Tempo and Rhythm Terms -
Basic Rhythm Knowledge!

Tempo and Rhythm Terms guide us when we are playing music or when we are singing, telling us how fast or how slow to play, as well as letting us know certain special tempo instructions, for example to speed up or slow down at various points of the song or music.

There are also other basic music or singing terminology used to guide us in our dynamics, singing technique as well as expression. Other musical terms also guide the musician or singer in song structure and musical form, showing them how to read the song score and how to perform the song or music given. Click on the relevant links to find out more!

There are also other basics of singing that we would do well to understand, and these will be great guidelines for us when we are practising to improve our singing or our musicianship!

Some of the basic tempo terms define the Overall Tempo of the song or music, and some common ones include Allegro which means to play or sing in a lively or quick manner; Andante which means at a moderate tempo, Presto which means to play or sing at a very fast tempo, and Lento which means to play the music or song slowly. These terms guide the overall tempo of the song and also show the musician or singer the overall mood and feel of the entire song or specific movement.

Another group of tempo and rhythm terms would direct the speed of the music while we are playing, telling us to speed up or slow down accordingly. These terms include Accelerando which means to speed up or accelerate, Rallentando which means to become progressively slower, and the Fermata symbol (also called the ‘bird’s eye’ symbol) which tells us to pause at the note for a duration up to the discretion of the conductor, musician or singer.

In fact, there are various terms that instruct us to slow down, and ‘Rallentando’ is only one of them. The others include Ritardando which also means to slow down or decelerate, and is similar to ‘Rallentando’; Ritenuto which means held back or slower, and may apply to a single note, unlike Rallentando or Ritardando, which can only apply to a musical phrase and not a single note.

Some rhythm terms also guide us in the overall time structure of the song. The Time Signature of the song or music shows us how many beats per measure or bar of the song, and this will be a good guide for us in terms of knowing when to accent certain words or notes in accordance to the overall time system of the song.

There are also various time systems like Simple Time, where there are 2 or 3 beats per measure of the song, Common Time, where there are 4 beats per measure or bar of the song, and Compound Time, where each beat of the measure can be subdivided into 3 or more equivalent parts! Knowing these time systems will allow us to have greater mastery over the song or music we play, and as singers, we will also be able to coordinate well with our music accompaniment!

Other rhythm terms show us the Duration of various notes, telling us how long to hold individual notes, and they all fit together into each measure or bar of the song. There are also a variety of naming systems for note durations, and here we show 2 of them.

Here are some of the terms for note durations as well as how the various terms link to each other:

1) Whole Note = 4 Beats = Semibreve
2) Half Note = 2 Beats = Minim
3) Quarter Note = 1 Beat = Crotchet
4) Eighth Note = 1/2 Beat = Quaver
5) Sixteenth Note = 1/4 Beat = Semiquaver

These are just some of the note durations we may encounter in our musical journey, and you may notice that a 4 beat note can either be called a ‘Whole Note’ or a ‘Semibreve’. It all depends on which naming system we adopt, and both should be understandable by most musicians or singers alike.

There are also other beat and rhythm terms like Dotted Minim, which refers to a 3 beat note, and Dotted Crotchet which refers to a 1 1/2 beat note. It all depends on how we combine the various terminology together to direct the musician or singer as to the duration of the notes and how they all fit together. As a singer, we need to know how long to hold each of the notes sung, so that we know when to sustain our singing, and how to conserve our breathing and our energy for important phrases or words.

If you wish to know more about musical terms, check out the Glossary of Musical Terms that i have provided for you on this website, and you will be able to see at a glance many of the useful musical terms you will need to know as a singer or musician. You may also wish to check out some other useful terms that define the various voice types in singing, and find out for yourselves which voice type you belong to!

Understanding the various tempo and rhythm terms will certainly be great in being able to communicate with fellow musicians and singers, and also to decipher the various notation and terminology used in musical scores or song sheets, and to be able to present a great performance with a deeper understanding of music!

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