First, does tempo tell us how fast a song is? Second, is BPM the right way to measure the tempo of a song?

There are some songs like Illahi-Yeh jawaani hai deewani where the tempo is around 120 BPM but the song feels too fast because of so many notes per measure.

Would the notes per minute would be an appropriate measure of tempo?

2 Answers 2


Yes, the tempo describes the speed of a composition; it literally means "time" in Italian.

"BPM" stands for beats per minute; it's the musical equivalent of "miles per hour," and it is the standard way of measuring the tempo of a composition.

But the tempo is different from how many notes are played. A piece with a very fast tempo could use relatively few notes, whereas a very slow piece could use many many notes.

To go back to the "miles per hour" analogy, imagine driving 60 miles an hour but only passing two trees. Now imagine driving 1 mile an hour and passing 100 trees. Which is the best measurement of speed, miles per hour or trees per hour?

This is why it's more common to measure the BPM of a piece instead of the number of notes per minute.

  • Shouldn't that be "beats per minute", not "beats per measure"?
    – Simon B
    Apr 27, 2018 at 22:19
  • I understood what you said. But, I think sometimes BPM doesn't give an insight into how fast a song is. For Example, a song like To kia hua has tempo of around 160 bpm and the one which I have mentioned in my question has around 120 BPM. But, the latter one feels too slow. So, Am I correct in saying that It is defined in terms of BPM just for convention and may not be practical many times? @Richard
    – shiwang
    Apr 29, 2018 at 16:50
  • 1
    In this particular case, I think it's incorrect to say "To kia hua" is 160 BPM; where did you get that number? It sounds like whoever determined that is actually measuring the tempo twice as fast; to me, "To kia hua" really has a tempo of 80 BPM, not 160. (And thus it does have a slower tempo than the first song.)
    – Richard
    Apr 29, 2018 at 17:18

Yes, 'tempo' refers mainly to the speed of a song or piece.

BPM is the standard, objective way of measuring the tempo of a song or piece. It isn't the right way but rather a right way of measuring tempo. BPM stands for "beats per minute".

However, you can't measure the speed of a piece by number of notes in a minute. A note is a single pitch, and it can be held for as long (or as short) as denoted by the composer. Because not all notes are held for the same amount of time, you can't measure tempo with the number of notes in a minute (or the number of notes in any period of time).

In the song you linked, the notes sound very fast because their values are very short, and also at a pretty fast tempo.

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