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Music Theory Tip: What is Tempo and How to Practice Tempo in Your Homeschool (E20)

Ever wondered, “What is tempo?” We’ve got you covered today with this quick Music Theory Tip, including practical ways to teach it! Understanding tempo is a fundamental aspect of music theory that can significantly enhance your child’s musical skills and appreciation. Tempo is the speed at which a piece of music is played, and it’s is crucial for interpreting and performing music accurately. Teaching tempo in a homeschool setting can be both fun and educational with the right strategies, games, and tips. In this post, we’ll explore what tempo is and how you can effectively teach and practice it with your elementary-aged kids at home.

Music Theory Tip: What is Tempo and How to Practice It in Your Homeschool

What is Tempo?

Tempo is the pace or speed at which a piece of music is performed. Is it fast or slow? Does it stay at a steady tempo, or does it speed up or slow down at different points throughout the music?

It’s usually indicated in beats per minute (BPM). The tempo can range from very slow (largo) to very fast (presto), and understanding these different speeds helps students play and appreciate music more deeply.

Choirs, orchestras, and bands follow the conductor who uses their hands or a baton to tell the musicians what the tempo is.

Composers tell future performers of their music what the tempo is by either:

  • Using a metronome marking (such as quarter note = 90, which means 90 beats per minute) in their compositions or
  • Using tempo terms
Music Theory Tip: What is Tempo and How to Practice It in Your Homeschool

Tempo Terms

Tempo terms in musical compositions are typically in Italian. Here are some you can learn:

Tip: Download a Metronome app if you don’t have a physical one at home, and have it show you the beats per minute (BPM) for each of these terms.

  • Grave—very, very slow, sedate, and solemn (like a sloth moving) 25-45 BPM
  • Lento—very slow (like a turtle walking) 45-60 BPM
  • Adagio—slow (like an adult walking slowly) 66-76 BPM
  • Andante—medium-slow, “walking” pace (like a cow walking) 76-108 BPM
  • Moderato—is moderate, medium tempo, a faster “walking pace” (adult walking fast) 108-120 BPM
  • Allegretto—moderately fast, slightly slower than allegro (adult jogging) 112-120 BPM
  • Allegro—fast (adult running fast) 120-168
  • Presto—very fast (like a cheetah running) 168-200 BPM

Often the terms above are combined with these modifying words:

  • Un poco—”a little”
  • Molto—”a lot”
  • Meno—”less”
  • Più—”more”

Gradual Changes in Tempo:

  • Accelerando—(accel.) get gradually faster
  • Ritardando—(rit.) get gradually slower
  • Rubato—allow the tempo to increase or decrease freely without keeping a steady beat
  • A Tempo—return to the original tempo
  • Più mosso—with more movement, play a little faster

Musical Pieces to Listen to for Studying Tempo

Grave: Gymnopédie No. 3 by Erik Satie

Allegretto: Peter and the Wolf, main theme by Prokofiev

Adagio: “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns 

Presto: 3 Pieces for Oboe & Piano: No. 3 Presto by Michael Head

Moderato: For Children, Vol. 1, No. 26, Moderato by Béla Bartók

Lento: Coppelia Waltz by Léo Delibes

Allegro: Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks by Modest Mussorgsky

Changes Tempo Often: Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Johannes Brahms

Homeschool Teaching Strategies for Tempo

  1. Start with the Basics: Begin by explaining the concept of tempo in simple terms. Use a metronome to demonstrate how tempo can change the speed of music. Set the metronome to different BPM settings and let your child hear and feel the difference.
  2. Use Visual Aids: Visual aids can be very effective in teaching tempo. Create a chart with various tempo markings (e.g., Largo, Adagio, Andante, Allegro, Presto) and their corresponding BPM ranges. This can help children associate the terms with specific speeds.
  3. Incorporate Movement: Physical movement can help children internalize tempo. Play different pieces of music and encourage your child to move to the beat. They can march, dance, or clap along, adjusting their speed to match the tempo of the music.
  4. Use Simple Rhythm Instruments: Play along with hand drums, rhythm sticks, or shakers with the pieces above, specifying which tempo marking each piece with written in. This will also help your children practice steady beat!
  5. Watch the 15-Minute “What is Tempo?” video music lesson included in the Music in Our Homeschool Plus membership.
  6. Use the “What is Tempo” Printable Pack: read on to learn more about it!

