Wednesday, November 12, 2008

BPM and RPM - a discussion of cadence and music (part 2)

I love music, and love how it motivates me and inspires me as I ride. And I will be the first to say that when I do find a song that matches my preferred cadence for that terrain, then I am energized, as it can certainly help me to drive my pedals, especially for a powerful climb to the summit.

But there is so much more to music than just the driving down-beat, which is what defines the beats per minute or bpm.  To me, the perfect song for IDC classes can  be used for a wide variety of terrain, at various cadences, and isn't limited to just one application. If I limited my music choices to only songs with a certain bpm, then I'd probably have to reduce my itunes IDC library to only 50 or 60% of what I have, especially my choices for climbing. Now that would be a bummer, because I have some great music!

As Robert so perfectly explained in his comment on the last post, a distinction must be made between the rhythm of the song and the bpm.  He mentions that when dancing, most people will fall into the rhythm of the music. I agree. There is a difference between a musician's technical understanding of a "beat" and that of a dancer's emotional and instinctive perception of that beat. This is what I tend to follow the most when riding in a Spinning class.

When you listen deeper into the music, you find the rhythm of a song, and based on this rhythm, you can find a complementary cadence. It's the mood of the song that then guides you down a faster flat road, up a hill, or at the beginning of class for the warm-up. In this way, some songs can be used for a wide variety of terrain.

Let's take a few songs as examples. 

The song Drippy, by Banco de Gaia is an all-time Spinning classic. Even after all these years, I still love it. I may not use it for a year, then I'll rediscover it like it's a brand new find!

It has a bpm of about 128 bpm, or 64 on the half beat (FYI, I'm not very techincal at my bpm determination - I just use a stopwatch for 30 seconds and count, so they may be off by a beat or two). 64 bpm/rpm is perfect for a climb, and when I use it as a climb, I probably fall right in line with the bpm in my cadence, and enjoy it while I'm there. However, I love to use this song on a flat road, in an endurance ride, or as my first song. Cadence would be 80-90-ish.  You can only do that by listening deeper than the beat of the percussion and into the other instruments and let them guide you. 

Another example by Banco de Gaia is the song Last Train to Lhasa, without a doubt one of my all-time favorites. I use it at every conference for pedal stroke drills (when I do the drill called the "Locomotive" with the sound of the train in the background). The beat is about 112 bpm, too fast even for a flat road, or 56 bpm on the half beat, which is too slow even for a climb. You'd have to erase this song from your repertoire if you only ever follow the bpm. But if you allow yourself to settle into the rhythm of this song, you'll soon find yourself on a long straight, flat road that is total "zen" for over 11 minutes of joy!

Another example is the song Sanctuary by Origene. Not only do I love the lyrics, but the beat and rhythm of this song get inside of me and helps turn my pedals. But at about 132 bpm, or 66 bpm on the half beat, one might think it could only be a climb. Yes, I've used it clibing, and it helps me up those hills because it does feel good to latch onto that beat. But when you separate yourself from the beat and fall into your preferred flat road cadence above 80 rpm, this becomes another introspective seated flat. (BTW, this was the song I sent to someone in the Netherlands who said no one would use it there, as it was "too slow" of a beat. IMO, that's sad, because of what you miss out on!)

How about Dance of the Witches Fire, by Spirit Zone? It's a very high energy song, but still, "only" 144 bpm, which makes for a 72 bpm hill. I always seem to find myself zipping down a fast flat road with this song, pedaling much faster than 72 rpm.

The fastest one I could find (in my brief search for this post) is Conga Fury by Juno Reactor. Great Race Day song. It's 164bpm, but I know I ride it in tempo rides or Race Day at a cadence faster than 82 rpm.

One more, a powerful hard climb if you chose to use it as such, because it's again 65-67 bpm (half-beat) is Zion by Fluke. But I usually use that for a seated flat tempo pace, or in a Race Day time trial.

I love how this type of riding allows students to determine their own preferred cadence, what is comfortable for them, but still within the guidelines of that terrain (e.g. 80-110 rpm for a flat, 60-80 rpm for a climb). It's about being intrinsically motivated, not extrinsically motivated.

I think this discussion has brought me to my own revelation about what I am attracted to in music. As I go through my music to find you examples, it could very well be that I don't have anything (that I can find) that has a bpm of 180-ish, which I could use on a flat at 90rpm, much less a songs with 200-220bpm for cadence drill of 100-110 rpm. Maybe, without knowing it, I never felt an attraction to a beat that fast. Or maybe, you guys can turn me on to some!

Love your comments, keep em coming!

