Tempo

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The first two measures of Mozart's Sonata XI, which indicates the tempo as "Andante grazioso" and a modern editor's metronome marking: " = 120".

Tempo (Italian for 'time, movement') is the speed of a song or piece of music. Pieces can alternate between tempos. For an example, "She" by The Monkees is sometimes fast but sometimes slower.

Basic tempo markings[change | change source]

From slowest to fastest:

  • Larghissimo – very, very slow (19 BPM and under)
  • Grave – slow and solemn (20–40 BPM)
  • Lento – slowly (40–45 BPM)
  • Largo – wide (45–50 BPM)
  • Larghetto – quite broadly (50–55 BPM)
  • Adagio – slow and stately (55–65 BPM)
  • Adagietto – quite slow (65–69 BPM)
  • Andante moderato – a bit slower than andante (69–72 BPM)
  • Andante – at a walking pace (73–77 BPM)
  • Andantino – quite faster than andante (but some cases it means a bit slower than andante) (78–83 BPM)
  • Marcia moderato – moderately, in the style of a march[1][2] (83–85 BPM)
  • Moderato – moderately (86–97 BPM)
  • Allegretto – moderately fast (98–109 BPM)
  • Allegro – fast, quickly and bright (109–132 BPM)
  • Vivace – lively and fast (132–140 BPM)
  • Vivacissimo – very fast and lively (140–150 BPM)
  • Allegrissimo – very fast (150–167 BPM)
  • Presto – extremely fast (168–177 BPM)
  • Prestissimo – even faster than Presto (178 BPM and over)

Terms for tempo change:

  • Ritardando – little by little slowing down
  • Accelerando – gradually accelerating

Additional terms[change | change source]

  • A piacere – literally "at pleasure"[3]
  • A tempo – at the same speed from the beginning
  • L'istesso tempo or Lo stesso tempo – at the same speed
  • Tempo comodo – at a comfortable (normal) speed
  • Tempo di... – the speed of a ... (such as Tempo di valse (speed of a waltz, ≈60 bpm), Tempo di marcia (speed of a march, ≈120 bpm))
  • Tempo semplice – simple, regular speed, plainly

Common qualifiers[change | change source]

  • alla – in the manner or style of, as in:
    • alla breve – in short style,
    • alla marcia – in the style of a march[4] (e.g., Beethoven, op. 101)
    • all' ongarese – in Hungarian style
    • alla (danza) tedesca – in the style of the Ländler (c. 1800), and similar dances in rather quick triple meter (see Beethoven, op. 79, op. 130)[5]
    • alla turca – in the Turkish style, that is, in imitation of Turkish military music (Janizary music), which became popular in Europe in the late 18th century (e.g., Mozart, K. 331, K. 384)
    • alla zingarese – in the style of Gypsy music
  • assai – very much, as in allegro assai, quite fast[6]
  • ben – well, as in ben marcato (well marked or accented)
  • con – with,
    • con bravura – with skill[7]
    • con brio – with vigor and spirit[8]
    • con fuoco – with fire
    • con moto – with motion
  • fugato – in fugal style,
  • in modo – in the style of, in the style of: in modo napolitano (in Neapolitan style), in modo di marcia funebre (in the style of a funeral march)
  • meno – less, as in meno mosso (less quickly)[9]
  • appena – almost none,
  • misterioso – mysterious
  • molto – much, very, as in molto allegro (very quick) or molto adagio (very slow)[10]
  • non troppo – not too much, e.g. allegro non troppo (or allegro ma non troppo) means "fast, but not too much"
  • non tanto – not so much
  • più – more, as in più allegro (more quickly);
  • poco – little, as in Poco adagio
  • poco a poco – little by little, bit by bit
  • quasi – like a ... (Più allegro quasi presto, "faster, like presto")
  • senza – without, as in senza interruzione (without pause), senza tempo
  • sostenuto – sustained, prolonged
  • subito – suddenly

References[change | change source]

  1. American Symphony Orchestra League (1998). Journal of the Conductors' Guild, Vols. 18–19. Viena: The League. p. 27. ISSN 0734-1032
  2. Caplin, William E.; Hepokoski, James; Webster, James; Berge, Pieter (2010). Musical Form, Forms & Formenlehre: Three Methodological Reflections. Leuven University Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-90-5867-822-5.
  3. Apel (1969), p. 42; for the literal translation see the online Italian-English dictionary at WordReference.com.
  4. Apel (1969), p. 505.
  5. Apel (1969), p. 834.
  6. Apel (1969), p. 61.
  7. Online Italian-English dictionary at WordReference.com.
  8. Apel (1969), p. 112.
  9. Apel (1969), p. 520.
  10. Apel (1969), p. 537.