Understanding tempo marking and tempos! (2023)

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When looking at a new piece of music there is almost always a tempo indication at the top of the page. These tempo indications or tempo markings indicate which speed you want to actually play the piece at. These are also called the original tempo of a piece of classical music. Words like allegro or andante or maybe even vivace are all terms for tempo. These tempo instructions are an integral part of musical notation, which tell us when there will be a tempo change. This article will cover everything from common tempo markings to ones which will indicate a new tempo.

Originally, tempo markings were given as the title of a piece or to indicate a particular dance style, but as music progressed into newer venues, the usage of tempo terms also expanded. Understanding how tempo markings work will deepen your knowledge of music and enhance your abilities as a performer and listener of music!

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Understanding tempo marking and tempos! (1)

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What is tempo in music?

Tempo is the word musicians use to describe the speed of the music. A faster tempo in music means a faster speed, while a slower tempo means a slower speed. There are many music terms for tempo. Common tempo markings indicate how a note will be adjusted in the same way that time signatures indicate to us which keys we would play. Different tempos use different words, and many use one or more words, or additional Italian words in order to indicate how the notes will be adjusted relative to the metronome marking.

Most frequently, we use the Italian tempo markings definition, but there are markings for tempo in other languages as well. It is not uncommon to use German tempo markings, or combine common tempo markings with a bpm in English. This way you have both a tempo indication and a functional English indication. Regardless of the tempo of a piece of music, you need to always remember to honor the articulation in music.

Why is tempo important in music?

Tempo in music is important because, without understanding tempo, we would have no idea what speed to play a particular piece of music. For example, the intro to Bohemian Rhapsodyis performed in a slow and dramatic style. This piece would sound completely different and lose its contrasting and dynamic character if the intro was performed quickly. Without understanding how tempo works in music, we would not grasp this important point, and consequently, lose out on some of the most powerful and dynamic aspects of music!

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(Video) Music Theory Lesson Tempo

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Tempo markings in music

There are many different tempo markings in music. We will learn about the most common music terms for tempo first. Most of these Italian tempo markings can be found on the online metronome and can also be found at the beginning of any piece of music above the key signature on the top left side. Here are some common examples of music tempo markings.

Slow tempo markings

Understanding tempo marking and tempos! (2)

  • Grave – Grave (GRAH-vay) is a very slow and solemn tempo between 25-45 beats per minute (bpm). Here is an example of grave in music:

  • Lento/Largo – Lento and largo are two music terms for tempo that mean slowly. Largo is generally thought of as more “broadly” while lento is more “slow”, but they are often used interchangeably to mean a speed between 40-60 bpm. Here is an example of largo in music:

  • Adagio – Adagio literally means “at ease.” Adagio is a tempo marking in music that means gentle and easy and is not too slow or too fast. Adagio generally falls between 66-76 bpm. Here is an example of adagio:

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Moderate tempo markings

Understanding tempo marking and tempos! (3)

  • Andante The term andante means walking speed or a walking pace. Andante is a tempo between 76 and 108 bpm. Here is an example of andante in music:

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  • Moderato Moderato means moderately and is associated with speeds from 108-120 bpm on the metronome. Here is an example of moderato in music:

Fast tempo markingsUnderstanding tempo marking and tempos! (4)

  • Allegro Allegro is thought of as fast, quick, and bright. Think of a sparrow flying in spring or a rock skipping across to water. Allegro includes a wider range on the metronome than the other Italian tempo markings so far. Generally tempos from 120-168 bpm are considered allegro. Here is an example of allegro in music:

  • Vivace Vivace is a step above allegro. Vivace is also light and fast, ranging from 168-176 bpm on the metronome. Have you ever seen a cafe called something like “Vivace” or “Espresso Vivace”? That sort of zippy, caffeinated feeling accurately captures the tempo of vivace.
  • Presto – The final Italian tempo marking we will dive into here is called presto. Presto is extremely fast and light. Anything above 170 bpm can be called presto. Having proper piano technique is critical to playing comfortably at presto. Check out this example of presto from the famous “Flight of the Bumblebee”:

(Video) Tempo 101 | BPM & Italian Markings

More important terminology

It is important to understand a little bit of the history. Tempo indications as we understand them now, first appeared in the Baroque and early Classical periods. Most pieces of music were given titles based on the tempo of the piece. Titles were also given based upon the type of dance that a piece was composed for, or for the musical mode of the piece. Italian is used primarily because Italy was an early hub of music during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but as composers from other regions gained popularity, tempo markings in French, German, and English gained usage as well. Today, you will find music tempo terms in all languages and with many more variations beyond the basic Italian tempo markings, we covered here. Use our tempo markings chart:

