No matter what instrument you play, you should know a bit about beat and melody or even harmony. While many are familiar with these terms, not everyone can understand the differences between the most basic musical elements, tempo, and rhythm. In this post we’ll learn all about what is tempo in music theory, tempo marking as well as temple changing.
What is Tempo in music?
A key element in a musical performance is the tempo. Tempo can be as important as melody, harmony, rhythm lyrics, and dynamics in a piece of music. Classical conductors will use different tempos to distinguish their orchestra’s performance from other ensembles.
Most composers, from Mozart to Pierre Boulez provide plenty of tempo guidance in their musical scores. Certain tempos are important when creating certain moods in film underscore.
The “heart rate rhythm tempo” is one of the most notable tempos. This is a musical pace that approximates the beat of the human heart.
Although heart rates can vary between people, the majority of them fall within 120 to 130 beats per minute. Analyses have shown that this range has been the source of a large number of hit singles.
Tempo describes the speed at which music is played. Beats per minute (BPM), Italian terminology, and modern language are the main ways that players can be told tempo.
Did your foot tap along to the “Summer” song? If you answered yes, then your foot is likely tapping along to the beat or pulse of the music.
Tempo refers to how fast or slow beats are. It is measured in Beats per Minute (or BPM) for short. A song that has a BPM of 100 is a song that contains 100 beats per minute. This means the song can be played in one minute using a stopwatch. A metronome is a device that clicks at different intervals in order to determine the BPM of a piece of music.
A faster piece, such as Vivaldi’s “Summer”, will have a higher BPM. This means it can fit more beats into its music in a single minute than a slower one.
You can indicate the BPM in a piece of music by writing it as a note, like a whole and a half note. Then follow with a number such as shown below.
This equation tells us to play 70 quarter note per minute, but you can have any note or any number.
Tempo is described using terminology
Italian has been the language used to create music for centuries. Instructions in Italian are used to guide musicians on a musical score, especially in classical music. Certain Italian words refer to the tempo. They convey the change in the music’s speed through specific language.
Specific tempos in Italy are more popular than others, such as largo, andante and allegro and presto. However, classical musicians are usually familiar with at least 12 tempo indications for Italian music. (Note: Tempo instructions in Latin may be included in ancient liturgical texts and musical scores.
Tempo can be used as a musical term in place of a beats per minute mark.
As we have already covered, performance directions that indicate tempo can be found in many languages, but the most common music theory is likely to be Italian. So we’ll start with them.
Below is a list of the most common terms used in Italy for tempo. It also includes their English meaning and approximate beats per minute.
List of Italian Tempo Terms
- Grave: very slow, solemnly (25–45 bpm)
- Largo: broadly (40–60 beats per minute)
- Lento: slowly (45–60 bpm)
- Adagio: slowly, with great expression (66–76 bpm)
- Andante: at a walking pace (76–108 bpm)
- Moderato: at a moderate speed (98–112 bpm)
- Allegro: fast, quickly, and bright (120–156 bpm)
- Vivace: lively and fast (156–176 bpm)
- Presto: very, very fast (168–200 bpm)
List of French and German Tempo Terms
It is also possible to see words in French or German.
Although they may use other words, their translations might differ slightly; they all signify the same Italian word.
Here are some standard standards terms that you might find in French or German tempo markings.
- Kräftig: vigorous or powerful
- Langsam: slowly
- Lebhaft: lively (mood)
- Mäßig: moderately
- Rasch: quickly
- Schnell: fast
- Bewegt: animated, with motion
- Grave slowly and solemnly
- Lent slowly
- Modéré at a moderate tempo
- Rapide fast
- Vif lively
- Vite fast
You will need to know the following terms if you are going to take a music theory exam.
English Tempo Terms
Pop and jazz use more modern terms. These are mostly in English.
The primary English tempo markings you may come across in English are:
- Laid back
- Steady rock
Some words can be added to the regular tempo markings in French, German, and Italian. We could, for example, use the English word fast instead of using it to describe fast tempos.
Italian suffixes include ‘-etto, which means less, and the suffix ‘issimo, which can mean more or less.
Side note: This is the same “-issimo” we use in dynamics to give us pianissimo and fortissimo.
Larghetto, for example, means “somewhat broad (60-66 BPM),” and Prestissimo, “even faster than presto (220 Beat per minute and more)”.
These musical terms in French are Moins Vite (less) or Tres Vif (very). These terms are Moins Vite, ‘less fast,’ and Tres Vif, ‘ very energetic.’
