What is Tempo? #MusicMonday

How many beats are there per minute? Whatever number that is, that’s tempo. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Here’s more from the Ethan Hein blog:

So, beats per minute, there’s not much more to tempo… or so you would think. There can be some confusion about what constitutes a beat! Before we get into that, though, let’s briefly touch on the Italianate tempo markings that European classical composers used.  These markings long predate the invention of the metronome, so they are necessarily subjective. Also, they don’t just tell the performer how fast to play; they also give indications of feel. Lento and Andante describe the same beats-per-minute range, but Lento is more somber and formal, while Andante is more animated.

European classical tradition and Anglo-American popular music are different in many ways: instrument textures, form, harmony, and so on. The biggest difference, though, is in tempo. Classical music treats tempo as an expressive dimension of the music. Performers and conductors will vary the tempo widely from one phrase to the next, or even from one note to the next. Even at a steady tempo, classical musicians use a lot of rubato. The word means “stolen”, because you might slow down a bit at the beginning of a phrase and speed up at the end of it, so the beginning is stealing some of the ending’s time.

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