104. The word time in musical nomenclature has been greatly abused,
having been used to indicate:
(1) Rhythm; as the time was wrong.
(2) Variety of measure-signature; as two-four time.
(3) Rate of speed; as the time was too slow.
To obviate the confusion naturally resulting from this three-fold and
inexact use of the word, many teachers of music are
changes in terminology as noted in Sections 105, 106, and 107. Such
changes may cause some confusion at first, but seem to be necessary if
our musical terminology is to be at all exact.
105. The first of the changes mentioned in the above paragraph is to
substitute the word rhythm for the word time when correcting
mistakes involving misplaced accent, etc. E.g., Your rhythm in the
third measure of the lower score was wrong, instead of Your
106. The second change mentioned would eliminate such blind and
misleading expressions as two-four time, three-four time, four-four
time, six-eight time, etc., and substitute therefor such
self-explanatory designations as two-quarter measure, three-quarter
measure, four-quarter measure, six-eighth measure, etc. E.g.,
The first movement of the Beethoven Sonata Op. 2, No. 3, is in
107. The third change referred to above would substitute the word
tempo (plural--tempi) for the word time in all allusions to rate
of speed. E.g., The scherzo was played in very rapid tempo.
The word tempo has been used in this connection so long by
professional musicians that there can be no possible objection
to it on the ground of its being a foreign word. In fact there
is a decided advantage in having a word that is understood in
all countries where modern music (i.e., civilized music) is
performed, and just here is found the principal reason for the
popularity of the Italian language in musical terminology.
Schumann, MacDowell and other well known composers have tried
to break down this popularity by using their own respective
vernaculars in both tempo and dynamic indications, but in
spite of these attempts the Italian language is still quite
universally used for this purpose, and deservedly so, for if
we are to have a music notation that is universal, so that
an American is able to play music written by a Frenchman or a
German, or a Russian, then we ought also to have a certain
number of expressions referring to tempo, etc., which will be
understood by all, i.e., a music terminology that is
universal. The Italian language was the first in the field, is
the most universally known in this particular at the present
time, and is entirely adequate. It should therefore be
retained in use as a sort of musical Esperanto.
108. There are several ways of finding the correct tempo of a
1. From the metronomic indication found at the beginning of
many compositions. Thus e.g., the mark M.M. 92 (Maelzel's
Metronome 92) means that if the metronome (either Maelzel's or
some other reliable make) is set with the sliding weight at
the figure 92 there will be 92 clicks per minute, and they
will serve to indicate to the player or singer the rate at
which the beats (or pulses) should follow one another. This is
undoubtedly the most accurate means of determining tempi in
spite of slight inaccuracies in metronomes and of the
mistakes which composers themselves often make in giving
[Footnote 25: To test the accuracy of a metronome, set the
weight at 60 and see if it beats seconds. If it gives more
than 62 or 63 or less than 57 or 58 clicks per minute it will
not be of much service in giving correct tempi and should be
taken to a jeweller to be regulated.]
2. Another means of determining the tempo of a composition is
to play it at different tempi and then to choose the one that
feels right for that particular piece of music. This is
perhaps the best means of getting at the correct tempo but is
open only to the musician of long experience, sure judgment,
and sound scholarship.
3. A third method of finding tempi is through the
interpretation of certain words used quite universally by
composers to indicate the approximate rate of speed and the
general mood of compositions. The difficulty with this method
is that one can hardly find two composers who employ the same
word to indicate the same tempo, so that no absolute rate of
speed can be indicated, and in the last analysis the conductor
or performer must fall back on the second method cited
above--i.e., individual judgment.
109. In spite of the inexactness of use in the case of expressions
relating to tempo, these expressions are nevertheless extremely useful
in giving at least a hint of what was in the composer's mind as he
conceived the music that we are trying to interpret. Since a number of
the terms overlap in meaning, and since the meaning of no single term is
absolute, these expressions relating to tempo are best studied in
groups. Perhaps the most convenient grouping is as follows:
1. Grave (lit. weighty, serious), larghissimo,
adagissimo, and lentissimo--indicating the very slowest
tempo used in rendering music.
2. Largo, adagio, and lento--indicating quite a
[Footnote 26: Largo, larghetto, etc., are derivatives of the
Latin word largus, meaning large, broad.]
[Footnote 27: Adagio means literally at ease.]
3. Larghetto (i.e., a little largo) and adagietto (a
little adagio)--a slow tempo, but not quite so slow as
4. Andante (going, or walking, as contrasted with running)
and andantino--indicating a moderately slow tempo.
Andantino is now quite universally taken slightly faster
than andante, in spite of the fact that if andante means
going, and if ino is the diminutive ending, then
andantino means going less, i.e., more slowly!
5. Moderato--a moderate tempo.
6. Allegro and allegretto--a moderately quick tempo,
allegretto being usually interpreted as meaning a tempo
somewhat slower than allegro.
[Footnote 28: There has been some difference of opinion as to
which of these two terms indicates the more rapid tempo: an
analysis tells us that if allegro means quick, and if etto
is the diminutive ending, then allegretto means a little
quick--i.e., slower than allegro. These two terms are,
however, so closely allied in meaning that a dispute over the
matter is a mere waste of breath.]
The word allegro means literally happy, joyous, and this
literal meaning is still sometimes applicable, but in the
majority of instances the term refers only to rate of speed.
7. Vivo, vivace, (lit. lively)--a tempo between allegro
8. Presto, prestissimo, vivacissimo, and prestissimo
possibile--the most rapid tempo possible.