Terms and Signs

Tempo is the speed or pace of the music.

The tempo of the music is usually indicated with an instruction at the start of a piece and often using conventional Italian terms as shown below.

Tempo is usually measured in beats per minute (BPM). A "metronome mark" in beats per minute may supplement or replace a tempo marking.

Common tempi from slowest to fastest:

  • Largissimo – very, very slow (24 bpm and under)
  • Sostenuto - sustained
  • Grave – very slow (25–45 bpm)
  • Largo – broadly (40–60 bpm)
  • Lento – slowly (45–60 bpm)
  • Larghetto – rather broadly (60–66 bpm)
  • Adagio – slowly with great expression (66–76 bpm)
  • Adagietto – slower than andante (72–76 bpm)
  • Andante – at a walking pace (76–108 bpm)
  • Andantino – slightly faster than andante (80–108 bpm)
  • Marcia moderato – moderately, in the manner of a march (83–85 bpm)
  • Andante moderato – between andante and moderato (92–112 bpm)
  • Moderato – at a moderate speed (108–120 bpm)
  • Allegretto – moderately fast (112–120 bpm)
  • Allegro moderato – close to, but not quite allegro (116–120 bpm)
  • Allegro – fast, quickly, and bright (120–156 bpm)
  • Vivace – lively and fast (156–176 bpm)
  • Vivacissimo – very fast and lively (172–176 bpm)
  • Allegrissimo or Allegro vivace – very fast (172–176 bpm)
  • Presto – very, very fast (168–200 bpm)
  • Prestissimo – even faster than presto (200 bpm and over)

  • Dynamics are indicators of the relative intensity or volume of a musical line.

    Extremely soft. Very infrequently does one see softer dynamics than this, which are specified with additional ps.

    Very soft. Usually the softest indication in a piece of music, though softer dynamics are often specified with additional ps.

    Soft; louder than pianissimo.

    Mezzo piano
    Moderately soft; louder than piano.

    Mezzo forte
    Moderately loud; softer than forte. If no dynamic appears, mezzo-forte is assumed to be the prevailing dynamic level.

    Loud. Used as often as piano to indicate contrast.

    Very loud. Usually the loudest indication in a piece, though louder dynamics are often specified with additional ‘f’s (such as fortississimo – seen below).

    Extremely loud. Very infrequently does one see louder dynamics than this, which are specified with additional ‘f’s.

    Literally "forced", denotes an abrupt, fierce accent on a single sound or chord. When written out in full, it applies to the sequence of sounds or chords under or over which it is placed.

    A gradual increase in volume. Can be extended under many notes to indicate that the volume steadily increases during the passage.

    Also decrescendo. A gradual decrease in volume. Can be extended in the same manner as crescendo.


    A slur is a symbol indicating that the notes it embraces are to be played without separation, i.e. with legato articulation. A slur is denoted with a curved line generally placed over the notes if the stems point downward, and under them if the stems point upwards.

    Staccato (Italian for "detached") is a form of musical articulation. In modern notation it signifies a note of shortened duration, separated from the note that may follow by silence.

    It is signified with a dot over the top of the note.


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