Tempo markings in music tell us how fast or slow to play the music. The word tempo in Italian literally means “rate of speed”. The tempo markings themselves are mostly written in Italian. However, you can find a few periodically in other languages.
Common Tempo Markings In Music
Largo Very slow
Andante Walking speed
Allegro Quickly, fast
Vivace Lively, very fast
You can find most of these tempo markings written at the very beginning of your music, above the first measure on the top left-hand side. They can also be found in other places later in your music to indicate a change of tempo.
Tempo Marking Combinations
Sometimes you can see tempo markings combined with each other.
Allegro Moderato = slightly slower than Allegro, but faster than Moderato
Gradual Change of Tempo
Many times you will see tempo markings right in your music that describe a gradual slow down or speed up of the music.
Italian Term English
ritardando ritard. or rit. gradually slower
accelerando accel. gradually faster
Please note that these terms are not permanent tempo changes. They are simply temporary changes of speeding up or slowing down for musicality purposes.
Ritardando is used a lot at the end of a section or the entire piece. It is a great way to bring closure to the music.
Accelerando is usually found somewhere in the middle of the music to bring excitement, a sense of action, and liveliness.
Good music is generally not static. The interest is created by giving the listener a sense of ”push and pull” throughout the piece.
Musically, a performer may want to slightly speed up in one small section and then immediately pull the tempo back down to a slower pace. This can be a continual process throughout a piece of music making the performer feel as though they are on a little tempo roller coaster ride.
Tempos are Relational
This means that tempos have a varying range. There is not an exact tempo set for each tempo marking. To help you decide just how fast a piece should go after seeing the tempo marking allegro, try playing around with your metronome somewhere in the 120 range.
For one piece, 120 beats per minute on your metronome may be perfect. For other pieces, maybe 116 is more ideal. It all depends on what is appropriate for the style of the piece to retain its full character.
There is no better way to really destroy a good piece music than to play it way to fast or way to slow. A kind of musical intuition will be gained through a lot of experience in playing music of varying styles and tempos and by listening to a large amount of music. Have no fear, you will eventually be able to make decisions on your own as to what an appropriate tempo is and is not for each piece.
What Are Tempo Markings Again?
Tempo markings in music are helpful tools for helping us have an idea of how fast or slow to play the music. Keep in mind that this is only a starting point. It is up to you to make the final decision of what tempo is appropriate each piece. With time and a lot of experience, you will be able to make these decisions a lot faster and easier.