Creating Tempo Maps in REAPER

Some songs have mad tempo, time signature, and metronome marking changes. These resources can give really interesting nuances to the music, from a slight increase of tempo in the chorus of the song, to intricate tempo envelope slopes with compound polyrhythmic measures. When you get to write it down, it is called a Tempo map, and the best part is that REAPER provides all the tools you need to write those tempo changes into reality.

If at any section you feel lost or want a more in depth explanation of some of the tools or concepts that are used along the article, you may want to reference these articles:

So without further ado, let’s check REAPER’s Tempo maps!

Show Tempo Envelope

First, it’s a good idea to show the Tempo envelope so that it is easier to set up the tempo map. The easiest way of doing this is going to the View menu on the top, and selecting Tempo envelope.

tempo envelope reaper

Or you can use the default shortcut Alt+T.

tempo envelope reaper

This will show the Master track in the Track panel, enable the Tempo map envelope, and create an initial Tempo marker at the very start of the project. Now this Tempo envelope allows you to create points like any other Automation envelope and they will show as tempo markers at the top of the Time ruler.

Metronome

Next is setting up your metronome. Depending on your needs, it may be enough to activate the metronome using the button on the main toolbar.

activate the metronome using the button on the main toolbar REAPER

Or, creating one or various Click tracks using the Click source option in the Insert menu at the top of the main window.

click tracks click source REAPER

Tempo Markers and Tempo Envelope

Now that everything is set up and in place, it’s time to start creating the Tempo map. For starters, I will try to find the tempo of a song and begin to move from there. For this example I will be using a song that I have previously worked on.

Finding the Tempo

First is having the track Timebase right, so that when you change the tempo, the audio file won’t stretch and move around. In this case, the most adequate timebase is Beats (position only), this is done by right clicking the track, selecting Track timebase, going to Track timebase and selecting the correct option.

track time base beats position only REAPER

Also, it’s probably a good idea to go to preferences (Ctrl+P for Windows / Cmd+, for Mac) and uncheck Playback position follows project timebase in the Seeking tab. This is so that your playback head doesn’t jump around while you tap tempo.

playback position follows project timebase when changing tempo REAPER

Next, find a sync point from which you can start counting in the song, REAPER calls this the Snap point or Snap offset of the item. To do this, search Set snap offset to cursor in the Action list, I like to add a keyboard shortcut to it.

set snap offset to cursor REAPER

Then you can run the action from the Action list or use the keyboard shortcut.

action list REAPER

The item will follow the grid snapping to the Snap point, so move it to an arbitrary bar start and place a Tempo marker.

placing tempo marker REAPER

Use the keyboard shortcut Shift+C to create a Tempo marker or create an Envelope point in the Tempo envelope by clicking on the lane while holding Shift. Next, there’s two tools that can help finding an approximate tempo of the song.

The first is using the Tap tempo feature.

tap tempo feature REAPER

The second is creating another Tempo marker one bar away from the first one and dragging it to match the song, then deleting it.

tempo marker one bar away REAPER

Sometimes, just finding the tempo of your song is your whole Tempo map, so it’s safe to write the BPM value you found on the Tempo marker at the very start of the project and delete the one at the Snap point.

writing BPM value REAPER

But I don’t think you came all the way here just for that. Having an intricate Tempo map implies various changes in your Tempo BPM and/or your Time signature, so let’s do that.

Modifying the Tempo Envelope

You can create Tempo envelope points and change the Tempo BPM by dragging the point up or down, but if you want to introduce Time signature or Metronome pattern changes, you must right click the Tempo envelope point and select Set point value…

set point value REAPER

Or right click the Envelope marker and select Edit time signature marker.

edit time signature marker REAPER

Here you can check and edit the options depending on the kind of Tempo change you want to introduce, here’s a small summary of the properties that you can edit in this window.

tempo properties REAPER

Tempo: Determines how fast your song is being counted, it’s based on the BPM basis

Time signature: Determines how your song is counted

Metronome pattern: determines how the Click sounds at each beat

Gradually transition tempo: Allows you to create a ramp of gradual increase or decrease of tempo until it reaches the next tempo marker

Allow partial measure: Before this marker allows you to cut short any measure or bar by placing the current tempo marker.

