Tempo is the speed at which a piece of music is performed. It is measured in beats per minute (BPM).

A tempo marking is usually placed at the beginning of a piece or anywhere a new tempo is to occur.

Figure 1: A tempo marking written at the beginning of a piece.

Tempo Notation

Tempo notation is a vocabulary of terms used to generally describe the pace of a song.

They are all in Italian simply because they came into use around 1600-1750, a time when the bulk of European music came from Italian composers.

Figure 2: A tempo notation mark written at the beginning of a piece.

The following is a list of tempo notation marks with their corresponding tempos:

Tempo Notation Mark Description
Grave The slowest pace. Very formal and very, very slow.
Largo Funeral march slow. Very serious and somber.
Larghetto Slow, but not as slow as largo.
Lento Slow.
Adagio Leisurely. Think graduation and wedding marches.
Andante Walking pace. Close to the original minim.
Andantio Slightly faster than andante. Think Pasty Cline's "Walking After Midnight," or any other lonely cowboy ballad you can think of.
Moderato Right smack in the middle. Not fast or slow, just moderate.
Allegretto Moderately fast.
Allegro Quick, brisk, galloping along.
Vivace Lively, fast.
Presto Very fast.
Prestissimo Think "Flight of the Bumblebee."

Also see Expression Marks | Tuplets.

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