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Music Theory for Singers - Tempo


Tempo is an unusual thing. The word itself means the "time" of the music, but more colloquially, it would be how fast or slow the song is. A common word I will use here is "beat," but this is not a beat like in R&B, this is the steady pulse that you can keep during a song. Its what you measure when you snap along to a song or clap along. You clap on the beats of the song. Just like when going through dynamics, I'll explain what each of the above terms means and how to say them correctly. Be aware that there are many more tempo terms than this, but these are the most common.

Adagio - pronounced uh-dodge-ee-oh - This means that the tempo of the song is slow. In the example above I've set an exact speed of "quarter note equals 40." This means that for every minute of the song, there are 40 beats.

Moderato - pronounced maa-der-ah-toe. This means the song is a pretty middle tempo. Not too fast, not too slow. In this particular example, I have notated that the tempo should be "quarter note equals approximately 104." The c. means "circa" or "around that number." This song should be played at around 104 beats per minute.

Allegro - pronounced uh-leg-row. This means the beat of the song is fast. In this example, I wrote that the tempo should be around 120 beats per minute (bpm) and put an M.M. in front of it. The M.M. is essentially pointless, but it does occur in music sometimes. Its just telling you that you should measure 120 bpm using a metronome.

accel. - short for accelerando and pronouced uh-cheh-lr-aan-dow. This means to speed up the song from where you started. Adagio could increase to moderato for example.

rit. - short for ritardando and pronounced rih-taar-daan-dow. This means to slow down the song from where you started. Moderato could decrease to adagio for example.

a tempo - this means "in time" and means to go the original tempo of the song. Usually used after accel. or rit.

The last thing to note about tempo is that the tempo tells you the speed of the beat, not necessarily how the song feels. The beat of a song could be quick, but if all of the notes are long held out notes the song could still actually feel slow. The same can go in reverse. You can have a slow tempo with lots and lots of notes where the song will feel quick, even with a slow beat. The tempo just tells you the pulse of the song. If you need extra help, sign up for singing lessons with me!

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