These terms can be translated to German as Etwas (somewhat, or a little) and Sehr (very). Etwas Schnell, for example, means “somewhat fast,” and Sehr Langsam, “very slowly.”
Below are some additional tempo markings that you may see.
- A piacere: At pleasure
- Con moto: ‘With movement’.
- Assai: (very) much
- L’istesso: at the same speed
- Ma non troppo: but not too much
- Molto: very
- Poco: a little
- Subito: suddenly
- Tempo comodo: at a comfortable (normal) speed
- Tempo di…: at the speed of a …
- Tempo giusto: at a consistent speed, in strict tempo
- Tempo semplice: simple, regular speed, plainly
What are the basic tempo markings?
Tempo marking is used to describe tempo of a piece, not a precise bpm. Actual speed interpretation of each tempo mark is possible. Italian music terminology uses the following tempo markings regularly:
- Larghissimo – Very slow tempo and almost droning (20 BPM or below).
- Grave–slow, solemn (20-40 BPM).
- Lento–slowly (30-60 BPM).
- Largo–the “slowest” tempo (40-60 BPM).
- Larghetto–so it is more general and slower (60-66 BPM).
- Adagio is another popular slow tempo that means “at ease” (66-76 BPM).
- Adagietto is a slower (70-80 BPM).
- Andante moderato – a little slower than andante
- Andante–a popular tempo that translates to “at a walking speed” (76-108 BPM).
- Andantino–slightly faster than andante
- Moderato-moderately (108-120 BPM).
- Allegretto–moderately fast (but less so than allegro)
- Allegro moderato–moderately quick (112-124 BPM)
- Allegro is the most commonly used tempo marking (120-168 BPM), which includes the “heartbeat pace” sweet spot.
- Vivace–lively and fast (typically around 161-176 BPM).
- Vivacissimo – Very fast and lively, even quicker than vivace
- Allegrissimo – very fast tempo
- Presto–a popular way to write “very quickly” and common tempo markings for fast movements in symphonies. It ranges from 168-200 BPM.
- Prestissimo–extremely fast tempo (more than 200 BPM)
The last thing you need to know about the tempo of a piece of music is that it isn’t a fixed thing. It can change.
Tempos can change and a new tempo is created above the measure.
Pop music is often at a fixed pace. This means that the song starts and ends at the same time, which is consistent throughout. However, in many other music genres, the tempo can change throughout the piece of music.
Many classical music symphonies are composed of multiple movements. Each movement begins with a different tempo.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor has four movements, each with a different tempo.
- 1st Movement: Allegro
- 2nd Movement: Vive
- 3rd Movement: Adagio
- 4th Movement: Presto
Tempo can also change in the music, without it stopping or starting.
It can accelerate (accelerate) or slow down (decelerate).
The composer may indicate these tempo changes, but the performer can create their interpretation and impression of the piece.
Here is a list listing all terms that a composer might use to tell the player how they want to change the own tempo.
- Accelerando (accel.): speeding up
- Allargando: growing broader or decreasing tempo, usually near the end of a piece
- Doppio più mosso: double-speed
- Doppio più lento: half-speed
- Lentando: gradually slowing and softer
- Meno mosso: less movement; slower
- Meno moto: less motion
- Più mosso: more movement; faster
- Rallentando (rall.): a gradual slowing down
- Ritardando (rit.): slowing down gradually
- Rubato: ‘Theft’. Free adjustment of tempo for expressive purposes,’ and the player may choose to flex or completely disregard a steady tempo in order to do so
- Tempo Primo: resume the original tempo
- A tempo: resume previous tempo
What is Tempo important?
Music’s most fundamental characteristic is its tempo. Music that is tempo-controlled can be dance music, while slower music will have a more emotional response. You can see the impact tempo has on your music by listening to a slower or faster version of it (it’s all available on YouTube).
How to identify Tempo
The tempo of sheet music is usually located at the top right-hand corner of the page, just below the title. Although it is almost always written in Italian, the metronomes usually have a setting for translation. Some people actually use the term “Metronome marking” to describe bpm.
It is very simple to determine the song’s tempo by tapping your feet or clapping. You can find metronome apps and websites that have a tap feature. This will give you a button to tap the music in time, and the computer will convert it into a Beats per minute (bpm) number.
It’s all about tempo in music! Fidlar hopes you found this article useful. We’ve certainly had a great time putting it together. Let us know if you have any questions about what you’ve read here or for more info on our musical services.