Beats per minute in music

Beats per minute or the BPM meaning is simply how many beats will be played per minute by your metronome, or your subdivision. This will have a dramatic impact on tempo depending on which note division your metronome will play. For instance, if your metronome is playing sixteenth notes at 180 beats per minute, the tempo of the music will actually be quarter note is equal to 60, which is a bit slower than you would expect. This tempo marking is actually a slightly slower, almost andante, or walking pace. what note value, or how many different beats, or subdivisions of your own tempo will be represented in each

How do you differentiate the two tempos?

What is different about an allegro at 120 versus an allegro at 160? To differentiate tempos, we often add a few different suffixes or combine two terms together to create a hybrid tempo. The suffixes we add are –issimo, -ino, and –etto.

The suffix -issimo

The suffix -issimo amplifies tempo in music. For example, prestissimo is very, very fast, even faster than presto. Vivacissimo and allegrissimo or both at the faster ends of vivace and allegro, generally 172-176 bpm. Larghissimo is very slow, like a glacier melting or the sands of time-shifting in a forgotten desert.

The suffixes –ino and -etto

The suffixes –ino and -etto diminish a marking. For example, allegretto is a way to describe the slower end of allegro, or tempos that are within 10 bpm of 120 bpm, and larghetto is slightly faster than largo, around 60-66 bpm.

Combining words to make new tempos

At other times, two music tempo terms are combined to form hybrid marking that captures and combines the essences of the two. An example of this is allegro vivace, meaning fast and light around 176 bpm. Andante moderato or allegro moderato are other examples of this hybrid approach. By using these suffixes or hybridizations of tempo markings and changes, we can cover more territory and learn to be more descriptive of our own music-making! Tempo doesn’t just affect rhythm in music or melody in music.

Play tempo markings and changes

How do we describe changing tempos in music? If a song begins adagio, then speeds up to allegro, and ends largo, how will we know this is happening? How can we write this in our own music? Here are the main terms used for speeding up or slowing down tempo:

  • Rallentando – slowing down. Often abbreviated rall.
  • Ritardando – slowing down, but not as pronounced as rallentando. Often abbreviated as rit.
  • Ritenuto – immediately slowing down. Ritenuto can be abbreviated as rit. or riten.
  • Accelerando – speeding up. Often abbreviated accel.
  • Tempo Primo – return to the original tempo, the same speed as the beginning

Practicing Tempo

Learning to practice playing tempo is as simple as using a piano learning app, to make sure you’re always using a metronome and following the note value indicated by the traditional Italian markings. Always make sure that you have your metronome handy, and that you can follow exactly the correct tempo for each subdivision of note. Make sure you are not playing a bit slower than indicated, and try to keep everything written in the musical scores you’re playing as accurate as possible. A great place to start is by using the metronome built directly into the Skoove app, and use the lesson Minor Pentatonic Scales and follow the metronome. Try to start at andante moderato and work all the way up to molto allegro. Rely on using the metronome so that you can build the skill into your fingers.

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Conclusion

Hopefully now you have an adequate answer to the question of what is tempo and how to apply it to your piano keys. Tempo is how musicians refer to the speed and often the feeling of a particular piece of music. Traditionally, tempo markings in music are given in Italian, but they are also common in French, German, English, and just about every other language.

(Video) 7 Common Tempo Markings

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Author of this blog post:

Understanding tempo marking and tempos! (6)

Alvin Shipp is a Multi-Instrumentalist Composer, Performer, Producer, and Educator from Portland, Oregon currently based in Berlin, Germany. He’s worked extensively in the USA and Germany, has released Over 15 Albums. He has been teaching upper-level students for over 15 years, and currently lives as a Freelance Composer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer and Teacher.

