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Changing the tempo of Recorded Ballet Variations

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Metronome on a piano

While recordings of ballet variations can offer great convenience for teachers and students alike, no one recording can cater to every individual's preference for tempo.  Younger or less experienced dancers may need it to be slower, or faster depending on the steps.  Teachers may find that, although a recording is ideal for performance, they need a slower version in order to teach the steps.  

The very best way to have a variety of tempos available to you is to use a good live pianist.  An experienced accompanist will be able to alter the tempo of music on the fly, use different tempos for different dancers, accentuate certain parts of the music such as entries, and generally assist in a multitude of ways.  However, a good pianist is not always available, or within the budget of smaller dance studios and individuals.  In this short article, I'm going to go over a few of the options available to dancers who want to alter the tempo of a recording they already own.

1. Vari-speed CD players

There are a number of vari-speed CD players on the market, generally aimed at professional DJs.  They come at a variety of price points, but none of the ones that are good quality are cheap - they represent a major investment.  The main advantage of this method is convenience.  You can use your existing CD collection, and quickly make adjustments to tempo.  It is straightforward to have different tempos for different dancers, and to gradually change the tempo as the steps become more familiar.
The downside of this sort of CD player, aside from the expense, is the reductions in pitch and sound quality.  Generally only the best vari-speed CD players include a master key lock where the pitch of the music is maintained while the tempo is adjusted.  When the cheaper models adjust tempo, they also adjust pitch at the same time, making on the fly adjustments sound very strange. 
There is a limit to how far devices like this can change the tempo, and generally it's up or down 12.5%.  That is enough for most applications, but not always - especially for learning steps. 
There is also always a degredation in sound quality when the tempo of digital audio is altered.  Generally this degredation is worse when music is slowed down, and not so bad when it is sped up.  Small adjustments may be unnoticeable, but large changes in speed will make the recorded audio sound very fluttery, and not suitable for performance.

2. Software

If you are already working with a  library of MP3s, WAVS or similar, or are willing to copy your audio CDs into a computer, then there are a variety of software solutions available.  In this method, you would open the audio file in one of these programs, and then alter the tempo there.  For windows and Mac users, Audacity is excellent and free.  For Android and iOS users, there are a variety of apps that will edit audio, though I have not personally used any - Google would be a good place to start.
Generally, the algorithms used by these programs are more advanced than CD players, and so the degredation of sound quality is considerably reduced.  They are also capable of altering the tempo by more extreme values than 12.5%.  Another major advantage of sofware is that you can select specific regions of the audio and change just that tempo, leaving the rest untouched.  This allows you to speed up one part, slow down another or any other combination that you require.  Also, tempo adjustments can be made without altering the pitch of the recording.
The main disadvantage of this is a lack of convenience.  You have to have the audio files and a laptop/computer to do the editing.  You need to learn how to use the software - it's not complicated, but depending on your general computer skill, it may still take you considerable time to become comfortable with.  You also need to do the editing in advance - unless you are very skilled and organised, you won't be able to use this method in the middle of teaching! 

3. Custom Tempo Matching

The third solution would be to have the tempos of your recording custom fitted.  This option is the most like having a live accompanist, and is ideal for competitions and auditions where you want to be able to show yourself off at your very best.  For anyone who has purchased my Female Variations: The Complete Collection, I also offer a bespoke tempo service on request.  You can liase with me and I will alter the tempo of a recording in detail to get it just right for your own abilities.  Because this is done at the recording stage, there is absolutely no degredation in sound quality, meaning the resulting music not only fits you perfectly, it also sounds fantastic as well.  If you're preparing for an important performance, and neither of the other options are going to cut it, get in touch via my contact page, and I'll be more than happy to help!

I hope this article has given some of you an insight into what your options are when you want to change the tempo of a recorded piece of music. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask.


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