Ah, the age old question for any musician writing original music or interpreting existing music. What is tempo? Is tempo a feeling? Is it speed? Is it a consideration of how one measure links to the other? Or is it how much time we take in between phrases, and how much space we are able to allow between rushing off to a new idea? These are all things we musicians think about a lot, but how is tempo actually used in music? Let’s consider a couple of applications of this curious musical characteristic.
1. Grave: solemn. This word is used to describe a very slow and steady tempo. When something is ‘grave’ then we are really in for a treat of heavily paced music.
2. Lento: lazy. ‘Lento’ is a term depicting when something moves but at the speed of a tired person walking around after a big meal. It is faster than ‘grave’ but still pretty slow.
3. Largo: broadly. Broadly can mean many things, and it most certainly can be applied to a larger scope of phrasing. In the case of tempo markings, ‘largo’ is just a bit faster than ‘lento’.
4. Adagio: stately. When something is ‘adagio’, one expects to be at ease. An ‘adagio’ is a pace that is almost close to the beat of a normal step in walking.
A joyous tempo with a feeling of forward motion is something we think about when talking of ‘allegro’.
5. Andante: measured. When something is ‘andante’ it feels almost as if the BPM aligns with that of walking pace.
6. Moderato: moderately. This term can be easily translated into the English language. ‘Moderato’ literally means moderately, not too fast and not too slow.
7. Allegretto: sprightly. A tempo in between ‘moderato’ and its kin ‘allegro’, ‘allegretto’ is slightly more spirited than your average moderato tempo.
8. Allegro: uplifting. A joyous tempo with a feeling of forward motion is something we think about when talking of ‘allegro’.
9. Vivace: lively. Hold your horses, because things are getting speedy! ‘Vivace’ means fast and is when we really take the tempo to another level.
10. Presto: very fast. Perhaps not the fastest of terms, but certainly up there, ‘presto’ is something we say when we really want to crank up the metronome.
There are many more terms in music describing tempo. Take a look at the following article for some additional notes.