14 Examples of Tempo Change (The Smiths, The Beach Boys + others)

TEMPO CHANGE

Tempo is defined as the speed of a piece of music or a given section of that piece.

There are certain Italian words that indicate different tempos, such as Largo, Adagio, Allegro, etc. But, it’s 2016, and these days it is customary to measure and discuss tempo in terms of beats per minute (often abbreviated bpm).

Tempo is a concept most music creators are already intuitively familiar with…

But, did you know that you could actually change the tempo in your songs? :: Gasp! ::

Tempo Change

If you are a music creator, you need to face the music (pun intended) and admit that you are likely in one of the following two categories:

  • I never change the tempo in my songs
  • I sometimes change the tempo in my songs, but I do so without much forethought, planning or knowledge

But don’t beat yourself up too much. Musician’s are known for making decisions without much forethought, planning or knowledge.

But, let’s get serious for a second. Tempo change may seem like it’s a small, unimportant topic, but sit down and listen to Michael Jackson or Zeppelin albums and you will hear effective tempo changes. Don’t you want the same to be said about your music?

Today we are going to look at 14 examples of tempo change in songs by artists like Diana Ross, Rush, R.E.M., Lana Del Ray, and so many more. We will observe the tempo change and see what we can learn from each example.

tempo changeAlong the way, we will present action tips that you can apply to your own songs. That way, next time you are working on one of your own compositions, you will be armed with the knowledge to implement an effective and impactful tempo change.

 


1. Diana Ross – Love Hangover

Diana Ross – Love Hangover

We are starting with this classic example of a tempo change. Legend has it that Diana Ross (who became known for fronting The Supremes) recorded this song under a strobe light to get that disco feel.

The song starts off as a slower tempo ballad, and at around 1:10 into the song (excerpted above), the tempo abruptly speeds up as the song transitions into an uptempo disco beat. This adds another dimension to what would otherwise be a simple disco song.

tempo chanageThis is some great inspiration for those music creators who are producing dance songs. Try taking an uptempo, danceable song that you’ve written, and compose a new, related section which is slower. Then, start off the song with this new slow section. After a short time, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-60 seconds in, transition into the dance section, signaling to the listener – it’s time to dance.


2. The Smiths – Miserable Lie

The Smiths – Miserable Lie

Next up: The Smiths – Miserable Lie. This example is next because, in terms of the tempo change, it’s actually very similar to the Diana Ross song above. Just the UK, indie/punk version.

The tempo change here continues along the same line of thinking. Slow intro > uptempo main section of the song.

tempo changeThis song demonstrates that no matter what genre of music you are writing, if you are putting together a fast, uptempo type song, you might want to try out a slower tempo introduction. It’s a pretty classic move, and it just plain works.


3. R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People

R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People

Fun trivia: Apparently Michael Stipe and fellow R.E.M. bandmates hate this song. (I just learned this.)

I’ve put this third example here to really drive home the point that you ought to try a slow introduction in your uptempo song.

What’s interesting about this example, however, is that about 2/3rds of the way through the song, they actually go back to the slow introduction. Although it almost comes across as awkward, it also lends to the carefree and whimsical tone of this song.

Edit: The slower tempo section is also in a different time signature (6/8). The rest of the song is in 4/4. Thanks to urbannerds on Reddit for pointing this out.


4. Alice in Chains – Sickman

Alice in Chains – Sickman

OK, this Alice in Chains song doesn’t just change tempo, but it also changes time signature. I have actually been planning on doing an entire post on time signature changes (a personal passion of mine, and hopefully yours too).

Specifically, the song goes from a relatively quick 4/4 to a plodding 6/8. The song continues to go back and forth between the two.

tempo changeTry combining a change in tempo with a change in time signature. For example, if you’ve already written a song that has a time signature change, go back and try changing the tempo of that section as well.


5. Lana Del Rey – West Coast

Lana Del Rey – West Coast

The tempo in this Lana Del Ray song is very unique. There are two sections of the song, the verse and the chorus, each with it’s own very different tempo.

Specifically, the verse is ~123 bpm whereas the chorus is ~100 bpm.

The result is fascinating. Maybe I am biased, because I am a sucker for the chord progression in the chorus. But the tempo change really is working for me – it’s very original and creative.

tempo changeIn my opinion, it seems like it would be very challenging to pull this idea off under normal circumstances. If you are going to try and emulate this tempo change idea, and have each section of your song have a different tempo, I would proceed with caution. You risk writing a song which is inaccessible to the listener.


6. Rush – The Spirit of Radio

Rush – The Spirit of Radio

If you are one to geek out over lots of time signature and tempo changes, Rush is a great band to listen to.

The insane time signature and tempo changes common to prog rock generally come across as playful and intellectual, although they can risk being showy and overelaborate.

This tempo change in “The Spirit of Radio” comes across as whimsical and carefree. It’s a lot of fun, if you are into this type of thing!


