I have a song that is just acoustic guitar/vocals/and cello and I don't want to give it a tempo because I enjoy the way it sounds just played at the tempo of whatever emotion I have or venue I'm playing at, etc...

I was just wondering if there was a word for a song without a tempo (just played however I feel/free form)


  • 5
    Does the song have a consistent tempo once you start playing it, out just changes each time you play it, or does the tempo change as you play it, too?
    – Kevin
    Dec 18, 2013 at 21:11

5 Answers 5


The term you are looking for is A piacere (It.). This basically means that the piece should be played at the performers discretion with regard to tempo and rhythm. Literally, "at pleasure".


Another term often used is 'Ad Lib.' Ad libitum freely, or do what you like .

  • Problem with this term is, that it is far broader; anything between adding repetitions and inserting an improvisation would also be covered.
    – guidot
    Jun 11, 2019 at 8:39
  • @guidot: I think "tempo ad lib" or perhaps "tempo e rubato ad lib" would allow the desired freedom of timing, without carte blanche to vary everything else.
    – supercat
    Jan 28, 2023 at 16:37
  • Molto expressivo (very expressive)
  • Poco expressivo (slightly expressive)

In English, you can also use:

  • Free tempo / free time
  • Open tempo / open time

I add the proposal of tempo giusto (Italian), where wikipedia quotes:

to request the performer to use his/her experience in this way: that is, to intuit the correct tempo from the structure and nature of the piece itself


Check out "tempo rubato."

That is the vocalists instruction to a band when s/he wants it to follow the way it is being sung without regard to the song's usual beat.

  • 1
    Welcome to Music.SE! Rubato is a relevant term in this context, and may even be what the OP had in mind. But note that strictly speaking there's still a fixed tempo with rubato – only, not every single beat is actually played on time; rather you fall behind in one place and take up tempo in another. Aug 5, 2015 at 7:44
  • @leftaroundabout In most cases where I've heard the term "rubato" used, the accompaniament would slow down, though perhaps not as much as the performer. In general, I would think that having a performer drift out of sync with an absolutely steady beat and then back in would be more likey to sound sloppy than expressive. Having both sides changing temposomewhat makes it seem a bit like they "catch each other" when they land back in sync. One of the things I like about Cecile Licad's piano playing is that in some pieces the left and right hand parts seem to do this.
    – supercat
    Jan 28, 2023 at 16:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.