Jamhouse Blog

Tempo - A driving Force

Tempo, along with melody, harmony and rhythm, is one of the factors that can impact dramatically on the mood or feeling of a musical work.   It can not only change the emotion or the intent of the song, but it can even change the style of song, or the genre.  In fact, some genres, such as Drum & Bass or Dubstep, are very specific in terms of the tempos at which tracks can work to exist in that genre. But is tempo the main driving factor, or just a link in the chain?

An example of how tempo can affect the mood of a song can be heard in Lady Gaga’s song, ‘Poker Face’.  Here it is in its original state. The original track is a fast paced, track based pop song that was meant for the dance world. While it is clear that the lyrics in most songs have a meaning, the meaning can sometimes be unclear because the pace of the track makes them difficult to understand and this is certainly true in the Gaga track.  On the other hand, in its stripped-down slower-paced counterpart, a jazzier, musical theatre style track, the slower tempo allows for changes in phrasing, which in turn helps the listener understand the lyrics, and therefore the meaning of the song. Whilst lyrics are a contributing factor in a song, it is clear from this example that the tempo is certainly one controlling factor when it comes to delivery.

While some may argue that an entirely new recording of the song means an entirely different song altogether, regardless of the change of tempo, it seems even examples of the same recording, simply slowed down, still produce the same results. Take Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ as an example. The original track was slowed down on a vinyl to 33 RPM and it certainly changes the song. It not only changed the track by slowing it down and presenting a more heartbreaking version, but enhanced the original meaning behind the song. Check out the following link to find this and nine other examples that showcase this research.

The tempo of a song really does affect the way it is perceived. Will this change your next song?

 Author:  D. Whelan for Jamhouse Creative
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