Now we know that the beat is the constant pulse that underlies the music and the meter is how those beats are organized, but there is one final element we should mention: tempo - how fast the beats should go. There are two primary indications for this:
Tempo simply defines the speed of the beat in a piece of music. Virtually any piece of music you encounter is likely to have a tempo marking included at the beginning of the work. Most times these are an Italian word or phrase that help to define the tempo of the music, and often its mood. Why Italian? Much of our notation system was created in Italy, and over time, Italian became the traditional language of music notation.
Frequently, a tempo marking is found just above the time signature at the beginning of a piece (as in the image above). You may see additional tempo markings throughout any given piece, especially if the piece speeds up or slows down frequently. Some of the most common tempo markings are Andante (a medium speed), Allegro (a faster speed AND happy), and Largo (meaning long or broad, in other words, slow).
Tempo markings are always somewhat ambiguous; you are likely to hear two performers play the same piece with the same tempo marking at different speeds. This ambiguity is generally seen as a good thing, it leaves lots of room for the performer's personal interpretation. The coming assignment will ask you to identify some common tempo markings. Ready to memorize some Italian?
|Tempo Marking||Translation/Meaning||General Tempo Category|
|Larghetto||Broad, diminutive of Largo||Slow|
|Andantino||Walking, diminutive of Andante||Medium|
|Allegretto||Happy, diminutive of Allegro||Medium|
These are also good to be acquainted with. Below are a common set of terms that are used change or adjust the tempo in some way.
|Ritardando||Gradually slowing down|
|Rallentando||Gradually slowing down|
|Allargando||Getting broader, slowing down|
|Meno mosso||Less movement, slower|
|Più mosso||More movement, faster|
|Più animato||More animated, faster|
|Accelerando||Gradually speeding up|
|Stringendo||Squeezing together, speeding up|
A metronome produces an audible click at a specific interval of time, which can be set by the player. It was patented in 1815, during Beethoven's lifetime, by Johann Maelzel. It allows the user to set the tempo of the metronome's click to a specific number of beats per minute (BPM). For example, 60 beats per minute means that there is one beat per second.
In a musical score, you will often see a metronome marking placed next to the tempo marking as a secondary indication of the tempo. When a metronome marking is placed in a piece of music it has two elements: the note that gets the beat (a quarter note, an eighth note, etc.) and a number for the beats per minute (BPM). This example shows a metronome marking where a quarter note beat is at a tempo of 120 beats per minute (two beats per second).