« Back to appendix

Tempo Terminology

Common Qualifiers

A poco a poco little by little
Assai, molto very, much, quite
Con with, as in con brio (with spirit)
Meno less, as in meno vivace (not so fast)
Non troppo not too much
Più more
Pochissimo a very little
Poco, un poco a little, somewhat
Quasi like, almost

Changing Tempo

A piacere Tempo is at the pleasure or discretion of the performer. The same as ad libitum. Similar to rubato except rubato is the discretion of the conductor.
Accelerando (accel.) Quickening; a gradual speeding up of the tempo
Ad libitum Tempo is at the discretion of the performer. The same as a piacere. Similar to rubato except rubato is the discretion of the conductor.
Alla breve Duple time with a half note as the unit; same as Cut time
Allargando (allarg.) Broadening; sometimes interpreted as a combination of ritardando and crescendo
ancora Still more; used generally with tempo indications, as ancora meno mosso (still more slowly)
A témpo In tempo; reestablishes original speed after accelerando or ritardando
Cédez French for poco ritardando; a slight holding back
Come Prima As at first
Come Sopra As above; much the same as come prima
Doppio movimento Twice as fast; usually used in conjunction with Common time changing to Cut time
L'istesso tempo
Lo stesso tempo
The same tempo, indicating that the beat remains constant when the meter changes as 2/4 to 6/8
Meno mosso
Più lento
Less motion; slower. May be qualified by poco (a little less)
Più allegro
Più animato
Più mosso
faster
pressez French term for "quicken"; same meaning as accelerando
Rallentando (rall.) Same as ritardando; a gradual slowing-down of the tempo
Ritardando (ritard.) Slowing down; a gradual holding-back of the tempo
Ritenuto (riten.) Frequently confused with ritardando; means a sudden slowing-down, in contrast to the gradual holding-back of rallentando
Rubato Litterally, to "rob" or steal the time values by holding-back or speeding up at will to color a phrase
stringendo (string.) Pressing forward; sometimes erroneously interpreted as a combination of accelerando and crescendo
tempo giusto In strict tempo (non-rubato)
tempo primo (tempo I°) Original tempo
trattenuto (tratt.) Holding back (same as rallentando) with the addition of a sustained quality (sostenuto)