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Difference between beat, meter, tempo and pulse

Difference between beat, meter, tempo and pulse

Beat, tempo, meter and pulse, four of the terms used almost interchangeably in music but are they the same? In some ways they do share similar characteristics but they do have distinct definitions and therefore should be looked at differently. Following are the definitions and then you decide how they are similar and what the differences are.


Beat in simple terms in the unit we use to measure time in music. Think of this as second hand on a wall clock. A subdivision of the beat is also possible and that is called tuplet.


Meter tells us how the beats are going to be grouped to form a bar. A 4/4 meter for example tells us that there will be four beats in each bar which we will count as 1 2 3 4. So each of those are single beats and they are grouped in 4. This grouping is defined by the meter.


Tempo tells us how fast the beats are going to be counted. Going back to the example of second hand on a clock, the second hand will move at a universal pace. But if there was a way to change that and fasten the clock, it would be the same as increasing the tempo of the song. Tempo in the context of music is measured in BPM (Beats Per Minute). If the tempo is 100 BPM, then the beats are spaced out in a way so that we can fit 100 beats in one minute. Meaning the higher the bpm, the faster the tempo or speed is going to be of that music.


Pulse defines how a person is going to feel the music. If a music is played, regardless of what the tempo or meter is, any layman would be able to feel the music and tap the foot along. How the music is felt and how the tapping takes place is called the pulse of the music. Often the pulse is not going to be exactly the same as the beats. For example, on a 6/8 meter, a person is likely to tap on the 1st and the 4th beat.

6/8                1    2    3    4    5     6


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