Term 1 Theory Lessons & Quiz
3 Beats and Tempo
Music typically has a constant underlying pulse that is heard and felt throughout the music called a beat. This beat usually stays the same speed throughout the whole piece of music, unless it is altered by special instructions in the music. Keeping a steady beat is very important, but also difficult because we have a natural tendency to want to slow down when a passage of music is difficult to sing or play.
The tempo of a piece of music is its speed, or how fast the beat is. Beats are measured in bpm or "beats per minute." Just like timing your heart rate after a workout. In music, you might see a marking that looks like this:
This means that the speed of this music is 120 beats per minute. Think of the second hand on a clock - its tempo is 60 beats per minute. So, this piece of music has beats that are twice as fast as the seconds going by on a clock. This metronome marking tell us exactly how fast the composer intended the piece of music to be performed.
The word "Allegro" is an Italian word. Italian is the international standard language for music that is understood all around the world. You can have musical terms and words that are written in other languages like French, German, Spanish, etc. but the Italian terms are used by everyone. If you see an Italian word written at the top of a piece of music and it doesn't give you an exact metronome marking, it is still pretty easy to know what the composer wants because each word is associated with a certain tempo range. As long as you perform the piece of music within that range of speed, then you will be correct, generally speaking.
Here is a list of some commonly used tempo terms. There are certainly WAY more Italian words to learn as you go forward with your musical journeys, but these will get you started.
In a lot of music, the quarter note is used for the beat. Other notes can be used, but the quarter note is the most common. Look at the following 8 quarter notes:
To make it easier to feel the pulse and count the beats, they are often grouped together according to how the beats are emphasized. If we emphasize beats 1 and 5, we are grouping the beats into 4's. This makes it easier to feel the pulse and count the beats.
Once we have organized our beats into groups, we can separate them into easy-to-read sections called bars or measures. A barline is a vertical line through a staff that is drawn after every certain number of beats. In our example, the strong beats happened after every group of four, so that is where we will draw the barline.
At the end of any piece of music, there is always a final barline. This tells the musician that a piece of music is finished.
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