Liner Notes
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In music, tempo is the speed at which a song is meant to be played. In a musical score the tempo is typically described in one of two ways:

  1. by an exact BPM (beats-per-minute) annotation, or

  2. with a tempo marker that (by convention) corresponds to a small range of BPM values.

See below for examples of bpm by musical genre and for definition of tempo markings found in conventional musical scores in Italian, French, and German.

Tempo by Genre

In contemporary music, tempo often specified in beats per minute (BPM): the number of "pulses" in 60 seconds, where a pulse is typically (but not always) a quarter note. More generally a beat is the fundamental unit of time in a composition, often corresponding to the bottom number in a time signature. This is especially true for dance-oriented genres like Disco, Dub, EDM, House, Drum & Bass, etc., since the precise bpm value makes it easier for a DJ to synchronize the rhythm when mixing or transitioning between two songs.

The following table lists the typical tempo in beats-per-minute for various contemporary musical genres.

GenreTypical BPM
R&B60 to 80 bpm
Reggae60 to 90 bpm
Hip-hop70 to 100 bpm
Dubstep80 to 90 bpm
Waltz84 to 90 bpm
Samba96 to 104 bpm
Rumba100 to 108 bpm
Pop100 to 130 bpm
Country108 to 148 bpm
Rock110 to 140 bpm
Polka115 to 135 bpm
House118 to 135 bpm
Jazz120 to 130 bpm
Classical120 to 140 bpm
Techno120 to 160 bpm (traditionally 140 bpm precisely)
Metal128 to 160 bpm
Funk130 to 140 bpm
Trance130 to 150 bpm
Drum & Bass160 to 180 bpm
Salsa180 to 240 bpm
GenreTypical BPM

These ranges are representative but not prescriptive. With few exceptions, tempo is not the defining characteristic of most genres of music. You'll find examples well outside of these tempo ranges for most genres.

Traditional Tempo Markings

Prior to the advent of recorded music, however, the tempo of a composition was conventionally described in more general terms. I.e., a musical score might describe the tempo of a song (or section of a song) as "fast" or "slow" - or in relative terms like "faster" or "slower" - but the exact tempo in BPM would be, at least in part, up to the performer's discretion.

Italian Tempo Names

Historically the intended speed of a composition would be indicated by tempo markings: Italian-language tempo annotations that don't necessarily indicate a specific bpm, but generally map to a small range of bpm values.

The following table summarizes many of the tempo indicators you're likely to encounter in a traditional musical score, including a literal translation of the term and the modern understanding of those tempos expressed as a range of beats-per-minute values.

Tempo NameMeaningBPM Range
Larghissimoextremely slowless than 25 bpm
Adagissimovery slow25 to 40 bpm
Graveslow and solem25 to 50 bpm
Largoslow and broad40 to 60 bpm
Lentoslow45 to 60 bpm
Larghettoslow and broad; slightly faster than Largo60 to 66 bpm
Adagioslow and lesisurely66 to 76 bpm
Adagiettomoderately slow; slightly faster than Adagio; slightly slower than Andante70 to 80 bpm
Andantewalking pace76 to 108 bpm
Maestosomajestically80 to 100 bpm
Andantinoslightly faster walking pace; faster than Andante80 to 112 bpm
Marcia moderatomarching pace82 to 86 bpm
Andante moderatomoderately fast walking pace; between Andante and Moderato92 to 116 bpm
Moderatomoderate108 to 120 bpm
Allegrettomoderately fast112 to 116 bpm
Allegro Moderatomoderately fast; slightly slower than Allegro116 to 120 bpm
Allegrofast and merry120 to 160 bpm
Vivacequick and lively140 to 180 bpm
Prestovery fast160 to 200 bpm
Vivacissimovery fast and lively; faster than Vivace; slower than Presto170 to 180 bpm
Allegrissimovery fast; faster than Allegro170 to 180 bpm
Allegro vivacevery fast; faster than Allegro172 to 176 bpm
Prestissimoextremely fast; faster than Prestomore than 200 bpm
Tempo NameMeaningBPM Range

Note that the indicated beats-per-minute ranges are approximate. There is no single, fixed translation of these terms into BPM. Some sources may describe a given tempo keyword as slightly slower or faster; but these are fairly typical interpretations.

German Tempo Names

Certain older compositions use German-language terms (rather than Italian) to describe tempo.

Tempo NameMeaningBPM Range
Sehr Breitvery slowless than 30 bpm
Schwerslow and heavy30 to 50 bpm
Breitslowly, broadly40 to 60 bpm
Langsamslow50 to 70 bpm
Mäßig (Mässig )moderate88 to 112 bpm
Schnellfast120 to 140 bpm
Lebhaftlively130 to 150 bpm
Sehr Schnellvery fast140 to 200 bpm
Raschquickly170 to 190 bpm
Äusserst Schnellextremely fast180 to 220 bpm
Tempo NameMeaningBPM Range

As before, these ranges are approximate. Some sources will cite slightly different ranges.

French Tempo Names

Other scores are annotated with French tempo markings.

Tempo NameMeaningBPM Range
Extrêmement largevery slowless than 40 bpm
Graveslow and solem30 to 50 bpm
Largeslowly, broadly42 to 66 bpm
Lentslow50 to 70 bpm
Tranquiltranquil, serene70 to 90 bpm
Modérémoderate80 to 110 bpm
Assez Vitemoderately fast100 to 128 bpm
Vitefast110 to 160 bpm
Rapidelively, rapid140 to 200 bpm
Très Vitevery fast150 to 180 bpm
Très Rapidevery lively180 to 220 bpm
Tempo NameMeaningBPM Range

Once again, these ranges are approximate.

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