NOTE: you can get some of the above mentioned songs as free downloads on eMusic by clicking on the icon on the left of my blog and signing up for a free trial. No obligation. If I were you, I'd get as many Banco de Gaia songs (or email me and I'll give you a list of the best IDC ones). And make sure to download all 3 versions of Sanctuary on the ep. My favorite is the Harry Lemon Mix, but I like 'em all... Unfortunately Spirit Zone isn't on eMusic, but my version comes from a compilation called Global Psychadelic Trance Vol 4 (sorry, it may be hard to find - try a search for Spirit Zone for their own albums). Zion is from the Matrix Reloaded soundtrack, and Swamp Thing is from the Bible of Dreams cd, both of which are not on eMusic (though they have other stuff by Fluke and Juno Reactor).


JohnMac said...

This sounds like a nice debate topic for a Podcast.
Here are links to two free music counting tools
Stay tuned

Jennifer Sage said...

I was hoping to get some input from you John, and yes, it should be a nice discussion on your podcasts! I'll post these tools on one of my continuing posts on the subject, because of course, I want both sides represented. In fact, maybe I should get these tools myself instead of tapping my finger to the beat for 30-seconds with a stopwatch!

Robert said...

Me again! So Sanctuary was the track you had turned down? Blasphemy! I guess they wouldn't like Insomnia either, as it's the same BPM (but different rhythm). Humph!

Rather than go for the 180+rpm nut-house frantic mayhem, I tend to drop down into R&B at 90-110rpm. It also has an underlying rhythm that allows you to choose your own cadence should you wish - follow the vocals, the soul, the top hat, whatever. Very flexible genre.

I'm hoping to go one step further and go back to the old school R&B of Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, etc. A Blues Brothers theme night!

One last thought - my Last Train is 108bpm. Make sure you don't count the first beat on which you start your stopwatch - start from zero, not 1. That adds an extra 2-4 beats - I went for months doing that as a DJ until I realised why my BPMs didn't match the label's!

Jennifer Sage said...

Well Robert, I'm honored to know that you're down in Miami at ECA and actually taking time to read my blog and post your comments. Thanks for that. And be sure to spread the word to everyone you meet about this blog - the more readers and commenters the better!

Thanks for the tip on counting the beat, I'm sure I'm guilty of counting the first beat. Funny thing, after so many years of teaching Step and high-impact aerobics back in the day (1980's and 90's) where we took our pulse, I always used to say "count the first one as zero", but I didn't take my own advice when counting beats. Surely, for a 30-sec count it miscounts by 2-4 beats.

Anyways, keep your comments coming, and I think you'll enjoy the next few posts I have in mind.

And enjoy Miami and have a swim in the Atlantic for me. Oh and say hi to Josh and Scott, and whoever the other presenter is - I didn't look at the brochure to see who else was presenting there. I was presenting for ECA Florida last year and loved it, but it was in Fort Lauderdale. I'll be at ECA NYC in March though!

Cheers my friend!

JohnMac said...

A number of years ago I created a new method of organizing music in to what I call Training Rates. I wanted (needed) to categorize my music (first in Windows Media Player, then in iTunes) in a way that made sense for both my Spinning classes and for running with my iPod. Training Rates are based on cycles per minute - not BPM. And are ranges, not absolute, much like HR Zones. This video explains more.
Introduction to Training Rates video

I also have a complete Step-by-Step series of videos that explain how you can organize your own music, by Training Rates, in iTunes.
Email me a request and I will send you the links to the videos.

Robert said...

Hi Jennifer! Not been able to find time for a swim yet, as between Kranking and Spinning I haven't had time even to stop for lunch! But it's over now, so I have a whole day to chill out - not a bike of krankcycle in sight (although Billy Garcia invited us to a Kranking class at 6am on Tuesday!)

Scott was taken ill to hospital after his Rise of the Phoenix ride on the first day. He's OK now and was able to lead off-the-bike for the last ride today. Josh had to cover all the classes, which took a lot out of him as he was also visiting Scott. It was good to see him up and about again.

dellphinus said...


I'm not an instructor, but I've been putting together playlists for my wife and I to use when we "spin" outside of a class. There's a free program called Audacity. I use it to change the BPM of a song, without changing the pitch- it will allow you to fine tune a song for climbing or endurance very easily- it's pretty spooky what it can do. Check it out- or let me know if you want to hear one I've "tuned".

Jennifer Sage said...

thanks so much for the tip. I'll look it up. That could be quite helpful, and if ti works well, I'll do a review on my blog because there are many instructors who really like using the bpm. I'm curious to hear what yours sounds like; don't have much time for the moment to play with it (hopefully things will slow down after the new year). Feel free to contact me at with a sample.
thanks again,


dellphinus said...

It's on the way- a short clip from Drippy...