Metre and rhythm

Speed or tempo

The tempo of a piece of music is the speed of the underlying beat. Like a heartbeat, it can also be thought of as the ‘pulse’ of the music.

Music notation showing the tempo of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

Tempo is measured in BPM, or beats per minute. One beat every second is 60 BPM. Sometimes the tempo is written at the beginning of the music and is called a metronome marking. Tempo and stylistic feel are often indicated in classical music by Italian terminology.

60 BPM

90 BPM

120 BPM

Here are some of the common Italian musical terms and their meanings.

Musical terms

Music TermMeaning
LargoSlowly and broadly
AndanteFairly slow - at walking pace
ModeratoAt moderate speed
PrestoVery quick
AccelerandoGradually speeding up
RallentandoGradually slowing down
RitenutoImmediately slower
AllargandoGetting slower and broadening
RubatoLiterally 'robbed time', where rhythms are played freely for expressive effect

Tempo, or time, with the Italian terms demonstrated