How to Calculate Delay Times (Part 2)

I remember the first time I was trying to get a proper delay time subdivision for a song we had to play at church. Back then I had borrowed a Digitech RP 55 and I was excited because it had the possibility to adjust the delay time according to the milliseconds; in those days I didn’t understand the formula very well (I had no clue actually!), so I went to a very cool site called and they had this two tools to calculate tempo and delay:

And with just that I started my journey in the delay time realm. I just grabbed the multi-effects unit, picked one of the delay settings and then I started putting the milliseconds according to the BMP of the songs we had to play; I didn’t have a clue if my delays were in quarter notes, eighth notes, dotted eighth, etc. All that I knew was the repeats sounded well with the tempo (sort of ;)) and that settle the deal.

The problem was that eventually I realized that even though I was getting the guitar parts and arrangements fairly well, something was off… The repeats, the delay time… it made sense, but it didn’t quite sound as the original songs we were trying to play. I later realized that it had to do with the length of the notes being played; the delay repeats in some songs where intended to sound for shorter periods (faster repetitions) and some were intended to sound for longer periods (slower repetitions). And that, in essence, are what delay time subdivision are all about, and we are going to tackle that hurdle on this post.

So… How do You Apply Delay Time Subdivisions?

First, you have to understand that music is basically composed of three things:

– Melody: the single notes within a key.
– Harmony: the chords within a key.
– Rhythm: the tempo of the song.

I know this definition would seem rather simplistic and burlesque if you have a background in music theory, but I hope you can forgive me for that :).

Here’s the important part: when we talk about delay subdivisions, we’re pretty much talking about time subdivisions and this has to do essentially with the rhythm of the song and the duration of the notes within the song. In music theory you have an array of notes with certain durations. The most common are:

Whole Note: It is the longest note duration. It means it repeats one time on a beat .

Whole NoteHalf Note: You can think at the half note as a Whole Note divided by two; this simply means it repeats two times in a beat.

Half Note

Quarter Note: If the Half Note was a Whole Note divided by two then, the Quarter Note is a Half Note divided by… yes, you got it, by four. It means you repeat the notes 4 times in a beat.

Quarter Note

Eighth Note: If the Quarter Not… yes, I can hear you, you grabbed the concept, don’t give me that look :). An Eighth Note means you repeat the notes 8 times in a beat.

Eighth Note

Before going on, I would like to stress the importance of the Quarter Note in contemporary music. This is because most songs have the 4/4 time signature; this is the time signature you apply instinctively when you listen a song in the radio; you start tapping your foot with that 1,2,3,4 and 1,2,3,4 feeling.

But of course, it’s a lot easier if you can actually hear how everything is related, for instance, let’s assume we have a song with a tempo of 120 BMP.

How will a Whole Note delay sound?

And a Half Note?

How about a Quarter Note?

Here’s the Eighth Note:

Finally, Dotted Eighth:

Remember, all this delays are referred to the 120 BPM tempo; what this means is that you can pretty much choose the one that suits best for the occasion depending on what you’re trying to play. You also might have noticed that the whole note delay is very long, so, for instance, if the song you’re playing changes chords very quickly, then if you use this setting, your playing can get really muddy. In my experience the most common delay subdivision used are Quarter Notes and above.

So, the logical conclusion would be to ask, how do we apply delay subdivisions? Well, let’s go first with the more straight forward answer. If you have a delay pedal that allows you to choose the subdivisions, then what you have to do is pick the subdivision you want your repeats to be on, tap the tempo (in more pedals 4/5 taps will suffice) and then… well, that’s pretty much it! For instance, the Deluxe Memory Boy has 5 delay time subdivisions (including the extensively sought after dotted eighth). They are:

  • Quarter Note.
  • Dotted Eighth Note.
  • Quarter Note Triplet.
  • Eighth Note.
  • Eighth Note Triplets.
  • Sixtenth Note.

All you have to do is to select one of the aforementioned subdivisions, and tap the rhythm with the tap tempo function, and that will do the job. This is the approach most delay pedals have in order to select time subdivisions (at the end of the post I’m going to put a list with the most common delay units that have this tap tempo and time subdivision feature). Before moving forward I should mention that usually, you have to tap the tempo in quarter notes; it’s the default time subdivision in pretty much every delay pedal out there.

Calculating Delay Subdivisions… The Hard Way

There are various methods to do this, but I believe that the simplest one is to calculate the milliseconds of a song and consequently, adjust your time knob to that. For doing this, where are going to use the formula from Part 1:

60.000/BMP = One Beat in Milliseconds

But we can make some adjustments in order to get the desired tempos for Whole Notes, Half Notes, Quarter Notes, Eight Notes and Dotted Eighth. First we are going to give values to these delay times:

  • Whole Note = 4
  • Half Note = 2
  • Quarter Note = 1
  • Dotted Eighth Note = 0,75
  • Eighth Note = 0,5

So, let’s go back to our 120 BPM example. If you want to play the song with Eighth Notes, you simply apply the formula as follows:

(60.000/120)*0.5 = 250 milliseconds

Now, you just have to adjust the time knob according to the milliseconds and you’re good to go. You can check again Part 1 if you’re not sure about how to manually dial the delay time on your pedal. By the way, did you realize that the value of a Quarter Note is 1? That’s why I was putting some stress on the concept of it; by default is the main time subdivision you’re going to have from the very start.

Before finishing the section, I would also mention that you may have a delay pedal that for instance, does not have a certain subdivision available, like the Dotted Eighth (for instance, the DL4 doesn’t have this directly, you have to mod your unit if you want to have as a preset in the pedal). There are still ways to get your pedal to that setting but it is a little tricky. Nonetheless, I’ve found a video that might help you with that:

One Final Thought

Being able to adjust your delay time to get a certain feel for a song, or just to play with the rhythm is awesome. That’s why it is important that you understand the basic concepts and eventually, when the situation calls, you’re going to be ready for those in-sync repeats. With that being said, I would recommend that if you can afford it, get a unit with tap tempo. I think it will make everything so much easier and straightforward.

As I promised, here’s a list of delay units that have tap tempo function as well as delay time subdivisions (the order of appearance is not important in this case, just so you know :):

  1. Deluxe Memory Man.
  2. Deluxe Memory Boy.
  3. Line 6 DL4.
  4. Boss DD-5.
  5. Boss DD-7.
  6. TC Electronics ND-1.
  7. Strymon DIG.
  8. Diamond Memory Lane Jr.
  9. JHS Pink Panther Delay.
  10. T-Rex Replay Box.

There are many, many others, but for now, you can have those 10 to have fun with.

Until the next time,



One thought on “How to Calculate Delay Times (Part 2)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s