What Is Tempo in Music?

Tempo is a term that refers to the speed at which a song should be played. Tempo is measured in beats per minute (bpm) and is included on the top of the first bar on sheet music. For example:  “The tempo of this song is 160 bpm.”

Tempo is one of many factors that affect how music sounds, and tempo has significant effects on the feel of a musical composition or performance. The tempo can be described as either fast or slow (slow-fast).

For instance “Adagio” (Latin for ‘at ease’) is typically a tempo where the speed is 60 beats per minute (bpm). This tempo would feel ‘relaxed’ and the speed would be slow.

The tempo may range from 20 BPMs to over 300 BPMs. However, listeners may not always detect a difference in tempo. Different tempos in music might be described as ‘more or less the same tempo’ if they are within a range of 50 BPMs.

Writing tempo in music is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in music composition. Some people are inclined to believe tempo means speed, but tempo actually means pace. However, the tempo is not simply the pace at which notes are played, but it also includes how long or short a note lasts.

The concept of tempo is complicated by the fact that it is an abstract idea. The word “tempo” refers to a certain pace, but its meaning can vary significantly depending on which musical style you’re talking about. For example, jazz pianists are quicker at expressing different tempos when compared to say piano quartets or heavy metal bands.

Types of Tempo in Music

The more simple way to explain the different types of tempo in music would be as slow, medium, and fast tempo. However, some terms greatly specify each kind of tempo and those are: largo (40–60 bpm), larghetto (60–66 bpm), adagio (66–76 bpm), andante (76–108 bpm), moderato (108–120 bpm), allegro (120–168 bpm), presto (168–200 bpm) and prestissimo (>200 bpm).

Largo (40-60 bpm)

Largo tempo can be translated as “at ease”, and is used when a composer wants the music to sound relaxed. It is written in Italian, and it resembles the words largo (to let loose), and larga (broad). The symbol for this tempo looks like a dotted quarter note. Some examples for this tempo are Kuh Ledesma – Ako Ay Pilipino and Asin – Masdan Mo Ang Kapaligiran.

Larghetto (60-66 bpm)

Larghetto can be translated as “moderate, relaxed”, and is written in Italian. The symbol for this music tempo looks like a quarter note (largo) and two eighth notes (larghetto) tied together (semibreve). This represents a slow tempo as well. A great example of this tempo is Beethoven: Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36 – 2. Larghetto.

Adagio (66-76 bpm)

Adagio means to play slowly, calmly, and at ease, and with an average speed of around 70 BPM. Adagio is faster than larghetto but slower than andante. The term adagio translates to “slowly.” This is still considered a pretty slow tempo. Some examples of this tempo are Daughters – John Mayer, Rolling In The Deep – Adele, All By Myself – Celine Dion, and many more.

Andante (76-108 bpm)

Andante is an upbeat tempo marking indicating the tempo should be about 66% of the marked tempo (i.e., a tempo of about ). Occasionally, musicians will interpret “andante” more roughly as 60bpm (about 50% slower than the indicated tempo), and occasionally even more broadly, approaching but never quite reaching 120bpm. Examples for this tempo are B.O.B – Magic, and ABBA – Andante, Andante.

Moderato (108-120 bpm)

Moderato tempo means “moderate tempo”. It is often confused with mood tempo because both tempo markings indicate a moderate tempo. However, they are not the same because tempo indications refer to the speed of the beat whereas mood indications refer to emotional qualities. Some examples for this tempo are Johnny Cash – Ring Of Fire and 5 Seconds Of Summer – Heartbreak Girl.

Allegro (120-168 bpm)

Allegro tempo ranges from 120 to 168 beats per minute. Allegro tempo means “fast, quick”. Some composers use this tempo marking instead of marking a more specific tempo. For example, Beethoven’s Third Symphony is marked simply “Allegro”. Example for this tempo: Cheetah Girls – Together We Can.

Presto (168-200 bpm)

Presto tempo ranges from 168 to 200 beats per minute. Presto tempo means “very fast, very quick” and it is classified as a very brisk tempo. This tempo is appropriate for many types of music and generally keeps the music at a high speed. It is used in musical notation for a tempo faster than allegro. Example: Green Day – Holiday.

Prestissimo (over 200 bpm)

Prestissimo tempo is over 200 beats per minute. Prestissimo tempo means “extremely quick”.  It is the tempo of a piece that has no tempo marking. It is one of the most extreme values for tempo. An excellent example for this is Beethoven, Piano Sonata No.1 – Prestissimo-.


Tempo is what dictates how fast or slow music should go but id does vary greatly. Some people still think tempo means speed, but tempo actually means pace.

Tempo also refers to both how fast or slow a song is played and how long or short each note lasts. The tempo changes the way you will listen to music because it changes speeds so drastically that it can send people in different moods just by listening to the tempo change.

For example, a tempo that sounds like “largo” (40-60 bpm) can make you feel relaxed or sad. Larghetto tempo can be used for sad music due to the fact that it is about 60-70 bpm. Adagio tempo ranges from 70-104 bpm and is great for romantic or sad music because of this tempo’s speed.

Moderato tempo is good for happy music because of the fact it is right in the middle of andante and allegro, which are both happy tempos. Allegro tempo ranges from 120-168 bpm and is great for fast-paced music.

Presto tempo ranges from 168-200 bpm and is great for music in which it is hard to determine the tempo. Prestissimo tempo ranges beyond 200 bpm and is the fastest tempo you can get. This tempo causes the music to sound like it’s playing very quickly. Tempo changes music in many ways. It can make or break a song.