Common Tempo Markings In Music

    Most tempo markings are in Italian, French, or German. We've translated them and show the bpm.

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    What is a tempo marking?

    A tempo marking lets you know the speed (called tempo) at which the composer wants a piece of music performed. Tempo markings are usually written as a word that corresponds with a number, which you will see below, or in beats per minute (bpm). For example, Allegro means fast and is a tempo between 120 bpm and 168 bpm. The composer could write Allegro or 120bpm. Notice that I wrote "between 120 and 168 beats per minute," as it is very common for tempo markings to encompass a range. The musician or conductor is free to choose where in this range the piece is performed.

    If the tempo is written just as beats per minute, the composer will show you which note value is receiving the beat. For example, in common time, the quarter note received the beat. Composers would notate the tempo as Quarter note = 120bpm.

    You'll see tempo markings most often written in Italian. Here is a list of common tempo markings and their metronome mark range. You'll notice that many of the words end with -issimo or -etto. -issimo means "extremely" and -etto meaning a "lesser version" of. A great example of this is with Largo (slow); Larghissimo is extremely slow and Larghetto is less slow (or faster) than Largo.

    Italian Tempo Marking

    Slow Tempo Markings

    Tempo MarkingTranslationBeats Per Minute
    LarghissimoVery, very slow20 bpm or slower
    Solenne/GraveSlow and solemn20 - 40 bpm
    LentoSlowly40 - 60 bpm
    LentissimoAt a very slow tempo48 bpm or slower
    LargoBroadly40 - 60 bpm
    LarghettoRather broadly60 - 66 bpm
    AdagioAt ease, slow and stately66 - 76 bpm
    AdagiettoRather slow70 - 80 bpm
    TranquilloTranquil, calmly, or peaceful80 bpm
    Andante moderatoA bit slower than Andante92 - 98 bpm

    Moderate Tempo Markings

    Tempo MarkingTranslationBeats Per Minute
    AndanteAt a walking pace, moderately slow72 - 76 bpm
    AndantinoSlighlty faster and more light-hearted than Andante73 - 83 bpm
    ModeratoModerately108 - 120 bpm
    AllegrettoModerately fast, but less than allegro100 - 128 bpm

    Fast Tempo Markings

    Tempo MarkingTranslationBeats Per Minute
    Allegro moderatoModerately quick, almost Allegro116 - 120 bpm
    AllegroFast, quickly and bright120 - 156 bpm
    VivaceBriskly, Lively and fast156 - 176 bpm
    VivacissimoVery fast and lively, faster than Vivace172 - 176 bpm
    Allegrissimo or Allegro vivaceVery Fast172 - 176 bpm
    PrestoVery, very fast168 - 200 bpm
    PrestissimoFaster than Presto200+ bpm

    Sometimes you will see the tempo written in the native language of the composer (typically French, German, or English).

    French Tempo Markings

    • Au mouvement - play the original or main tempo
    • Grave - slowly and solemnly
    • Largement - slowly
    • Lento - slowly
    • Modere - moderate tempo
    • Rapide - fast
    • Vif - lively
    • Vite - fast These two words are modifiers for tempos. You'll see them before the tempos defined above. Moins - less Tres - very Take the tempo marking of vif, which means lively. Tres vif would mean very lively. Moins vif would mean less lively.

    German Tempo Markings

    • Kraftig - vigorous or powerful
    • Langsam - slowly
    • etwas breit
    • Lebhaft - lively (mood)
    • MaBig - moderately
    • Rasch - quickly
    • Schnell - fast
    • Bewegt - animated, with motion

    Terms for Changes in Tempo

    Tempos will usually vary during a piece of music. This can happen gradually or all of a sudden. Here are some musical terms you might see that indicate a change in tempo:

    • Accelerando - gradual speeding up (abbreviation: accel.)
    • Allargando - growing broader or decreasing in tempo
    • Calando - going slower (and usually also softer)
    • Doppio movimento / doppio piu mosso - double-speed
    • Doppio piu lento - half-speed
    • Lentando - gradually slowing, and softer
    • Meno mosso - less movement; slower
    • Meno moto - less motion
    • Piu mosso - more movement; faster
    • Mosso - movement, more lively; quicker, much like piu mosso, but not as extreme
    • Precipitando - hurrying; going faster/forward
    • Rallentando (often written as rall.) - a gradual slowing down
    • Ritardando (often written as rit.) - gradual slowing down
    • Ritenuto - slightly slower, but achieved more immediately
    • Rubato - free adjustment of (slowing) the tempo for an expressive purpose
    • Stringendo - pressing on faster, literally "tightening"
    • Tardando - slowing down gradually (same as ritardando)
    • Tempo Giusto - very strict tempo
    • Tempo Primo - resume the original tempo

    Practicing Tempo

    A common mistake students make when practicing music is to set their metronome to the tempo marking and try to play it. If the passage is simple, this might work (but then why are you practicing it?), but a smarter approach is to set your metronome at least 20 bpm slower.

    Try playing the passage at this slower tempo and see if you can play it perfectly. If you can, then increase the tempo by 2 to 4 BPM and then play through it again. Repeat this process unit you can play the passage perfectly 12 BPM faster than the tempo marking in the music. This will ensure you have the dexterity to play confidently play through it during a performance.