Do film composers generally write standard tempo markings in the score (e.g. 120 bpm) even if this doesn't exactly add up to the write SMPTE cue? For example, a passage to get to the next cue might actually need to be at 122.87 bpm rather than 120. Do they write 120 in the score and record at this marking (which would be easier for the musicians as 120 is so standard) and leave it for the editor to sort out, or do they record at 122.87 and have this in the score, which I can only imagine would make recording a pain?

  • Why would playing a teeny bit faster be a pain? Is this for a conductor with a click-track in a sync session, or to be recorded as MIDI in a DAW?
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 18, 2020 at 9:45
  • Playing to a click track at 122.87 bpm is no more difficult than playing at 120bpm. And I guess most wouldn't be able to say which is which, listening to just one.
    – Tim
    Jun 18, 2020 at 15:11

1 Answer 1


Welcome to M.P.&T!

You record it at 122.87 bpm! Why would that be a pain?

The music editor wouldn't be expected to sort it out, much less the editor!

If the cue started and ended at 120 and there were no tempo-changes, the music editor could, after it was recorded, speed it all up to 122.87, but obviously that would also shorten the music. S/he wouldn't want to mess with it unless something had gone horribly wrong!

While writing the music the composer will have worked out all the tempi for each cue - it's rarely one tempo throughout a cue - and all the subtle slowing down and speeding up that's needed, making sure any audio/visual hits coincide correctly. All these tempi are written into the 'tempo track' of the DAW.

The metronome markings in the score and parts should give a rough idea of the tempi, but the musicians don't need to know precise speeds! Where they see poco rit., the tempo track may have a hundred tempo-changes: 92.00 - 91.90 - 91.80 etc." They don't want to see all that! They just want to see poco rit. and see the conductor's beat, and hear the slowing-down click track. So the metronome-marking is nearly always going to be approximate. For example, Crotchet=92 then poco rit.

Conductors scribble any additional marks they need into the score.

  • Thanks for your answer! Totally get why the click track would have the exact tempo and changes etc. But if you are saying that the metronome marking in the score would be approximate, would it be better in this case to write crotchet=120 in the score but have the click track as 122.87? This is all new to me but I am working on a short project and wrote and recorded midi cues in standard tempi which worked fine, but now I am looking at the exact frames that I'd like the music to match to and seeing that to match these all the tempi will need to change... which would affect score and recording
    – lfse
    Jun 18, 2020 at 12:32
  • OK. So you haven't recorded it yet, no? Yes: write crotchet=120. No-one will notice it's slightly wrong. Who is the score for? Will you have a conductor or is it a small group of musicians? If the latter then you mean 'in the parts', yes? Jun 18, 2020 at 12:47
  • Not yet recorded no - it's for a small orchestra and there will be a conductor - surely the tempo markings would go into both parts and score!
    – lfse
    Jun 18, 2020 at 13:01
  • OK. Just checking I had understood you correctly. You hadn't mentioned parts, that's all. Fine. Good luck with it! Jun 18, 2020 at 14:08
  • If the piece needs to be that tempo in order to fit into, say, a film sequence, it can be stretched or squashed accordingly after, and the pitch could remain the same. Even if it was speeded up by 2bpm, the pitch difference would hardly be noticable. But I can't see any conductor keeping exactly to whatever, without a click track.
    – Tim
    Jun 18, 2020 at 15:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.