7. Slint – Don, Aman

Slint – Don, Aman

Any math rock fans out there? Raise your hand (mine is up).

Slint’s original and dynamic album Spiderland is something you might want to check out, if you’ve never heard of it. This is the kind of band that other musician’s like.

I am placing this example after the Rush song because both bands employ lots of tempo changes and time signature changes – however with Slint the tone is significantly more serious, even somber.

If you listen to this entire song (over 6 minutes long), you find that the changing tempo creates different “movements” and creates a sense of epicness.

Notice that there is a gradual slow-down in tempo in this example. The music theory term for this is a ritardando.


8. The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour

There are lots of interesting things going on in this song. The tonic wanders all over the place, from E to D mainly. 1:12 is my personal favorite, which is when the song briefly goes into the key of B-major. Then, at 1:27, there is a dramatic tempo change, where the song more or less goes back to the beginning, but slower. This part is excerpted above. This adds needed depth to the song (which mainly consists of two simple sections going back and forth).

One interesting effect of this tempo change occurs at 1:57. Sorry in advance, but this section is not excerpted above (you can go listen to the full track on your own to hear this). The triplets in the vocal at 1:57 (“the magical mystery tour is coming to take you away“) against the horn section creates a somewhat jarring but interesting 3:4 polyrhythm. This polyrhythm is exposed and highlighted because of the slowed down tempo.

In the book Revolution in the Head, author Ian MacDonald called the tempo change in this song “unconvincing.” I like the tempo change, but overall, the song is definitely not as accessible as many other Beatles tunes. After all, they have set the bar pretty high.


9. Dexys Midnight Runners – Come on Eileen

Dexys Midnight Runners – Come on Eileen

Here’s a unique tempo change. Here we have an epic slowdown followed by progressively speeding up faster and faster until we are back to an uptempo section again (in this case, the new tempo happens to be even faster than it was before).

In music theory, the opposite of a ritardando (gradual decrease in tempo) is the accelerando (gradual increase in tempo). That’s what we are observing here.

tempo changeStruggling with an idea for a bridge for one of your songs? Try using a super-slow version of another section of your song. And then speed it up, gradually…. gradually… until you are more or less back at the original tempo. This isn’t going to work 100% of the time, but it’s worth experimenting with.


10. RZA – Brooklyn Babies

RZA – Brooklyn Babies

Another example of a progressively speeding up tempo. I don’t think this happens very much in hip hop. The only other example I can think of is that Blackalicious song where he keeps rapping faster and faster. If you can think of any others, let me know in the comments.


11. Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now

Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now

Queen – making musical theater sound actually kinda cool.

But seriously, I should have probably used Bohemian Rhapsody as the example, since I am pretty sure that song is the mother of all tempo changes.


12. The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice

The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice

Brian Wilson melts all of our hearts with this legendary tempo change in Wouldn’t it Be Nice, which is one of my fav songs of all time.

If you have any interest in doing a slower tempo bridge in one of your songs, this Beach Boys song should be your template, as it is THE textbook example. It is incredible effective. The slower tempo brings out the message and the drama in the lyrics (“you know it seems the more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it…”). This is songwriting in beast mode.

tempo changeTake a bridge from one of your songs and slow it down – how does it sound? The Beach Boys accomplished this by using a ritardando (remember that is a just fancy word for a gradual decrease in tempo). Depending on the structure of your bridge, you could try it this way as well. Otherwise, an immediate decrease in tempo is the other strategy you should try.


13. Discovery – So Insane

Discovery – So Insane

I am a sucker for bad sounding drum machine samples. Not only does this song have them, but the tempo slowdown brings them out even more.

What is also cool about this song is that after the slowdown excerpted above, they speed the song back up and do it again a minute or so later in the song.


14. The Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight

The Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight

OK, so we’ve talked about several types of tempo changes so far – slower introductions (Diana Ross + others), slower choruses (Lana Del Ray), slower bridges (Beach Boys).

Now it’s time to talk about our last classic tempo change move – and this is the perfect note to end on – the slow outro.

The risk of the slow outro, in my opinion, is that it could come across as cheesy. In this Smashing Pumpkins song, it fits in well with the rest of this song which is highly emotional and dramatic.

If you can think of any other songs with slow outro’s, let me know in the comments below.


That’s it, folks

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24 Comments

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  • Not a huge fan of Blink 182 but their exceptional untitled album (2003) features a tempo change between “Easy Target” and “All of This” (latter sung by the Cure’s Robert Smith). The whole album is a work of art & that transition is a highlight.

    • I gave this a quick scan and it looks pretty interesting… I am looking forward to checking this out further. I’m guessing the advent of Reason, Logic, Pro Tools, etc… has a little something to do with this! Thanks for putting up this link.