“What is Tempo” Printable Pack:

Inside the 8-page “What is Tempo” printable pack, you’ll find:

  • What is Tempo? explains tempo, including references to conductors, metronome marking, and tempo terms.
  • Tempo Terms page describes the 8 most common tempo terms (grave, lento, adagio, andante, moderato, allegretto, allegro, and presto) with typical metronome speeds for each. Also included are the terms un poco, molto, meno, piu, accelerando, ritardando, rubato, a tempo, and piu mosso)
  • Match the Tempo Terms to the definition
  • More Matching Tempo Terms
  • Answers for the two above pages
  • Two Beat Map pages (one for 4/4 time and one for 3/4 time) so kids can practice listening to a piece and tapping the steady beat to determine the tempo.

What is a Beat Map? A Beat Map is a simple way for children to practice steady beat and different tempos. They simply tap their finger on the object for each beat as the music plays. For 2/4 time, you’ll find two objects per line. For 3/4 time, you’ll find three objects per line. For 4/4 time, you’ll find four objects per line.

Other Pieces to Listen to for Learning and Practicing Each Tempo Marking

  • Adagietto – Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 5, fourth movement
  • Adagio – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ave Verum Corpus
  • Adagissimo – Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 9, fourth movement
  • Allegretto – Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 7, second movement
  • Allegrissimo or Allegro vivace – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Horn Concerto No. 4, third movement
  • Allegro moderato – Henry Purcell, Rondeau from Abdelazer, or The Moor’s Revenge
  • Allegro – Antonio Vivaldi, The Four SeasonsLa Primavera, first movement
  • Andante moderato – Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 4, second movement
  • Andante – Johann Pachelbel, Canon in D
  • Andantino– Johann Strauss II, The Blue Danube Waltz
  • Grave – William Boyce, Trio Sonata No. 4, second movement
  • Larghetto – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lachrymosa from the Requiem Mass
  • Larghissimo – William Schuman, Symphony No. 10, second movement
  • Largo – George Frideric Handel, Largo from Xerxes, aka aria Ombra Mai Fu
  • Lento – Antonin Dvorak, String Quartet No. 12, second movement
  • Moderato – Frederick Chopin, Waltz No. 10 in b minor
  • Prestissimo – Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in d minor, K.517
  • Presto – Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, fourth movement
  • Scherzo – Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, third movement

Fun Games to Practice Tempo

  1. Tempo Tag: In this game, designate one child as the “Tempo Master.” The Tempo Master sets a tempo by clapping or using a metronome. The other children must move around the room following this tempo. The Tempo Master can change the speed at any time, and the others must adjust their movements accordingly. This game not only teaches tempo but also helps children develop quick reaction times and listening skills.
  2. Musical Statues: Play a piece of music with varying tempos. When the music stops, the children must freeze in place. This game helps them listen carefully to changes in tempo and react quickly, making it a fun way to reinforce tempo recognition.
  3. Tempo Treasure Hunt: Hide several tempo markings around the house or yard. Play a piece of music and ask your child to find the tempo marking that matches the speed of the music. This game combines physical activity with musical listening skills, making it a dynamic and engaging way to learn about tempo.

Tips for Practicing Tempo at Home

  1. Daily Practice with a Metronome: If your child plays an instrument such as piano, violin, guitar, ukulele, or recorder, incorporate metronome use into your child’s daily practice routine. Start with slower speeds and gradually increase as they become more comfortable. This will help them develop a steady sense of rhythm and improve their ability to maintain a consistent tempo.
  2. Tempo Challenges: Set up daily or weekly tempo challenges. Choose a piece of music and ask your child to play along to it on a simple rhythm instrument, such as a drum or rhythm sticks, at different tempos. This not only helps them understand how tempo changes the character of music but also enhances their technical skills and flexibility.
  3. Listening Exercises: Listening to a variety of music can help children develop a sense of tempo. Play recordings of different pieces and ask your child to identify the tempo. You can use a metronome to check their answers, making it a fun and educational activity.


Teaching tempo in your homeschool can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. By using a variety of teaching strategies, fun games, and practical tips, you can help your child develop a strong sense of tempo and enhance their overall musical abilities. Remember to keep the learning process fun and engaging, and your child will not only understand tempo but also develop a lifelong love for music.

See the YouTube Video “Music Theory Tip: What is Tempo and How to Practice It in Your Homeschool” here:

Listen to the Podcast Episode about “Music Theory Tip: What is Tempo and How to Practice It in Your Homeschool” here:

Listen here or subscribe and follow The Music in Our Homeschool Podcast through your favorite podcast app!

Read the Podcast Transcript here.

Music Theory Tip: What is Tempo and How to Practice It in Your Homeschool

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