A bit of a trivial question perhaps, but are there any historically/intrinsically meaningful BPMs?

As in, there's obviously 60 bpm. I ask because while trying to correct my rushing, I've noticed that on my keyboard the default metronome is at 106 bpm. For another metronome I have it's at 96. Is there a meaningful reason? Are they of no meaning to me and so should I continue to treat 60 bpm as a sort of base, regardless of instrument?

Multiples of 6 I can imagine being associated with seconds (I assume they're the most familiar to our internal clocks?), but 106? Or maybe they're just some arbitrary defaults? Or heartbeat-related?

Are there examples of historically/inherently significant specific BPMs?

  • Recommended CPR BPMs I've read about tend to be in the 100-120 BPM range. – Dekkadeci Feb 18 at 6:53
  • This is as you say heartbeat related. Also relaxing music and music recommended for super learning has this heartbeat pulse. I assume also the 60 sec/min are defined by the rhythm of our heart. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 18 at 9:27
  • @Dekkadeci - 'Staying Alive' (ironic) is 103bpm, quite a bit faster than the average heartbeat. Never understood why CPR is substantially faster, but there we go! More ironic - Heartbeat (Buddy Holly) is 149bpm. That's what love does! – Tim Feb 18 at 16:06
  • If you start with a resting heart rate - I think normally around 60-70 depending on the individual - that would be a kind of resting and inactive base. Musically, that should be something pretty mellow. 100 bpm roughly should then have a moderate active level, and 120+ would be active – Michael Curtis Feb 18 at 16:46
  • Andante – at a walking pace (76–108 bpm) that actually matches up with Stayin Alive pretty well, given the scene in the move where John Travolta is walking. – Michael Curtis Feb 18 at 16:48

Short answer: yes, there are common metronome markings. This has to do with the tempo numbers that are usually printed on an actual physical metronome. As you progress upward in bpm, the number markings on the metronome jump, first by 2, then by 3, 4, 6, etc.

My guess is that this is because proportionally, the higher on the metronome you go, the greater a tempo shift must be to be felt. The proportional difference between 40 and 44 is much greater than between 120 and 124.

Thus, a metronome will give you “milestones” along the way, but these will become increasingly further apart the higher in bpm you get. Because these numbers have been pretty much standardized through the years, it’s not uncommon for composers to choose one of these “standard” markings since they’re so easy to find.

Here is a list of the common markings you’ll find on a physical pendulum type metronome.

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  • My oldest metronome has 104 and 108.In fact, every one of them has! So, as the question, why 106..? – Tim Feb 18 at 15:53
  • The 106 baffles me. I’d say that was something the keyboard manufacturer chose at random! – Kevin H Feb 19 at 22:00

Heart beat, breathing rate. Walking, running, and skipping speeds.

You could probably extend that with other rates that are more physics based. The time to jump up and land, waves hitting the shore, the spring of a tree branch. Common things that oscillate in nature.

IMO and experience 60-160 bpm is sort of a range of normal extremes, and I can notice a change in tempo at around 4 bpm changes. I notice a change in mood/character at somewhere around 15 bmp changes.

Separate, but related, length of breath and phrase length.

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A bit of a short answer, but at the very extremes, Adam Neely has two videos on his exploration of the fastest and slowest tempi possible in music. In his endeavor, he discusses the limits of human perception: As the time between notes in a pattern becomes longer and longer, Neely finds/researches that humans stop feeling it as a pattern at around 33BPM. The question of the fastest tempo is a little more up in the air, but it's still a question of human limitations on perception and pattern recognition. To me, those two tempi at the absolute limit of human experience are intrinsically meaningful, even though they're not super-common.

Into the more practical realm, 120BPM is a pretty common average/default setting in most notation programs I know of, and I imagine it's pretty common around musical circles (120BPM is like the "C major" of tempi, or the "4/4" of tempi). It's also equal to exactly one quarter note per 0.5 seconds, or a half note per second. I imagine tempi that align well with notes-per-second are pretty common, especially in fields where music intersects with other sunject areas (physics, architecture, mathematics, etc).

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