  • GRT ARTICLE; HERE’S TO MORE: As you already know, some people just stop a song, and head into an entirely different theme. It’s not as cerebral as a key or time signature change, but it is another way to go somewhere else. Consider if I interrupted this reply with “OHHHH SAY CAN YOU SEEEEEEE…” See what I mean? Key and time changes are great, but they’re not necessary if “ya still wanna keep things simple”. McCartney and Al Stewart did not hesitate to make 3-songs-in-one when they made “Band on the Run” and “Year of the Cat”. What do you think about an article entitled “10 EXAMPLES OF THEME CHANGES”. So many people think they have a song because they have a repeating pattern. That’s good… for 10 seconds. I suppose you’re addressing that very issue with this article. Maybe you’ll like a song I have with an evident tempo change, my song “EVERYWHERE” you can hear here. Another song with numerous changes is one I made for NPR’s Tiny Desk contest, Freedom And/Or Truth. IMO, you’re onto something huge with articles like this, and it’s evident you worked a lot preparing all those snippets. I listened to each one. Thanks.

    • I listened to Movement I of your Freedom and/or Truth video and I enjoyed it very much.

      Thanks for your in-depth comment, you make a lot of great points. I like your broader idea of theme changes, you’re right on point.

      Glad that you think I’m “onto something huge.” I really appreciate your kind words and taking the time to write out your very thoughtful comment.

  • Awesome post Eric! I think Drake has a few new examples of this.

    Tuscan Leather : I’m not sure if this actually changes tempo, it’s blurred by all the changes. The production switches twice into completely new ways to flip the Whitney Houston sample underneath. Really genius work by Drake’s producer, 40.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIkJMPPQn6c&list=RDgIkJMPPQn6c

    Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2 : After trading verses with Jay-Z, the song takes a new turn and speeds up.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAwWdK7b2zE&list=RDgIkJMPPQn6c&index=14

    0 to 100 / The Catch Up : At 2:41 it slows down, and flips the beat.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAwWdK7b2zE&list=RDgIkJMPPQn6c&index=14

    2 On / Thotful : https://soundcloud.com/djmarleywaters/2-on-tinashe-x-ovo-drake-remix

    It’s actually a really common trend in hip hop to have the tempo switch. They kind of start a brand new song, but it works as an extension and shows a new perspective lyrically.

    Yes some of these tracks are of an explicit nature, but it is interesting to see the tempo change trending in a new way.

    Jacquees – “Ms Kathy (Make Up)
    The Weeknd – “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls”

  • I’m a part-time producer, and for my most recent client, I find the best approach is to record his songs to a drum loop (that I build) – acoustic guitar and voice, to a steady tempo. Then, to add other instruments, I reorganize the ruler to his guitar track, which means the tempo essentially shifts a little up and down depending on how he played. Then I can quantize all the other tracks to his performance, subtle tempo changes included.

    • Neel-
      This is a really neat idea. There is an article linked in the comments above showing songs like The Stone’s Sympathy for the Devil where the tempo is absolutely all over the place. In some ways that is a more authentic feel. I like how you are sort of recapturing that, to some extent.

  • This was awesome, I like all your examples from popular music. The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about a tempo change is Lana del Rey’s West Coast, and you included it! Yay :) It can be a really powerful tool to take your song into the next level, so far I’ve played around only with time signature changes. I’ll definitely look into doing tempo changes in my own work!

    Thanks again!

  • Hey, great post and great site, thanks a lot straight off the bat just for existing.
    I noticed an example of this in Muse’s most recent album ‘Drones’, the song ‘Revolt’ changes tempo between the chorus and the rest of the song and I think it really works well with the theme of the lyrics.

    Revolt Music Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6hEWZ9Igy0

    Thanks again and I look forward to learning more :)

    • Glad that you are happy that this site exists! Thanks for the kind words.

      You bring up a point that I always neglect…which is tying together your music theory type techniques (tempo change for example) with a lyric technique (the theme, in your example).

      Thanks for bringing this up and great contribution.

  • Hey, great blog!

    I just thought of en example that might interest you in regard to this, the Norwegian band Kaizers Orchestra and their song “Sigøynerblod” (https://youtu.be/ngv19Ml0BQg). They do experiment with the major/minor a bit, also.

    Great, job, keep it up!

    / CVZ

    • Carl,
      I just checked out the song you linked and I do hear the Tempo change half way through. Great example!

      And thanks for the kind words… Glad you enjoy the blog!

  • Electric Light Orchestra’s “Fire on High” has a great, slow, ethereal introduction, followed by an up-tempo song with a feeling of 4, with some changes to a feeling of 2.

  • Look up bouncebeat gogo, some of the more current bands like ABM, AJA, and No Regards use tempo change constantly. I came across this thread looking for info on any genres that use ot consistently the way bouncebeat gogo does actually. You may be interested to hear it. Super profane stuff sometimes btw.

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