The changes will be reflected on the top bar.

top bar REAPER

You can drag one or more Tempo envelope points by marquee selecting them from the Tempo envelope. Keep in mind that the movement of the points will depend on the restrictions that any type of point can have and the properties of the points you’re moving.

I already showed you that using the Ctrl (for Windows) or Cmd (for Mac) modifier allows you to move a Tempo marker while maintaining the musical position, this effectively changes the tempo of the previous Tempo marker.

changing the tempo of the previous Tempo marker REAPER

Now, let’s say that you have 3 Tempo markers and want to move the one on the middle keeping the other ones in position, effectively changing the tempo at both sides of the middle Tempo marker.

3 tempo markers REAPER

This is done by dragging the middle Tempo marker while you hold the Ctrl+Alt (for Windows) or Cmd+Opt (for Mac) modifiers.

Having these tools, you are most likely to create a Tempo map that fits your song. I’ll show you an example on how the Tempo map of my song looks like.

final tempo map REAPER

Importing & Exporting Tempo Maps

Tempo maps can also be imported and exported, there are two ways of doing it, between REAPER projects, and between different software.

Between REAPER projects

In REAPER, you can have various projects open in different tabs, and everything in the arrange timeline can be marquee selected by dragging the Right click. Knowing this, let’s jump into it.

First, marquee select all the points in the Tempo envelope, hit Ctrl+C (or Windows) or Cmd+C (for Mac) to copy the points.

arrange timeline REAPER

Then, go to the other project, open the Tempo envelope, place your cursor at the very start of the project, and hit Ctrl+V (or Windows) or Cmd+V (for Mac) to paste the points.

Between different software

This method uses MIDI to send the tempo information with the tempo baked in the file. This method allows you to take your Tempo map and Project markers anywhere else, the only caveat is that MIDI can’t properly translate gradual transitions or ramps, so it’s probably better to avoid those.

First, create a new track, then create a time selection that covers the entire project.

time selection REAPER

Then insert a MIDI item using the Insert menu at the top. Here you must fill the whole MIDI item with notes across all the beats of the song.

After that, it’s time to export. Go to File at the top menu and select Export Project MIDI.

export project MIDI REAPER

This window allows you to write a MIDI file in your machine from any MIDI information you have in your project. Make sure to check the Embed project tempo option, and if you want to export markers with the file, check the Export project markers option too.

Export Project MIDI REAPER

This MIDI file can be imported in any DAW to create a tempo map.

MIDI File Import REAPER

This image also shows how MIDI tries to approximate gradual tempo changes, this may cause that your original audio files don’t quite sync up properly with the Tempo map in the new software so beware.

Shortcut Summary

Right Click drag — Marquee select items or envelope points

Alt + T — Show the Tempo map envelope

Ctrl + C — Create a Tempo marker

Shift + Left Click on an envelope lane — Create an envelope/automation point

Ctrl + Left Click drag a Tempo marker — Move the tempo marker, changing previous BPM

Ctrl + Alt + Left Click drag a Tempo marker — Move the tempo marker, changing BPM at both sides

Ctrl + Alt + N — Create a new project tab

*On Mac use Cmd⌘ instead of Ctrl, and Opt⌥ instead of Alt

Conclusion

Creating a tempo map and manipulating it is sometimes necessary to properly convey the message of a song and ease the integration of different tools, metronome set up, using other DAWs if you need to record in a different location, tempo based effects, editing reference, etc. Take your time experimenting on the REAPER tempo capabilities and apply it to your projects, I hope this information was useful, and have fun!