Metronome Tempo Markings

Most tempos are written in Italian, so how fast are they in BPM?

how to read time signatures in music
written by andrew swinney

By: Andrew Swinney

What is a tempo marking?

A tempo marking lets you know the speed 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.
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.

Slow Tempos

  • Larghissimo - very, very slow (20 bpm and below)
  • Solenne/Grave - slow and solemn (20-40 bpm)
  • Lento - slowly (40-60 bpm)
  • Lentissimo - (slower than 48 bpm)
  • Largo - broadly (40-60 bpm)
  • Larghetto - rather broadly (60-66 bpm)
  • Adagio - slow and stately (literally, “at ease”) (66-76 bpm)
  • Adagietto - rather slow (70-80 bpm)
  • Tranquillo - (80)
  • Andante moderato - a bit slower than andante

Moderate Tempos

  • Andante - at a walking pace (76-108 bpm)
  • Andantino - slightly faster than andante
  • Moderato - moderately (108-120 bpm)
  • Allegretto - moderately fast (but less so than allegro)

Fast Tempos

  • Allegro moderato - moderately quick, almost Allegro (116-120 bpm)
  • Allegro - fast, quickly and bright (120-156 bpm)
  • Vivace - lively and fast (156-176 bpm)
  • Vivacissimo - very fast and lively (172 - 176)
  • Allegrissimo or Allegro vivace - very fast (172 - 176)
  • Presto - very, very fast (168-200 bpm)
  • Prestissimo - faster than Presto (200bpm+)

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. Très 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 più 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 expressive purposes
  • Stringendo - pressing on faster, literally “tightening”
  • Tardando - slowing down gradually (same as ritardando)
  • Tempo Giusto - very strict tempo
  • Tempo Primo - resume the original tempo