Tempo Markings (speed) and changes of tempo

At the beginning of each piece the initial tempo (or speed) of the piece is usually indicated using an Italian word. Overall, there are no strict speeds when it comes to tempo markings. But since the invention of the metronome, often a recommended speed (in beats per minute) is indicated for you. The larger the number means the faster the speed of the music. 120 beats per minute is twice as fast as 60 beats per minute and so on however, watch out for the time signature used. In simple time signatures (such 4/4 time) a crotchet (quarter note) is generally used to measure speed. In compound time signatures (such as 6/8 time) the beat marking for a dotted crotchet is often used to set the speed. 

Often the Italian words used can indicate both speed and a playing style. For example, ‘allegretto vivo’ means moderately fast and lively, and would indicate that the speed should be slightly faster than allegretto and the player should convey the mood of energetically bouncing through the piece.

Throughout a piece, the speed can change several times. It can happen gradually over several bars of music, or very suddenly. Markings (often dashed lines) above or under the music staff indicate over how long these changes should occur. These relative changes are somewhat open to interpretation by the player and also depend on the initial tempo.  

A list of common Italian musical terms used for tempo markings is given below. Where possible I’ve given an indication of the speed (usually a range) that can serve as a guide. Whilst this is not a complete list of tempo markings, these terms are frequently used in flute music and are great to begin with. Before you know it,  these words will make their way into your musical vocabulary without a second thought! In bocca al lupo… good luck!

Examples of tempo markings


  1. Good morning Christie,

    Your timing with this article on tempo, pardon my pun, is perfect. I reached out for this information you sent as well along with the article on Dynamics in Music. To wake up to this ongoing knowledge, is the perfect way for me as a passionate flautist to start my day. Bless you for being in my life.

    • Christie Gallen

      Morning Candace, I’ve woken up to your lovely comment and it’s made my day. It’s a real thrill for me to hear that my resources are having real impact in people’s lives. So glad you’re here xx

  2. Good evening Christie. My first flute choir rehearsal since the dental surgery on the 31st of December was tonight, and it was exciting that I could play, even though it will be awhile before my embouchure is completely healed. I have 11 more rehearsals before the three performances for our Spring Concert series, so patience and perseverance will be two keys to my ongoing success as a flautist, and knowing how to make the best of my flute practicing is the most important lessons that I could have received from you in this past year. Looking forward to our ongoing relationship in 2020.

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