Tempo marks on piano sheet music.
BPM can be indicated by tempo terms, metronome marks, or both. Image © Brandy Kraemer

Definition of Tempo:


Tempo, Italian for “time,” indicates the speed of a song; the rate at which beats are repeated. Tempo is measured in beats per minute (BPM), which is indicated at the beginning of sheet music in two ways:


  1. Metronome marks: ♪ = 76
  2. Tempo terms (often in Italian): Adagio is around 76 BPM


When specified with metronome marks, the small note reflects the length of the beat. In 4/4 time, the tempo will be written with a quarter note, not an eighth note as written above, as in ♩ = 88.


In time signatures where the eighth note is the beat, the eighth note is used, as seen above.


The most common written tempo commands in piano music are:

     largo   42 - 66

     adagio   66-76

     andante   76-108

     moderato 88 - 112

     allegro 112 - 160

     vivace    ≈ 140

     presto 168-208


The plural of tempo is tempi, but the anglicized “tempos” is more common.


More About Tempo:

   ▪ Tempo Marks In-Depth
   ▪ Understanding Time Signatures
   ▪ Take the Rhythm & Tempo Quiz


Synonyms of Tempo:



Pronunciation: tem'-poh


More Tempo Terminology:


Beginner Piano Lessons
 ▪  The Piano Keyboard Layout
 ▪  The Black Piano Keys
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Find Middle C on Electric Keyboards
 ▪  Left Hand Piano Fingering

Reading Piano Music
 ▪  Sheet Music Symbol Library
 ▪  How to Read Piano Notation
 ▪  Illustrated Piano Chords
 ▪  Musical Quizzes & Tests

Piano Care & Maintenance
 ▪  Best Piano Room Conditions
 ▪  How to Clean Your Piano
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  When To Tune Your Piano

Forming Piano Chords
 ▪  Chord Types & Their Symbols
 ▪  Essential Piano Chord Fingering
 ▪  Comparing Major & Minor Chords
 ▪  Diminished Chords & Dissonance
Getting Started on Keyboard Instruments
 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Sit at the Piano
 ▪  Buying a Used Piano

Learn About Enharmony:

  • The 6 Enharmonic Key Signatures
    If you’re familiar with the circle of fifths (or you just know your way around the key signatures) you may have noticed a few anomalies. Some keys – like B-sharp and F-flat major – are seemingly absent, while others go by two names
  • The Inefficient Keys
    The circle of fifths shows only the working scales. But, if we expand on its pattern, we can see that it’s actually more of an infinite spiral, so there’s no end to the possibilities of musical scales.



    Musical Keys & Key Signatures:

    • All About Key Signatures
      Everything you need to know about the accidentals & key signatures.

    • Use the interactive key signature locator to identify or double-check your key.

    • There are always two keys that relate to one another more than any other key. Find out what this means.
    • Comparing Major & Minor
      Major and minor are often described in terms of feelings or mood. The ear tends to perceive major and minor as having contrasting personalities; a contrast that is most obvious when the two are played back to back. Learn more about major and minor scales and keys.
    • Take the Key Signature Quiz
      Once you get to know more about this part of notation, test yourself on the accidentals and key signatures.
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    Your Citation
    Kraemer, Brandy. "tempo." ThoughtCo, Jul. 1, 2017, thoughtco.com/tempo-definition-2701044. Kraemer, Brandy. (2017, July 1). tempo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tempo-definition-2701044 Kraemer, Brandy. "tempo." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tempo-definition-2701044 (accessed November 19, 2017).