When you’re just starting to learn how to DJ, you’ll notice that BPM is a term that is often used in the DJ world. So what is BPM and how do you use it as a DJ?
BPM stands for beats per minute and is used in music to measure the speed of a song. The beats of two songs with the same BPM will stay aligned when started simultaneously. Because a DJ needs to create harmony between songs when they’re mixing, it’s important that both songs have the same BPM.
Continue to read for more on what you need to know about BPM as a beginner and what to do with it when you’re DJing.
What is BPM?
Just like you have a heartbeat (hopefully) that you can count in beats per minute, a song has a beat too, which can also be measured in beats per minute.
The beats per minute of a song will tell us how fast a song is. It’s the difference between, a ballad and a dancefloor banger.
Listen to a country song and then listen to hardstyle, you’ll notice the speed of the first is much slower than the second. The second song will have more beats per minute then the first song.
A beat can be anything from a kick drum, a snare, or a clap. Different genres often have different sounds.
You can measure the BPM by ear when you know how to count music. Start counting the music and start your stopwatch. By the end of the minute mark, how many beats have you counted?
How DJs use BPM when DJing
When a DJ looks for a new song to play on one of their decks to mix with the current playing song, they look at the BPM to make sure that the two songs will play at the same speed. When they don’t the mixing will sound like a trainwreck.
Sometimes the DJ will want to increase or decrease the energy or vibe in the room. Depending on what their goal is they’ll choose a slower (lower BPM) or a faster (higher BPM) song to play next.
The DJ will never play two songs with very different BPMs, as this will not have a positive effect on the crowd. Instead, they will pick songs that are slightly higher or lower than the last one, so they’ll slowly transition to higher or lower energy.
While you can hear the difference in song speed quite easily with the example of country music and hardstyle, it will be much harder to hear the difference when the BPMs are much closer together. This is why DJs like to see the BPM information in their DJ software.
Ready to mix your first song? Check out my step-by-step guide to mixing!
How do you know what BPM to use?
Generally, you’ll want to match the energy of the people. At the beginning of the evening, people often want to have a drink and have chat. Later on, when they have had a little bit more to drink and they’re getting a little looser, they’ll want to dance.
At the beginning of the evening, use a lower BPM. When hours pass, slowly increase the BPM of the song so it will give the people a little bit more energy to dance.
When you’re just practicing at home you can use any BPM that you want. I do recommend that you stay within the 5% range of the current song.
When you’re DJing at home it might be a good moment to practice transitioning between songs with different BPM.
What BPM do DJs use?
What BPM a DJ uses depends a lot on the type of music a DJ uses in his mixes. A techno DJ probably has a higher BPM range on average than, for example, a Hip-Hop or R&B DJ.
On average DJs that mix techno/trance, drum & bass, or dubstep use the highest BPM. DJs that mix hip-hop or dub will use the lowest BPM on average.
There is no right or wrong BPM, there is just good mixing or bad mixing. Use the genre that you love and use the BPM that suits the mood of the moment.
How to transition between songs with different BPM
When two songs have different BPM, you can do 2 things:
- Drop the new song in on the one and cut the current song out completely.
- DJs often use some kind of effect like the echo to cut the current song out and then bring the new song in.
- Increase the tempo of the current song
- You can use a loop to slowly increase the tempo. When the BPM reaches the same level as the next song, bring in the next song to slowly mix it in.
Another thing I want to add here is that sometimes songs with different BPM actually go well together. This is with songs that have double the BPM of the other song.
For example, a song that has 90 BPM will mix well with a song of 180 BPM. Try it out.
I’ve written an article on how to transition from a slow song to a fast song. You might want to check it out.
What is beatmatching
When you mix in a new song make sure you beatmatch the tracks.
Beatmatching has 2 parts:
- Start a song with a slightly different BPM and change the tempo slider of one song to match the tempo of the other song
- Align the beats of both songs with each other
Beatmatching takes a lot of practice. The best way to practice this is to start two songs with no vocals and preferably just one or two types of instruments.
For example, you can use two house tracks. Start one and then start the other one. Now try to align the beats of both songs so they sound in harmony with each other.
When you don’t want to beatmatch you can always use your software to sync the BPM of both songs. Use the sync button on your DJ deck to do this.
To align the beats of both songs you can use the beat grid on the screen of your DJ software. The beat grids have to be in one straight line with each other.
I do recommend however practicing beatmatching by ear. It’s not just a safety net for when your DJ software fails but your musical sensitivity will also increase. This will improve you’re DJing skills drastically.
Take the time to learn about BPM and beatmatching because you’ll need the knowledge if you want to be a good DJ.