Monday, February 15, 2010

Guest Blogger answers “How do you put together a playlist using BPM”?

The posts that I received on what type of music runners listened to, generated questions on how a runner puts together a playlist using Beats Per Minutes (BPM). I asked for help on answering this question from Barb Smith who shared the steps that anyone that has iTunes can use to create this playlist. Here is Barb's process for putting together songs that will inspire runners through any distance:

"Having the right music to run with is crucial for me. I'm not a competitive runner, nor am I very fast . . . until I get past the first mile of my run, I am usually in complete agony. I actually stopped running races where iPods are banned. Having music that allows me to focus and be entertained at the same time is the key to a successful run. But it can't be just any music. Something too slow frustrates me and completely throws me off. I actually HURT more when I'm listening to music that doesn't fit with my tempo. Therefore, I spend a fair amount of time finding the right music.


 

It's all about finding beats-per-minute (BPM). Simply find your preferred tempo and find songs with the same BPM and you're golden. But where to start? Follow these completely unscientific steps to create the perfect running playlists using iTunes and a BPM calculator:


 

(1) Think of three to six perfect songs to run to. Anyone who listens to music while they're running has favorites . . . something that makes you completely forget your pain for three minutes yet still keeps your pace. Don't worry about the lyrics . . . but if they fit, that's even better (think: "Running on Empty" by Jackson Browne).


 

(2) Download and install a BPM calculator. There are a ton of them out there . . . and this is where I'd really like to get reader feedback.


 

I used to use a BPM plug-in for iTunes on my Mac that was wonderful. It was simple . . . you'd tap out the beat of the song with your mouse while listening and iTunes would store the BPM. The only drawback is that you needed to listen to each song and tap away. That plug-in stopped working after one of the iTunes updates and I'm still in the process of finding the best solution. There are a ton of free apps out there (Google "iTunes" and "BPM calculator"), but I'm currently evaluating BPMer (Mac only) which I'm willing to pay $19 for if it suits my needs. The reason why I'd be willing to shell out the bucks for this app is because it will calculate BPM for your entire music library without you having to listen to each song. I'm still evaluating, however, to determine if I agree with its BPM calculations. BPMer just calculated the BPM of Willie Nelson's "Georgia On My Mind" as 138. I love that song, but honestly, it's like 60, it's so slow. I could never run to that song.


 

Plus, BPM is pretty subjective . . . faster runners might run double-time, so something that I might calculate as 70 or 80, a someone else might calculate as 140 or 160. Plus there are certain parts of songs that I tune into that might have a faster BPM than the first or last part of the song. If you have found a BPM calculator that works for you (Mac or PC), please post in the comments!


 

(3) Calculate the BPM of the songs from step (1) above. If iTunes isn't showing you BPM for your songs, right-click (ctl-click for Mac users) on the music headers in the main window of iTunes and add the BPM column to your view). Average the BPM values and consider this your "preferred BPM".


 

(4) Now calculate the BPM of other songs in your library. If you are using something like BPMer that cranks through your whole library and you don't agree with some songs, you can always manually change the BPM by right-clicking (ctl-click for Mac users) on the song, choose "Get Info", click on the "Info" option, then change the value in the BPM field and save.


 

(5) Once you have a decent-sized library with BPM, you can start creating your playlist. First sort your music by BPM (click on the BPM header). Then start pulling songs into a running playlist based on the length of your run, how fast you want to go, and whether you have hills on your route. For instance, I have a 3.5 mile route that has hills about 10 minutes in. My playlist contains:

    - the first song at about 100 BPM to warm up

    - Two at 120 BPM which is my preferred BPM

    - Three at 110 BPM to get me through the hills

    - Two more at 120 BPM to get me back into my groove after hills

    - One at 140 to get me really moving

    - Then a final one at 100 BPM

10 songs total, average song length = 3-1/2 minutes, total playlist = 35 minutes.


 

(6) Now get really creative and put together longer playlists for longer runs. I have a 1/2 marathon playlist that I used for the Gary Bjorklund 1/2 and I had my best time ever!"


 

-Barb Smith

I'm sure we'll get more discussion as readers put together their own playlists, but this looks like a great process to get everyone started for their own speed workouts, tempo runs and long runs in the next week.

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