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Music Tempo

Music tempo is part 13 in a 31 part series on musical notation and basic music theory. The tempo in music is how fast or slow the music is played.

Generally someone counts in the band and thus lays out the tempo of the music that will be played.  We need to have a tempo so everyone is able to play together.

  For example, if the music is in 4/4, the band leader will count 1 2 3 4 before we begin playing.  The speed that is counted is how fast we play.


Music Tempo

If we want to notate tempo on sheet music, we can do it in two ways. The first is to write what the "beats per minute" is or "bpm". If you say the quarter note is bpm=120, you are saying that the beat is a quarter note and that it should be counted at 120 times per minute. This is 2 beats per second.

There is an easy way to do this. You can simply set your METRONOME to 120 and it will count it for you. The use of a metronome is also a great way to practice playing in time. Keeping excellent time when playing with other musicians is essential.

Another way to indicate time is by writing a tempo marking on your music like the following:

Presto - very fast (168–200 bpm)
Allegro - fast, quickly and bright (120–168 bpm)
Moderato - moderately (108–120 bpm)
Andante - at a walking pace (76–108 bpm)
Adagio - slow and stately (66–76 bpm)
Largo - slowly (40–60 bpm)

Once you become familiar with 80 bpm versus 100 bpm and so on, tempo markings make a lot more sense and can become very useful if you are writing an arrangement for a larger group.

Click here for more variations on tempo markings

NOTE: Our heart at rest is at about 60-70 bpm, depending on your age. This is why we enjoy slower music when at rest. We enjoy faster music when we are out walking. Different tempos are more appropriate for different moods in music.

I license music to TV and various multi-media outlets. One company I write for, Technosweat , only does exercise music so they only want music that is set to at least 115 bpm. This is important information for a songwriter. I make sure anything I pitch to them is at no less then 115 bpm.

If you want to know the bpm of any piece of music, use this tool: BPM CALCULATOR

Just play your music and tap the space bar along to the music. This tool will calculate the bpm.

Now, let's take a look at time signature!

Continue to Part 14, Common Time or 4/4 Time

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