In a musical context, tempo is simply the speed at which a piece of music is played, measured in beats per minute. A song in 4/4 time, played at a fairly typical 120 bpm, would get through 30 bars in a minute – that’s one every two seconds.
Prestissimo >200 bpm
Presto 168–200 bpm
Allegro 120–168 bpm
Moderato 108–120 bpm
Andante 76–108 bpm
Adagio 66–76 bpm
Larghetto 60–66 bpm
Largo 40–60 bpm
An experiment conducted in 2018 by scientists in China and reported in the journal Frontiers, showed that high tempo music elicited the most positive emotional response, while medium tempo music generated the greatest emotional arousal. Make of that what you will!
A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 bpm, which might indicate a correlation. However, when you look at the tempos for the top 10,000 streamed songs on Spotify, the most common tempos are not in the resting heart rate zone but slightly higher, between 120 to 130 bpm. Perhaps we’re looking for music to take us beyond our resting state.
In this corner of the lab, I’m interested in exploring what influence tempo has on the composition of a piece of music. We start slow.