Related articles:

  • Dynamic markings in music
  • Rhythm in music: the foundation
  • Time signatures: how music is organized and measured

FAQs

What are the 3 types of tempo markings? ›

Vivace – lively and fast (132–140 BPM) Presto – extremely fast (168–177 BPM) Prestissimo – even faster than Presto (178 BPM and over)

What are the 5 tempo markings? ›

Tempo markings
  • Presto (very fast – ca. 140-170)
  • Allegro (lively – ca. 120-145) NB ca. 2 beats per second.
  • Moderato (moderately – ca. 90-115)
  • Andante (walking pace – ca. 75-105)
  • Adagio (slow and stately – ca. 60-80) NB ca. 1 beat per second.
  • Largo (broadly – ca. 41-60)

What are the 8 tempo marks? ›

Tempo Terms
  • Grave – very slow and solemn (pronounced “GRAH-vay”)
  • Largo – slow and broad (“LAR-go”)
  • Larghetto – not quite as slow as largo (“lar-GET-oh”)
  • Adagio – slow (“uh-DAH-jee-oh”)
  • Lento – slow (“LEN-toe”)
  • Andante – literally “walking”, a medium slow tempo (“on-DON-tay”)

How do you teach tempo in music? ›

Lead the students around the room in a circle or a line, demonstrating how you can speed up or slow down the tempo. Once kids are "on board" with this activity, have them take turns leading the train. Kids love a chance to conduct a piece of music. You can have all of the kids do this at once with a recorded piece.

How do I find BPM of a song? ›

There are several BPM databases available that provide data on many of the most popular tracks. Search for the title of your song to see if a matching track comes up.
...
Look for your song in a BPM database.
  1. Tunebat.com.
  2. Songbpm.com.
  3. BPMdatabase.com.

Which 5 tempo markings are listed from slowest to fastest? ›

From slowest to fastest:
  • Larghissimo – very, very slow (24 BPM and under)
  • Grave – slow and solemn (25–45 BPM)
  • Lento – very slow (40–60 BPM)
  • Largo – slowly (45–50 BPM)
  • Larghetto – quite broadly (60–69 BPM)
  • Adagio – slow and stately (66–76 BPM)
  • Adagietto – quite slow (72–76 BPM)
  • Andante – at a walking pace (76–108 BPM)

What are the 4 types of tempo? ›

Typically, tempo is measured according to beats per minute (bpm) and is divided into prestissimo (>200 bpm), presto (168–200 bpm), allegro (120–168 bpm), moderato (108–120 bpm), andante (76–108 bpm), adagio (66–76 bpm), larghetto (60–66 bpm), and largo (40–60 bpm) (Fernández-Sotos et al., 2016).

What is the tempo ABCD? ›

ABCD is a very emotional song by Zeamsone with a tempo of 140 BPM. It can also be used half-time at 70 BPM or double-time at 280 BPM. The track runs 3 minutes and 56 seconds long with a C♯/D♭ key and a major mode.

What are the 4 tempos in music? ›

Types of Tempo in Music
  • Largo (40-60 bpm) Largo tempo can be translated as “at ease”, and is used when a composer wants the music to sound relaxed. ...
  • Adagio (66-76 bpm) Adagio means to play slowly, calmly, and at ease, and with an average speed of around 70 BPM. ...
  • Moderato (108-120 bpm) ...
  • Presto (168-200 bpm)
30 Nov 2021

What is the 4 4 tempo called? ›

The time signature of a piece of music indicates how many beats are in each measure, and what note value is equivalent to a beat. The most common meter in music is 4/4. It's so popular that it is often referred to as “common time”.

What are the symbols of tempo? ›

Tempo is usually measured in quarter-notes per minute (or qpm), and indicated in staff notation with a quarter-note symbol and equals sign as shown below in the traditional song Hatikvoh. Up to now, all of our other sample pieces have also been played at a tempo of 120 qpm, though this has not been indicated.

What are the most common tempo markings? ›

What Are the Basic Tempo Markings?
  • Larghissimo—very, very slow, almost droning (20 BPM and below)
  • Grave—slow and solemn (20–40 BPM)
  • Lento—slowly (40–60 BPM)
  • Largo—the most commonly indicated “slow” tempo (40–60 BPM)
  • Larghetto—rather broadly, and still quite slow (60–66 BPM)
5 Aug 2021

How do you explain a tempo? ›

In music, tempo refers to a specific number of beats that occur within a minute. This measure of time states the speed at which music is played in beats per minute or BPM. A tempo of 120 BPM will have exactly beats per minute.

How do you know if the tempo is fast slow or moderate? ›

Tempo os speed is measure in beats per second. If the number of beats is higher in a second then the tempo will be fast but if the beats are lower then the tempo will be slow. If the betas per second are neither higher nor lower than tempo will be moderate.

How do you explain tempo to a child? ›

The word tempo means 'rate or speed'; in other words, it's how fast or slow something is happening. If you walk, you are moving at a slow tempo.

