Tailor Your Irish Dance Music to Your Dancer

We have slowly acquired CDs and a couple of stand alone MP3s of Irish dance music for our dancers. Many pieces have a specific tempo – beats per minute (bpm) – so that beginner dancers may end up with a lower bpm but need to eventually move to faster tempos. This struck a chord with me, as a former band member, since the difference between a march tempo and other types of music can be significant and meaningful. But how to get our current play list converted to the right tempos, and what about the future? Here’s one solution.

Expensive Options

I used to do ballroom dancing and our instructor had a stereo that she could control the tempo, varying it so that we could learn the steps to a slow tempo and then get closer to the real tempo as we got better at our steps.  You can buy a variable tempo CD player but you’ll pay a couple of hundred dollars for that feature.

The other obvious alternative is find a musician who has (a) recorded the tune you are looking for and (b) has recorded it at the tempo you require.  A couple of musicians, like Dean Crouch, have recorded and made available their tunes at multiple tempos.  You can select the one you need and download it.  ITunes has a number of tunes, including some by Mark Arrington and Ellery Klein and Mark Lacey.  The Boyd School of Irish Dance has a great jukebox where you can preview tunes from about 20 albums.

Free Options:  Get Audacity

But what if you already own the tune in a slower tempo?  Why would you want to pay for the same tune again for what might be a modest tempo change?  Enter Audacity.

Audacity is a free software program that enables you to edit audio files.  You need to download and install Audacity and also a free file called LAME (lame_enc.dll) to enable creating MP3 files.  Once you have installed Audacity and LAME, you need to go into Audacity, the Edit menu, choose Preferences, and select the FILE FORMATS tab.  Click on the button next to MP3 Export that says FIND LIBRARY.  Locate where LAME was installed.

You can use Audacity for a lot of things.  I have recorded myself singing and telling stories for the kids so that, when I used to travel a lot for work, they could still have a story or bedtime songs!!  Audacity supports a lot of nice features for this sort of thing, or podcasting, and other audio work.

Audacity:  Change Tempo

To change the tempo of your dance tune, you need to have it in an audio format that Audacity can open:  Windows Media (WMA) or MP3 are the two most common.  Locate your file and follow these steps:

  1. Select the File menu and choose OPEN.
  2. Locate your file and click OK to open it in Audacity.  You will see a funny looking representation of your music file.  It will be spiky, reflecting the high and low points of the sounds.
  3. Hold down your CTRL key and hit your A key (Select All).  This will highlight the whole file.
  4. Click on the Effect menu and choose CHANGE TEMPO.
  5. If you know the current tempo, you can type it in and the tempo you want it to become.  Otherwise you can make a best guess and enter a % increase.
  6. You can preview the file or just click OK to change the tempo.  You will see a small screen making the change.
  7. Don’t save the file yet!!
  8. Click on the Project menu and select EDIT ID3 TAGS.  If your original music had the tempo number in the title, you can update it here to reflect the new tempo.
  9. When you have made your changes, you can export your file as an MP3 file.  Select the File menu and EXPORT as MP3.

That is it.  When you close Audacity, do not save your original file.  That way you have your original, as recorded, and you have your new file (give it a name that shows it is the different tempo).

A caveat:  I have not measured the resulting file to see if it is completely accurate.  I took a recording of Drunken Gauger (Funny Tailor) at 69 by Mark Arrington and sped it up to 120 just to see if it really worked as expected.  It was a riot to hear how fast a dancer would have to dance to it!  If you are making small changes – from 69 to 72 for example – you may not notice much of a difference.