How Fast Should A Piece Of Music Be Played

The tempo of a piece of music is the speed at which it should be played and is an important part of playing music properly. Imagine if you played God Save the Queen for example at twice the speed for example, it just wouldn’t have the same solemnity and Happy Birthday at half speed wouldn’t be such a cheerful thing. Plus of course if you are playing in a group it is imperative that you all play at the same speed or it just sounds like a mess. The tempo is therefore decided upon by the composer and written on the music for musicians to follow.

Often this is indicated above the stave (the five lines upon which music is written) by a note followed by an equal sign and a number. This shows the number of notes in a minute. So if the note shown is a crotchet (a note a single beat long which can also be called a quarter note) then = 120, you know that the speed it should be played at is 120 single beats per minute or 2 a second. Or if it was a minim (a two beat note which can also be called a half note) then = 30 you know that there are 30 mimims to a minute, or 1 minim every 2 seconds.

However, sometimes tempo is not described in this way but by a written, usually single word, description. Occasionally this will be written in English, simply ‘fast’ for example but much more often it will be written in Italian. Some examples are given below.

Adagio – Slow

Allegro – Fast

Allegro non Troppo – not too fast

Andante – Walking tempo

Con Brio – with movement

Giocoso – Playful

Largo – Very slow

Lento – Slow

Moderato – Moderately

Presto – Very quick

You will also get add on words to these such as Molto – Very, Un Poco – a little. So Molto Lento means play very slowly.

Then there are words which describe a change to the tempo for example,

Rallantando – which means to gradually slow down and Ritard – which means immediately slow down to a slower speed and stay playing at that same slow speed. Also Accelerando which means gradually play faster.

Sometimes once the tempo has changed to a second different speed you might later get the indication Tempo Primo. This means go back to playing at the first tempo – speed – that you played at.