Interrelated Dimensions of Music: Tempo

Tempo is the musical term for how fast or slow the music goes.

As with many other musical terms, Italian words are used to describe the different tempos of music. Here are some common tempos:

Adagio - a slow tempo (other words for slow are lento and largo)

Andante - at a walking pace

Moderato - a medium tempo

Allegro - a quick and lively tempo (another common word for fast is vivace)

The tempo is usually written above the first bar on a piece of music and is often alongside a metronome mark which is described using beats per minute or BPM.

BPM = Meats Per Minute

Writing the term for the tempo and the BPM gives the musician reading the music a very clear idea of how it should be played.

Composers may want to change the tempo during a piece of music. There are five main terms which cover changes of tempo that can be written on sheet music:

Rallentando - when music is slowed down

Ritardando - slowing down, holding back

Accelerando - getting gradually faster

A Tempo - return to the original tempo after rallentando, ritardando or accelerando

Rubato - changing tempo and rhythms for expressive effect

Pay attention when playing your music at home, can you spot any tempo markings in your own music?

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