When it comes to musical terms, rallentando and ritardando are often used interchangeably. They are both tempo markings that indicate a gradual slowdown in the speed of a piece of music; however, there is a subtle difference between the two terms.
What is Rallentando?
Rallentando (abbreviated – rall.) is an Italian word that means “slowing down.” It is typically used at the end of a phrase or section to prepare the listener for a change in tempo or key.
What is Ritardando?
Ritardando (abbreviated – rit.) is an Italian word that means “slowing down and then stopping.” So, rallentando generally refers to a gradual slowing down of the tempo, while ritardando can refer to either a gradual or sudden slowdown, followed by a complete stop.
Difference Between Rallentando & Ritardando
Though they are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between them—Rallentando and Ritardando signal to the performer to alter the speed. Rallentando is a gradual slowdown in tempo, while ritardando is more sudden and deliberate. In general, you use rallentando to create a sense of relaxation or mellowness, while ritardando is used to create tension.
Both rallentando and ritardando are used for effect in music, adding nuance and shading to the performance. It is essential to be aware of the difference between the two terms.
Rallentando is an instruction to the performer, telling them to slow down gradually. Ritardando can be an instruction to the performer, telling them to slow down, or a natural tempo change. The tempo change that happens naturally is called a ritardando.
While rallentando and ritardando can be confused by many, there is a distinction between both terms. They are both used to inform the musician to change the speed of the performance. Rallentando is a gradual slowdown in tempo, while ritardando is more sudden and deliberate.