On this page:
Introduction to Tempo
Metronome Markings
Italian Terms
Changing the speed
Further Terms

Speed in music

Tempo markings tell us whether the music is slow, fast, at walking pace, getting faster or slower.  They are written above the stave as you will see in the free videos and images below.  

One way to tell a performer how fast the music should go is to use a metronome mark.  A metronome mark tells you how many beats there are per minute, and what type of beats they are.

crotchet/quarter note = 80

This means 80 crotchet/quarter note beats per minute.

minim/half note = 40

This means 40 minim/half note beats per minute.

Watch the free video below to see demonstrations of different metronome markings:

Return to the top of the page

We also use Italian terms and abbreviations:

larghissimo – very, very slow 
grave – slow and solemn 
lento – slowly 
largo – broadly 
larghetto – rather broadly 
adagio – slow and stately 
adagietto – rather slow 
andante moderato – a bit slower than andante 
andante – at a walking pace 
andantino – slightly faster OR slower than andante 
marcia moderato – moderately, in the manner of a march
moderato – moderately 
allegretto – moderately fast
allegro – fast, quickly and bright 
vivace – lively and fast 
vivacissimo – very fast and lively 
allegrissimo – very fast
presto – extremely fast 
prestissimo – even faster than presto

Here is a free video demonstration of some of the above:

Return to the top of the page

Changing the tempo

accelerando (accel.) – gradually accelerating
allargando – growing broader; decreasing speed
calando – going slower (and usually also softer)
doppio movimento / doppio più mosso – double speed
doppio più lento – half speed
lentando – gradual slowing and softer
meno mosso – less movement or slower
mosso – movement, more lively, faster 
più mosso – more movement, faster (more than just mosso)
precipitando – hurrying, going faster
rallentando (rall.) – gradual slowing down 
ritardando (ritard., rit.) – gradual slowing down
ritenuto (riten., rit.) – slightly slower; temporarily holding back. rubato – change the speed freely for expressive purposes
stretto – faster speed 
stringendo – getting faster and faster

Here is a free video demonstration of some of the above.  Note the dashed lines that show where the accel. and rit. begin and end:

Return to the top of the page

Further terms

alla - in the style of (e.g. alla marcia - in the style of a march)
A piacere – the speed and rhythm are left up to the performer 

assai – very much, as in allegro assai, quite fast
 – much, very, as in molto allegro, very quick 
non troppo – not too much, as in allegro non troppo, fast but not too much
non tanto – not so much
più – more, as in più allegro, more quickly
piuttosto – rather, as in piuttosto allegro, rather quick
poco – slightly, little, as in poco adagio
poco a poco – little by little
quasi – almost, nearly, as if, as in più allegro quasi presto, faster, as if presto
senza – without, as in senza interruzione, without interruption or pause

Here is a free video demonstration of some of the above:

Return to the top of the page

Home>Music Theory>Tempo

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.