Beginner Violin Tips

Tempo – How to Read Sheet Music

The word Tempo means Time in Italian. What it refers to is how fast or slow the piece of music should be played. This can be notated in several ways, usually as either a beat marking (e.g. quarter note = 120 beats per minute (BPM)) or as an Italian word which can indicate not just speed but mood.

The best way to get used to different tempo markings is to get a violin metronome. Here are some common tempos and their approximate speed, listed from slow to fast:

  • Common Tempos:
    • Grave = very slow, solemn
    • Largo = slow and broad
    • Adagio = slow
    • Lento = slow
    • Andante = walking pace, medium speed
    • Moderato = moderate speed
    • Allegro = happy, upbeat, fast
    • Vivace = lively, fast
    • Presto = very fast
  • Italian Word Modifiers:
    • -etto = makes whatever word it’s attached to slightly less extreme. For example:
      • Larghetto = not quite as slow as Largo
      • Allegretto = not quite as fast as Allegro
    • -issimo = makes whatever word it’s attached to more extreme. For example:
      • Prestissimo = faster than Presto
  • Gradual Changes:
    • accel. = accelerando = gradually get faster
    • rit. = ritardando = gradually slow down
  • Tempo Variables:
    • Tempo 1 (sometimes also written Tempo Primo) = this is usually used when the piece of music starts out at one tempo, switches to another tempo, and then later wants you to return to the same speed as the original tempo (i.e. Tempo 1).

What’s Next?

Go to the next lesson, about Style Markings.

See a list all our lessons about How to Read Sheet Music for Beginner Violin.

Check out our favorite book/CD combo for How to Read Beginner Violin Sheet Music.

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