Last Summer, Modern Drummer magazine ran a feature on their website on “9 IOS Apps Every Drummer Should Know”. They included Tempo by Frozen Ape, an app I already know and love, and a number of apps that provide play-alongs, tuition and much more. I was reading the comments after the article and more than one person mentioned “Live BPM – Beat Detector”. Intrigued, I took a visit to the App Store …
Live BPM – Beat Detector is described as a “tempo monitoring tool for drummers, bands and DJs. It detects music and beats via the microphone and continuously displays the current tempo in beats per minute (BPM).”
It’s important to distinguish between this, and a metronome. With a metronome, you have to select what tempo you want, and the metronome will happily click at that tempo until you tell it otherwise. You play to it. With Live BPM – Beat Detector, it detects what tempo you are playing at and displays it on the screen of your iPhone or iPad. It constantly monitors your tempo, and the readout adjusts according you speed up or slow down.
So, what’s it like in a real life situation?
I had not used this app until I sat on stage at my function band gig at the weekend. Note that with this band I don’t use clicks or tracks, so everything is fully live. I don’t use a metronome for any count-offs.
My iPhone was mounted on my hi-hat stand just under the cymbals using the Hercules Smart Phone Grab holder.
I counted the band in to the first song, and within a couple of seconds the app display came alive showing a tempo of 121.43. A few times per second the final 2 digits would change, I could tell it was constantly listening to my drums and figuring out what tempo I was playing. The lower section of the screen shows a graph which summarises the tempos it has ready in the last 2-20 mins (depending on what zoom level you choose). A nice visual way of seeing if you tend to speed up or slow down in a song.
I could easily glance at the screen to see what my tempo was and see if I’d shifted at all. It was interesting to observe when I tended to slow down or push songs (for the record, the tempo tended to sag a little when the drums were just playing simple light stuff, and tended to get faster during other band members solos…!).
A bit advantage of this over a metronome is that I could intentionally push or pull the tempo a little. Playing with a metronome, you can only plays o far in front or behind the beat before you’re simply out of time with it. With Live BPM – Beat Detector I could CHOOSE to drop a few bpm in a verse, or push a bit more in the chorus, always knowing that I wasn’t going to go drastically away from my original tempo.
I can see myself using this app a lot on stage – I just must make sure that I don’t look at it too much as I could easily become obsessed with maintaining EXACTLY the same speed all the time!
Another interesting use case would be to use Live BPM – Beat Detector to create a “tempo map” of a pre-recorded song – you would start the app, then play your chosen song where the microphone will pick it up. Leave it running until the song is done, then you can go back and review the graph to see what happened to the speed in that song.
Visually, the app isn’t the prettiest I have seen, and it hasn’t been updated since November 2013. It runs fine on my iPhone 6 and I also have it on my iPad (although I have not used it live with the iPad). According to the developers Facebook page , he has a number of updates and improvement in mind for the app. He mentioned the possibility of “a visual metronome to count-in songs, beat detection improvements, new visuals, etc.”, but this was back in June 2015. I really hope he manages to update the app at some point, as the visual metronome for count-ins could make this a REALLY useful tool for onstage.
I highly recommend this app to all musicians, not just drummers. Anything that increases our awareness of our tempo, but allows us to push and pull much more than if we were playing to a metronome, is a good thing. One reviewer of the app summed it up perfectly: “This app allows the tempo to breathe, and its like a little angel on your shoulder telling you the band is speeding up or slowing down.”
Live BPM is on the iOS App Store and works on iPhone and iPad
Live BPM is also on the Google Play Store