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For example, a symphony orchestra playing Trepak at 150 BPM feels so fast, but certain types of rock music being played at 150 BPM might be considered slow.

A house track at 140 BPM would be considered on the fast side of things, but a trance track at that speed is about normal.

How does the genre of music affect the feel of speed? And how does a genre hit upon an inherent range of tempos to use, as in this question?

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How does the genre of music affect the feel of speed? And how does a genre hit upon an inherent range of tempos to use, as in this question?

Before I answer your question, it should be clarified that there is a difference between genre and ensemble. Genre concerns identifiable stylistic traits, whereas ensemble concerns instrumentation. In other words, a full size orchestra can still play Bluegrass.

The difference in feeling you experience has to do with perceived tempo as opposed to written tempo. This funny phenomenon is known as hypermeter. The definition contained in the link is a little academic, so in more accessible terms, hypermeter is the perception of smaller metrical divisions combining to form larger metrical divisions. In other words, your brain sticks things together and simplifies the music into larger aural shapes.

This is why all metronomes usually top out at 200-208bpm; because beyond those tempi the brain will actually perceive the "beats" as subdivisions of larger beats - creating hypermeter.

All of that said, as you alluded to in your question, whether or not hypermeter is perceived largely depends on the musical material - hypermeter is not exclusively contingent upon tempo.

It's for this reason that you can listen to two pieces at 160bpm - one will sound blazing fast, and the other "slower" - sometimes accompanied by the sensation of floating.

Conductors often employ hypermeter into their conducting - probably some of them without realizing it. The next time you are watching a conductor for a orchestra conduct a very fast piece of music, watch how they only conduct the "big" beats as the music becomes "too fast" to conduct each individual beat.


As for genres containing an inherent range of tempi, I would say that it is two fold: in part through tradition in performance, and in part through listener expectation. For example, Klezmer music is usually traditionally played with a rather brisk tempo (though many instances of slow Klezmer may be found.) So, when people listen to Klezmer (or Polka or a March or Disco or Lounge or Funeral Music, they're going to have a certain amount of expectations that they believe should be fulfilled.

Some things need to be a certain tempi because they are not practical otherwise. For example: Marches. A parade march at 108bpm just won't make any sense at 32bpm. And likewise a funeral march at 44bpm won't make any sense at 172bpm.

Yes, you can generate a list if you'd like or find hundreds of lists on the internet about how certain genres fit into certain tempi, but for practically every example found an equal antithetical example may also hypothetically be found.

Hope that helps.

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You know come to think about it, now I kinda want to hear a 172 BPM funeral march. –  Joe Z. Apr 13 at 21:33

An interesting phenomenon for sure, here's how I would explain it.

Beats Per Minutes is simply your base speed. Let's use a car ride as an analogy. Cruising across prarie flatland at 50 miles per hour is slow and predictable. Take that same car and put it on a winding mountain road, and you now have a white knuckle cliffhanger. The speed is identical in both, just the context has changed.

It comes down to how the musical lines interact with one another. Some types of music are more intricate in their melodies and orchestration. Heavy counterpoint produces a lot of perceived movement. Back to the car analogy, in the second scenario, you can think of the car as chasing the contour of the road. As it navigates tight turns, the path of the car will diverge and converge, as it skids and swerves to follow the passage.

In Trepak, the tempo is relatively slow, but the melody lines move rather quickly.

Look at the average rhythmic value of the notes. In Trepak, you can see that there are quite a few sixteenth notes. This effectively multiplies the base BPM to a faster cycle. If you look at comparable rock, where the average rythmic value is a quarter note, it will seem slow by comparison.

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You say it is "relatively slow", but the tempo notation at the beginning say "Molto Vivace", which means "very lively and fast". I clocked the actual tempo played to be about 141bpm, which in the lower range of "Vivacissimo", whick also means "very lively and fast" (see Wiki:Tempo). So the question is: relative to what? –  awe Aug 28 '13 at 9:14

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