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Tempos and Time Signatures

Wednesday, 18th March, 2015

Choosing the right tempo and knowing the time signature of a song will improve your chances of success when learning to play a new song on the ukulele.

The tempo of a song refers to the speed at which that song is played. For the vast majority of songs that you will play, tempo is measured in beats per minute (often shortened to BPM). This is tightly coupled to the time signature of a song which helps determine how many beats are in one bar. The majority of the songs in the songbooks I use are in 4/4 time with a few being in 3/4 time. For 4/4 songs, count 1, 2, 3, 4 and then repeat for every bar and for 3/4 songs, count 1, 2, 3 and then repeat for every bar.

The general rule (and remember, rules are to be broken!) is that you don't change the time signature of a song as that contributes to the feel of the song but you can play any song at any tempo you like. It can be quite fun to play a slow song quickly and a quick song slowly but generally it is useful when first learning a song to play it at a tempo close to that intended by the original composer. If you find the song difficult to play, then slow the tempo down until you have mastered it at the slower speed and then increase the tempo.

People do ask at my sessions about how quickly or slowly a particular song should be played and so I have started to compile a list of some of the songs we play. I have listed the associated time signature and two tempos. The "Suggested Tempo" is the one I think you should try first as that is the one closest to the tempo we play at my group sessions and the one I think sounds about right when played on the ukulele. The "Recording Tempo" is a reasonably close measure of the tempo of the recording made by the original artist. It is almost always faster than the first tempo and can sometimes sounds a like too fast when playing the song on a ukulele.

Note for Firefox and Chrome Users: You can try out the tempos by clicking in the tempo to start a metronome set to the correct time signature and tempo. If you want to see more songs added to the list, then please contact me.

Song TS Suggested Tempo Recording Tempo
110. I Can See Clearly Now - Johnny Nash 4/4 100BPM 124BPM
113. Let It Be - The Beatles 4/4 65BPM 75BPM
126. Que Sera, Sera - Doris Day 3/4 110BPM 164BPM
128. Dream Lover - Bobby Darin 4/4 112BPM 135BPM
201. The Dock Of The Bay - Ottis Redding 4/4 103BPM 103BPM
203. Sherry - Four Seasons 4/4 98BPM 118BPM
207. Norwegian Wood - The Beatles 3/4 170BPM 178BPM
211. King of the Road - Roger Miller 4/4 108BPM 118BPM
213. Islands in the Stream - Bee Gees 4/4 106BPM 106BPM
215. Only You - Yazoo 4/4 72BPM 106BPM

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