Three Ways to Stop Confusing Tempo and Feel
By Jon Nicol
Have you ever noticed that Mighty to Save and Here I Am to Worship are roughly the same tempo?
The original recordings of the songs are within a few beats per measure of each other. But if we grouped our songs by feel, few of us would put those two songs in the same category. They may share a similar tempo, but each has it’s own “feel.”
It’s important for musicians on our teams to differentiate between tempo and feel. Before we get to the why, let’s define these two terms first.
Tempo is the speed of the song. It's measurable. We quantify it in beats per measure (BPM). We use words like up-tempo, mid-tempo and down-tempo to say fast, medium and slow. (Or if you’re in Nashville – a “tempo song” just means a fast one. Nashville just has to be different…)
Feel is much less objective than tempo. And it’s tougher to define, too. A basic definition is simply “how the song makes me feel.” Or, if you want something that sounds more intelligent when you’re talking with other musicians, “the emotion the song evokes.”
Why is it important our musicians understand the difference?
One of the biggest reasons: immature musicians try to achieve “big” with “fast.” They speed up in an attempt to make it bigger. And when big mid-tempo anthem like Mighty to Save gets rocked 10 – 15 bpms faster, forget it—it’s lost it’s power. It’d be like pitch shifting James Earl Jones’ vocal performance up an octave. I doubt Darth Vader's voice would evoke as much fear in a galaxy far, far away.
Tempo and feel are related. And the rate of speed partly creates the feel. But so many other factors contribute to feel:
- the rhythm, range and shape of the melody
- harmonic structure (the chord progression)
- the rate of the chord changes
- not least - but most intangible - the emotion poured into the song by the musicians.
So what can we do as leaders to help our teams understand the difference?
1. Don’t assume anything. Make sure your team actually knows the difference between tempo and feel.
Here’s an exercise to help teach them: Play a song like Here I Am to Worship and ask your team to categorize the feel. Then play a tune with a similar tempo, but different feel, and ask them to categorize that one. Ask them which one was faster? How much faster.
Then play a bit of each song again and tap the tempo into a metronome (here’s an online tap tempo tool) to show your team how close the tempo is.
2) Record your team. Many times, immature musicians will actually like playing a song faster – it’s more fun, etc. If that’s your team, record your team playing at its preferred tempo. Then A-B that with the original. If that doesn’t change their mind, they probably have bigger issues than knowing the difference between tempo and feel.
3) Practice a steady tempo with varying dynamics. Read the three-part article, “Developing a Solid Sense of Time” to give you ideas on how to do this, as well ask helping your team create a better sense of time.
How have you experienced the tempo/feel confusion in your team?
What are some ways you’ve helped your team get a better sense of time?
May 14, 2012Tweet