What BPM is most hit songs? ›

90-99 BPM is the most popular tempo range.

What is the most common BPM for songs? ›

Most of today's popular songs are written in a tempo range of 100 to 140 BPM. For example, "Beat It" by Michael Jackson clocks in at 138 BPM while "Dancing Queen" by ABBA is exactly 100 BPM. Many songwriters consider 120 BPM to be the perfect tempo for crafting a hit.

Does BPM matter music? ›

The greater the BPM, the smaller the amount of time between successive beats. The tempo determines the speed the music is performed at – so, when you count how many beats are in one minute of a song played at a specific tempo, you can work out the beats per minute.

Which is the proper order of tempos moving from slowest to fastest? ›

Name all 7 tempo marking terms, in order from slowest to fastest. Largo, Adagio, Andante, Moderato, Allegro, Vivace, and Presto.

What is the slowest tempo called? ›

A slow tempo is considered – largo (40–60 bpm), larghetto (60–66 bpm) and adagio (66–76 bpm). These 3 fall into the category of what is known as a 'slow tempo' in music. Slow tempos are typically anything below 80 beats per minute.

What tempo is Grazioso? ›

In music, andante grazioso indicates a tempo that is slow and graceful. The andante tempo is a slow and leisurely one, often referred to as the walking pace, and usually clocks in around 76-108 beats per minute (bpm).

What tempo is R and B? ›

By analyzing the data above, we found that the average bpm of R&B music is 109bpm, with most of the songs falling between 80-120BPM. There are some outliers that have high BPMs of 170, however, although written by an R&B artist, these tracks themselves do not fall directly into the category of R&B.

What does C tempo mean? ›

The c. stands for circa which means about or approximately. You may also see it as ca. Pretty much it means means that you should play the piece around a tempo of 108 bpm.

What is a 7 8 tempo? ›

7/8 time contains two simple beats and one compound beat. Again, the order of the beats does not matter. The compound beat can even be positioned between two simple beats.

How many BPM is a tempo? ›

A tempo marking lets you know the speed (called tempo) at which the composer wants a piece of music performed. Tempo markings are usually written as a word that corresponds with a number, which you will see below, or in beats per minute (bpm). For example, Allegro means fast and is a tempo between 120 bpm and 168 bpm.

What is 3/4 rhythm called? ›

(rhythmic drumming) One, two, three, one, two, three. Three-four time is common for waltzes, ballads, and even some hymns, like Amazing Grace. One, two, three, one, two, three. ♫ Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound Three-four is sometimes called triple meter.

What is a 1/4 beat called? ›

A quarter note is a single note that covers one-quarter of a 4-beat measure. An eighth note covers 1/8th of a 4-beat measure. A sixteenth note covers 1/16th of a 4-beat measure.

What are 4 beat notes called? ›

WHOLE NOTES OR SEMIBREVE

Because 4/4 time has four beats in a measure, this means a whole note lasts four beats. A whole note looks like a big empty oval, nice and whole.

What is 4 beats in a measure called? ›

Example 11 shows a rhythm in a 44 time signature, which is a simple quadruple meter. This time signature means that there are four beats per measure (the top 4) and that the quarter note gets the beat (the bottom 4). In each measure, each quarter note gets a count, expressed with Arabic numerals —”1, 2, 3, 4.”

What is the tempo marking? ›

Tempo marks indicate how fast music is played, often with a combination of text instructions and metronome marks. They are also known as tempo changes , tempo indications , and tempo markings . A tempo mark can show text instructions, a metronome mark, or a combination of the two.

What do tempo numbers mean? ›

Put simply, tempo refers to how quickly you lift the weight for each repetition of an exercise. Each exercise will have it's own tempo guide which is made up of four numbers. These four numbers are used to help breakdown each of the different phases of a single repetition.

What is a 4010 tempo? ›

Put simply, a 1-0-4-0 tempo is: 1 second on the positive movement. 4 seconds on the negative movement. With 0 second pauses at the top and bottom.

What is a 4020 tempo? ›

To hit this ideal tempo range, you can use the following tempo: 4020. This essentially means it would take you 6 seconds to perform 1 rep, and 30 seconds to complete a set, which is within the 30-40 second window.

What does 10X0 tempo mean? ›

Bodyweight Squat 3 x 10 reps [10X0] – Rest 30 seconds between sets. This example would be moving much more quickly into the bottom of the squat over 1 second, then moving back to the starting position and quick as possible (“X” = quickly as possible or explosive) with no pause at the top or bottom.

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