Tempo, Time signature and Stype

Ballad, Motown, Rock

The slower the tempo, the simpler the rhythm section pattern.

The ballad beat ranges in tempo from crotchet 50 to 80.

It is traditionally written in 4 – 4 (time signature).

Example 1: Ballad (8ths feel). 4 – 4. Crotchet = 60

Slow tempos (all ballads) are backed by a one-bar-rhythmic phrase. The same phrase is repeated (by drums, guitar and bass) each measure. Only the chords change.

A ballad in 4 – 4 can also be called 8ths feel. There are 8 quavers to each measure. The drum cymbal taps 8 quavers to the measure.

OK, Here is a quick course in rhythm section notation.

  • The marker looking like a percent sign says “repeat the previous measure.”
  • In drum kit notation the lines and spaces on the stave refer to specific drums and cymbals and not height of pitch. Drums are given a filled-in notehead. Cymbals are given a cross notehead.
  • At slow tempos (50 – 70) you will want a softer sound from the snare. Rim tells the drummer to hit the snare on the rim with the thick end of the stick.
  • Electric bass plays with the bass drum. Guitar accents with the snare.
  • The guitar strums 4 to the measure with accent on 2 and 4.

Example 2: Ballad (8ths feel). 4 – 4. Crotchet = 70

Now the ballad is a little faster. We can add a little complexity to the rhythm. It is still a one bar rhythmic phrase.

Example 3: Ballad. 12 – 8. Crotchet = 60

All ballads are 4 beats to the bar.

Traditionally the feel is an 8ths feel, with each beat felt as a multiple of 2. Ballads can be written in 12 – 8 where each beat is felt as a multiple of 3. 12 – 8 suits slow ballads with room to take the added rhythmic interest.

If we increase the tempo we no longer have a ballad. If we speed up 8ths feel we get Motown and rock. If we speed up 12 – 8 we get shuffle.


When a ballad exceeds 80 a little more rhythm is required. That is where Motown takes over. Motown allows semiquavers into the rhythm. Snare is on beats 2 and 4. The composer has artistic license with the bass drum.

The rhythmic phrase may be one bar or two bar.

The motown rhythm is named after the Motown recording company, for the variation of rhythms they were known to record. Motown is strictly 4 – 4 simple time, tempo range 80 to 100.


Traditional rock (8ths feel)

Tempo begins at 100.

Speed up the first ballad phrase.

This is an 8ths rock feel.

16ths rock

Speed up Motown.

This is 16ths rock.

’56 Rock ‘n’ Roll

’56 Rock ‘n’ Roll is unrelated to the above. I only mention it here so you won’t confuse chalk with cheese. There is so much variety in music.

The above patterns are constructed over 1 or 2 bars. ’56 Rock ‘n’ Roll is constructed over 12 bars. You will recognise the feel.