segunda-feira, 18 de outubro de 2010

Music as a pacemaker

One of the mainstays of barefoot running is a fast cadence, that is, the number of steps you take in one minute – and it should be over 180 steps per minute (spm). The problem is getting to and staying at that rhythm, specially for beginners.

Você pode ler a versão em português aqui.

A slow cadence (around 150-160 spm) is usual with shod runners, because the step length is longer, due to the overreach that makes them heel strike. While carrying an electronic metronome is a great help in forgoing the old habit, I'll have to admit it's a boring one. Tap, tap, tap, tap… for scores of minutes gets old really fast. An alternative to that is music that's exactly at the rhythm you're trying to achieve, 180+ bpm. A few problems come with this solution.

How can I stand listening to drum & bass and speed metal for so long?

There's really not much of a choice for 180 bpm music around. It boils down to the jungle beats of techno or the ear blasting hammering of speed metal. Which can be fine for a while, but may turn you mad during a long run. The clue here is halving the tempo. Instead of counting one beat for every step, you can broaden your musical choices if you count one beat for every other step.

Here are some examples of songs at 90-93 bpm (180-186 spm):

How do I measure the tempo of my 2000-song library?

You could manually time each song, counting the beats for 30 seconds, doubling the count and figuring out the approximate tempo. Or you could use a software metronome, where you rhythmically tap a key and it automatically figures the tempo out. That can work for a couple of songs, but it gets impractical when dealing with any sizable music library. You need to automate this chore.

And here comes this great piece of software called Pacemaker—the free software companion to a portable DJing hardware device of the same name. (Just being clear here: you can download the software without buying the hardware.)

Pacemaker has the ability to import your iTunes library or any folder with music and automatically analyze the tempo of each song. After that, you just pick the songs you want.

What if the music I love is too fast or too slow?

Now comes the beauty of Pacemaker. You can change the tempo of any music without changing its pitch. Sure, there are practical limitations, and some songs may sound weird when played out of their natural tempo, but you can generally pick any song from 80 to 100 bpm and turn it into a musical metronome at, say, a fixed 90 bpm. Here's a short tutorial that will show you just how to do it.

First, let's find our way around the software. Download, install and run the software. The Pacemaker window is divided in up to 4 panes. Except for the upper pane, that shows the waveform, all other panes can be switched off by a set of buttons at the top of the window:

The Mixes pane will show you the songs you edited, tweaking their bpm. If you're up to it, you can even make seamless mixes of your favorite songs, keeping the same tempo – they'll end up listed on this pane.

Cases are the equivalent of playlists. You can create different cases for different styles of music, or using any other criteria that you can come up with.

The Editor pane will show all your tracks, along with your cases and mixes. As soon as you add songs to this pane, by either dragging and dropping or by using the Import options of the File menu, Pacemaker will analyze each of your songs for their tempo. Songs not yet analyzed will show up in the Not Analyzed group.

If you don't own the Pacemaker hardware, the Device button will not work.

The Play/Mix button, a little to the right of the panel buttons, switches the waveform panel between the music selected on the Editor pane and the active mix on the Mix pane.

Now that you know the basics, let's get our hands dirty. Go to File > Import Music Directory… and choose the directory where your music files are. Pacemaker will then import and analyze all songs. It may take a while. If you just want to mess around with a few songs, just drag and drop them to the Editor pane. They'll show in the Tracks group. After analyzed, you can sort them by any parameters, just by clicking the column header. Right-clicking the column headers will allow you to pick the parameters you want.

So let's say you want to run to the beat of Eminem's "Lose Yourself" at 180 spm. You could drag and drop it to the Editor pane or, if it's already there, you could search for it using the search box on the upper right corner of the application window. This song's tempo is just 86 bpm, which would translate into a not fast enough cadence of 172 spm. You'll need to speed it up.

The first step is to make sure the Play/Mix button is showing Play (you can toggle it with ⌘E on the Mac.) Now create a new mix clicking the New button. Call it "90 bpm" or anything you want. Then just drag the song from the Editor pane and drop it into the Mixer pane. That's what you should get:

To get a little more room to work with, choose the menu item View > Hide Mix Artwork.

Now it's time to adjust the tempo, which is really simple. On the waveform pane, there's a horizontal thin black line. That's the tempo line, which you can freely adjust. If you hover over the dot on the left end of that line, you'll see -0.0% (85.8), the original tempo. Now you just have to drag that dot up, until you get the tempo you want, 90 bpm. Like so:

Now it's just a matter of going to File > Export Mix… Just enter a meaningful name, like "Lose Yourself 90bpm" and choose where to save it.

Here's a minor complication. Pacemaker will only let you save your files in .ogg format. Some players are compatible with this format, but you'll have to convert to .mp3 or .aac if you want to play it on an iPod or most other players. iTunes is able to do this conversion after you install XiphQT. Just drag the "Lose Yourself.ogg" file to the iTunes window to import the song. Then, right-click the track and choose Create AAC Version. If you prefer an mp3 file, open the iTunes preferences and select the General pane. Then click on the Import Settings… button and choose MP3 Encoder from the pop-up menu. Click Ok twice to accept the changes, then right-click on the file. This time you'll see Create MP3 Version. You can now delete the original .ogg file from your iTunes playlist and transfer the newly encoded .mp3 or .aac version of the song to your player.

Do that with all the songs you want to listen while you run barefoot. You can also join songs together and do seamless mixes. It's just a little more complicated and beyond the scope of this post, but it's quite easy to grasp after watching some nice video tutorials.

I hope this post will help you keep your feet nimble and make your runs even more fun.

2 comentários:

  1. Great post! Very helpful as I try and maintain the right pace. I am going to try this out.

  2. I've tried some approaches to it, though none was as complex as yours. I can't stand eletronic music, so I managed to trick my brain and train it so I could take a constant 180 bpm of a click-track, like a metronome, without paying much attention to it while I still can "feel" it when I'm running. It's really psychotic, but it does work hahah