How do you count the beats in a song? Frequently Asked Questions

Music relies upon melody and tempo, and that's where the beats in a song come in. For many people, it's important to find the BPM, or beats per minute, of a song. In particular, professional DJs and musicians need to find the beats per minute to see how the song will fit in with other music. Dance musicians and dancers themselves need to know the BPM to see how it will appeal to listeners and to dancers, as well as to work out whether or not it's a piece of music that you can actually dance to effectively. Therefore, knowing the BPM, and in particular knowing how to calculate it on a manual level, is both important and a skill that can benefit many people involved in music.

Professional DJs in particular have to know the BPM of a song, so that they can pull two pieces of music together to seamlessly integrate them into one another when they are playing a set. This is most commonly known as ‘matching the tempo’ of two songs.

How to find the BPM or tempo of a song?

The easy way is to use some professional software (like Audacity's Beat Finder), which will automatically find the beats per minute. You can also use our free Song Analyzer tool to extract the tempo of your audio files. It supports bulk import if you have multiple songs for which you want to get the tempo. Such beat detection algorithms identify as peaks all values above a certain threshold. Distance between those peaks allows to compute a theoretical tempo. Sometimes though, simply due to the way a song has been recorded and mixed, it may be difficult for a piece of software to accurately identify the number of beats per minute (this is especially true if peaks in the portion used for detection are irrelevant). This means that you could miss out on the actual number and therefore will not get an accurate level of feedback.

Another way to do it is to do all by yourself. The simplest way is to just listen to the music and focus on the beat part. Predominantly, this is through the drums that is used on the track (that's especially true in pop/rock music). But the beat can be provided by any instrument, like the piano. Whichever instrument provides the tempo to a tune, with a good pair of headphones you can usually get to a position where you are able to count the beats. It isn't that hard to do, and usually takes just a little practice.

Calculating the BPM

Once you can count the beats accurately, it is then just a question of counting the beats for a segment of the piece of music. The most common method to use is to count the beats in 15 seconds of music. Once you have that figure, you then have to multiply it by 4 to get the number of beats in a minute.

Equation is as follows: Number of beats per 15 seconds x 4.

That's exactly how our Tap Tempo works: by extrapolating your keystrokes it provides the tempo. Give it a try if you want to save time finding the tempo of songs!

It's important to remember that a combination of good software and your own ears should be able to help you get the BPM for most songs that are around today. It is often the case that software can deal with most tracks that you are exposed to, but every now and then you will have to use the more manual methods to get results.

Also, it makes much more sense to focus on the idea of beats per minute (BPM) because having to count all the beats in a minute for a song or even for a whole song is a ridiculously difficult task.

If a song is particularly challenging and experimental it will change the tempo at some point. If this is the case you have some more work ahead of you, but you can focus on sections with software, and some careful listening on your part should get you the results you need.