and the quarter note counts as one beat. Nearly all of hip hop music, and much of rock, reggae and electronic music as well, is in 4/4 time. If you are attempting to calculate the BPM in a track or sample in a different time signature, the process is much the same. You just need to be aware of it.

  • Make sure the track or sample is at the same tempo. Make sure that the track is in the same time signature for the entire portion that you will be using. Get ready to drop the beat on the downbeat--the "one" of the measure--at the first point you will be using where the drums can be heard. Cue up your stopwatch to beep at one minute, and get a pen and paper ready.

  • Keep in mind the 4/4 structure. There are four beats in a measure. Simultaneously start the track and the stop watch, and begin counting measures. Make a tally mark for each measure that passes until your minute is up. Then, count the marks and multiply by four. You may have to go back and carefully take into account the beats that formed part of a measure at the end of your count. Not all common beats per measure values, such as 90 BPM, are divisible into equal measures.

  • Try another, simpler method when you don't need to be spot-on precise, or try it when you are trying to catalog a whole lot of samples in a hurry. Take a metronome, either a digital or analog one, and start the track or sample. Turn the beats per minute value on your metronome until it matches the track as closely as possible. You may need to stop and start the metronome.

  • Try to cue it so that it "drops" right on the downbeat of your track, to make it easier to hear if it is in time or not. It is hard to find the exact number of beats per minute this way. Since many tracks fall into one of only a few BPM values, it will likely give you a good general idea on how your tracks and samples will fit with one another.

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