Tempo and Volume (Lesson 5)


Musical compositions are played at different tempos and in different volumes.

Often you will see assorted types of signs explicating a specific accent or volume in which to play a note or cliché.

You may see an f, which is a sign that means forte or loud. The opposite of the forte sign is the p, this means piano or soft. To signify that a piece is getting louder and more intense, the <, or crescendo, or cres. annotation is used. Conversely, the >, or decrescendo annotation is used for waning. This is also referred to as diminuendo or dim.

Terms relating to the tempo or speed of the piece are usually found at the beginning of the piece, telling the musician how fast to play the piece, and/or the b.p.m. (beats per minute) may also appear here.

Terms relating to speed are as follows:

  • Prestissimo, the fastest (200-208 b.p.m.)
  • Presto means very fast (168-200 b.p.m.)
  • Allegro means fast and lively (120-168 b.p.m.)
  • Accelerando or accel means the piece is gradually becoming faster
  • Moderato means a moderate speed (108-120 b.p.m.)
  • Andante means a smooth and easy walking pace (76-108 b.p.m.)
  • Adagio means slowly (66-76 b.p.m.)
  • Larghetto (60-66 b.p.m.)
  • Largo (40-60 b.p.m.); ritardando or rallentando both mean gradually becoming slower
  • Ritenuto or Riten both mean immediately slower
  • A tempo signifies to reader to return to the original speed.

Pay close attention when playing any type of music (especially classical), because both the tempo and volume can and do change regularly.

Continue to Lesson 6: Pitch