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What Is Tempo?

Join some silly lumberjacks in a forest to learn about what tempo means, how it is used, and why it is so important in music.


Tempo is an Italian word that means "time." In music, tempo markings tell us how fast or slow a piece of music should be played. In other words, they tell the musician what speed he/she should play the music. The tempo markings themselves are also all Italian words. Check out the chart below to learn some tempo markings and what they tell you about the speed at which the music should be played.


This is the first page of Mozart's Piano Sonata in C Major. The tempo marking for the first movement can be found on the left side above the staff, at the very beginning of the music. This tempo marking says "Allegro." That's a pretty quick speed, or tempo. In Italian, "allegro" directly translates to "cheerful," "bright," or "lively." You can listen to the first movement of this sonata here. Can you hear the quick tempo and cheerful, lively quality?


You can view the curriculum guide that goes along with the video on the Classical MPR website here to learn more. It even uses Carnival of the Animals as part of the lesson!



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