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Sound, written as a Quarter note, will be four times shorter than a Whole note two times shorter than a Half note, and so on. However, that does not give us its absolute duration. To know the absolute duration of a note we need tempo.

Tempo is the pace or the speed at which the music is played. It depends on the speed at which the beats succeed each other. If the pulse of the music is faster than our heartbeats we perceive it as fast. If it’s slower than our heartbeats we perceive it as slow. There are two ways of indicating the Tempo. One is with words in most of the cases Italian.

Italian words

Lento – Slow,

Moderato– Moderate,

Allegro– Fast

Ex. 1

Fast or slow, moderate, faster, slower, and so on are relevant and subjective. Every one of us has his or her own understanding and perception about them. Although it is common sense. Never the less this way of indicating the tempo is not exact. Which doesn’t mean that it is not right or it is not correct. It is Just not exact not absolute. The more exact way is to write or indicate the tempo is by using

Metronome marks

such as quarter = 70 which means 70 quarter beats per minute. In other words that in one minute time should be fitted 70 quarter notes. Now we have the absolute duration of a quarter note. Consequently, we calculate or count the other note values according to the Quarter note.

For that, we use a device, called Metronome, which can be a mechanical, digital, or app that you install on your phone iPad, or PC. It gives you the exact number of clicks or beats per minute.

Ex. 2

In example 2, the composer indicated the tempo with the Italian word giving us the general understanding that the piece should be played fast but with the metronome mark q = 130, the composer advises that a quarter note should be equal to 130 BPM (beats per minute)

* This article is an extract from the online video course: Classical Guitar Course for Adults Level 1 by Valentin Spasov

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