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A Music Lesson on Tempo
Template for Activity


A Music Lesson on Tempo


Subject Area:







40 minutes


Essential Question:

How do composers use tempo to communicate a musical idea?





This is a fun game that may be used as an extension of a lesson on tempo.


Teacher Materials:


·        Pieces of sheetmusic with different tempo markings.

·        Piano or electric keyboard

·        Recordings of classical music examples of the following tempo markings: largo, adagio, andante, allegro, presto. One easy way to demonstrate all tempi is with Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

o       “Spring” I: Allegro, Violin Concerto in E Major

o       “Spring” II: Largo, Violin Concerto in E Major

o       “Autumn” II: Adagio Molto, Violin Concerto in F Minor

o       “Summer” III: Presto, Violin Concerto in G minor




This lesson introduces students to the musical concept of tempo. Through music examples and play, the students will be able to clap and move to different tempos as well as identify different tempos using classical music terminology.


Anticipatory Set
Ask the students why a composer would write a slow song or a fast song. Discuss answers.   


Define tempo for the class: “Tempo is the speed of the beat.”  Have this definition written on the board. “Clap the beat with me!” Start clapping a beat. The class joins in. Start slowing down the beat. Have the class follow your tempo. Stop and asked what happened to the tempo. Repeat exercise, but speed up this time. Have the students explain how the tempo sped up.


Explain and show how composers write the tempo they want their music to be played at, on the top of the score. This is called a tempo marking. When the composer wants the tempo to change later in the music, he will write the new tempo marking over the place in the music where the new tempo begins. These tempo markings are usually in Italian because the first composers to use tempo markings on their scores were Italian. Pass examples of scores with tempo markings around the room. Allow time for the students to be able to find the tempo markings. Or have examples of tempo markings on music displayed via an overhead projector or SMART board in addition to the music scores.


Write the tempo markings on the board or display signs containing the tempo marking terms. One suggestion would be to include a visual image which correlates to a term, for example: a sign that reads, “Andante,” along with a picture of a person or funny animal walking.


Play a traditional song, such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” on the piano at an easy, walking tempo. Ask what tempo they thought you played. Explain that this tempo is andante or a walking tempo. Sound out the word phonemically.


Ask the students to walk around the room at the andante tempo while you play the song at an andante tempo again. The students return to their seats.


Repeat this exercise with adagio. Explain that adagio means “slowly” in Italian. Play the song at an adagio tempo while the students move slowly around the room or walk in place if your space is limited.


Repeat this exercise for largo. Define largo as “very slow and dignified or stately.” Tell the students to move in slow motion.


For allegro allow the students to run in place. Define allegro as “quick and lively”, and for presto, “very fast and sudden,” have the students clap very quickly along with the music.



Ask the students if they have ever played, “Red Light, Green Light.” Allow students to explain how the game is played.  Explain that they will play a game similar to “Red Light, Green Light, “but this game is called “Largo, Presto!” The caller will call out either largo, andante, or presto. Ask students, “How should you move if the caller says, andante, largo or presto?” They will move toward the caller at that speed until the caller shouts out another tempo. The first person to reach the caller becomes the caller for the next group. The teacher will observe the students and if you catch them moving at the wrong tempo, they are out until the next round.


Lead the students into a hallway, gym or outside. Count off by 4s or 5s to create small groups. The first group lines up across the hall. The next group lines up behind the first group and so on to allow for each group to have a turn playing the game. Start the game by being the first caller. Walk down the hall about 10-15 yards away. Begin the game. Stand on the side of the game after the first group’s turn in order to officiate. Allow for each group to have at least two turns.



Return to class. Label each tempo marking written on the board with a number 1-5. Once the students are seated, play a music example of a tempo. Check for understanding by having the students raise the number of fingers that corresponds with their answer. Play all the examples for each tempo marking.


Related Resources:


Here is a fun, interactive lesson from the San Francisco Symphony on tempo:


This website, Creating Music, has been created by Morton Subotnick, the pioneer in electronic music.  Click on his “rhythm band” link to allow students to create their own rhythms that can be played back at three different tempi:


Local Resources:
Check in your community to see if there is a local band or orchestra which would allow students to experience the different tempos of a live concert! Your school districts may also have a music department at the secondary level in which your students can sit in on a practice and observe how the conductor helps the musicians keep and change tempos.


Related Performance Indicators:


Students identify the various settings in which they hear music and the various resources that are used to produce music during a typical week; explain why the particular type of music was used (d).


Students demonstrate appropriate audience behavior, including attentive listening, in a variety of musical settings in and out of school (e).


Students describe the music in terms related to basic elements such as melody, rhythm, harmony, dynamics, timbre, form, style, etc. (b).



Students describe the music’s context in terms related to its social and psychological functions and settings (e.g., roles of participants, effects of music, uses of music with other events or objects, etc.) (d)



Students identify and demonstrate movement elements and skills (such as bend, twist, slide, skip, hop, etc.) (a).



Colleen Brecker


Oishei Foundation
Corporation for Public Broadcasting