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Sormelharf Home > Rhythm > Tempo

A Basic Introduction to Rhythm

Part 2: Tempo

Tempo is the speed of the beat. We describe tempo with terms like fast, slow, or moderate. Often in printed music, tempos are indicated by Italian terms like adagio, andante, and allegro.

Scientifically, we measure tempo by beats per minute, which is often abbreviated by the letters BPM. The metronome is a device which produces a repetitive clicking or beeping sound at a steady tempo. The numbers on the metronome indicate how many beats per minute at which it is clicking. The higher the number, the faster the tempo.

For a great online metronome, visit MetronomeBot. That section of the site has metronomes that click as well as metronomes that speak each beat.

In the examples below, the music is exactly the same, except for one thing -- each example is played at a different tempo. These examples show what a strong effect that tempo can have on a piece of music. When played at a slow tempo, the music is fairly calm and almost relaxing. When played at a fast tempo it is exciting and energetic.

Here are some of the standard Italian tempo markings, and their English translations.

largo = very slow, broad tempo
adagio = slow tempo
andante = moderate walking tempo
moderato = moderate tempo
allegro = fast tempo
vivace = quick, lively tempo

Our next section on rhythm explains rhythmic notation.

Sormelharf Home > Rhythm > Tempo

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