Running to your own tune—BPM adjusted
The last time you went for a run, listening to music, did you encounter that moment when suddenly that ballad came on and you thought Damn! That's not what workout music is supposed to sound like! Listening to the wrong music while running can really throw you off, dampen your mood, and ultimately slow you down. Listening to the right tracks though, can make you faster. But what are the right tracks?
Most people enjoy exercising to an energetic, upbeat music mix. Certainly not slow, but also not too fast. So finding the right music breaks down to a couple of different problems:
- Find music you generally like, something upbeat and energetic
- Determine the music's tempo
- Figure out what tempo matches your exercise
Finding upbeat Music
You probably own a music collection. It's on your computer, some of it is upbeat and energetic. Often this can be determined simply by genre or album, but that's certainly not ideal. Another way to do this, is using Last.fm tags. To find energetic music on Last.fm, you could simple search for music tagged with "energetic" or "running". But that still does not let you go running with the tracks you found. One way to take those energetic tracks with you is to transfer Last.fm tags to your own collection with—you guessed it—beaTunes. Simply install the Last.fm plugin via Preferences → Plugins, restart beaTunes, and click to analyze your library. In the analysis options dialog, de-select all tasks but the Last.fm one. Then set how many tags per song you want to import. Typically, the top 20 are more than enough. beaTunes will not be able to find tags for all of your tracks, but at least the mainstream ones will be successfully tagged. Once the analysis ran its course, type "energetic", "upbeat", or "running" into beaTunes' search field and it will find those songs for you in your own music library!
Determining the Tempo
Now that you have some songs that may be great for running, how do you know how fast they are? Musical tempo is usually measured in beats per minute (BPM), loosely defined as the number of times you tap your foot along to a song per minute. Tempi below 100 BPM are generally considered slow, tempi above 100 BPM are fast (see Wikipedia). Both iTunes and beaTunes can display BPM for your songs. To see the column in iTunes, you might have to switch to the tabular song list view, and then select BPM in View → Song View Options (also available by right-clicking on the table header or the
⌘-J keyboard shortcut).
Unfortunately, seeing that column does not fill it with values. And iTunes is incapable of doing just that. To automatically determine the BPM, analyze your library with beaTunes. Make sure to select the BPM task in the analysis options dialog. For beaTunes 3.5, choose the Rayshoot algorithm and a BPM range from 90-180 BPM. Depending on the size of your library, analysis might take a while. Keep in mind, that software is notoriously bad at distinguishing between say 90 and 180 or 60 and 120 —beaTunes 3.5 is no exception (I'm working on this for beaTunes 4). Some obviously slow songs will have a BPM value that is twice the tempo they really are. This is not a problem, as long as they still sound upbeat. This is because when you are running to a 150 BPM song, you can keep on running seamlessly to a 75 BPM song—the beat still matches your strides!
Finding the right BPM
Which brings us directly to the crucial question: What BPM is right for me?
As so often, the answer is:
Really, it depends on two factors. The first one is obvious—the faster you run, the faster your music needs to be. The second one... well, the taller you are, the slower your music needs to be. It comes down to the length of your strides. Tall runners obviously need fewer steps for the same distance. And since you want to match the beat of your music to your steps, you essentially have to match your music to your speed and height.
Unfortunately, it's hard to give you a concrete example, like "if you're 5'5 (1.65m) and run 8min/mile (5min/km) your ideal BPM is X". But here are some examples to get you started, leaving your height out of the picture:
- 7:00min/mile: 90/180 BPM
- 7:30min/mile: 87/174 BPM
- 8:00min/mile: 83/168 BPM
- 8:30min/mile: 82/164 BPM
- 9:00min/mile: 80/160 BPM
- 9:30min/mile: 77/154 BPM
- 10:00min/mile: 75/150 BPM
Start running with a set BPM and, if it feels too slow, next time ramp it up a bit. To improve your time, choosing a BPM that's a little faster than your usual pace definitely helps!
Building the Playlist
Now that you know what BPM you need and all your songs are BPM-annotated, simply enter "energetic" or something similar into beaTunes' search field, then select a bunch of songs with the right BPM (tip: sort by BPM) and create a playlist from the selection via the File menu. That's it!
Hope you enjoy your next run!