I am singing in a choir and would like to understand what's the difference between the two commands ritenuto and ritardando. I understand the word meaning but not quite the different handling.

I would also like to understand the abbreviation c.p.

The music piece we are working on is Carmina Burana (Carl Orff). To my great astonishment, it occurs so often in the score that consecutive measures are not the same as one would usually find in a score. Can anybody comment on that structural specificity, as to understand the point behind?

Many Thanks.

  • c.p. is probably come primo - like the first, i.e., tempo primo.
    – user16935
    Jan 12, 2017 at 6:39
  • Improved some of the English usage and grammar in an edit, if the OP does not like my edit feel free to rollback the changes.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 12, 2017 at 16:27
  • Do you maybe have a picture of the applicable score? A small extract may do wonders for the quality of the answers.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 12, 2017 at 16:28

4 Answers 4


Definitions taken from here, thought they did a good job explaining the difference.


Ritardando is gradual.

ritardando, ritard., rit.: slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando

Ritenuto is different because of its sudden onset.

ritenuto, riten., rit.: suddenly slower, held back (usually more so but more temporarily than a ritardando, and it may, unlike ritardando, apply to a single note); opposite of accelerato

It's a tricky question whether the original Italian meaning is relevant in understanding subtle differences in meanings, but sometimes it seems helpful.

Ritardando simply means "becoming slower". You might perhaps picture a rolling ball that gradually loses speed because of friction.

Ritenuto means "held back" - something external is causing a slow-down. Think perhaps of a waggon-driver pulling on a horse's head via the reins.


Both are commonly abbreviated to "rit." The difference is subtle, to say the least. To a choir member, they both mean "Watch the conductor even more than usual".

  • Yes absolutely. I used to work with a conductor who would answer any question of the form "What does ...<insert musical term> ...mean at bar ...." with "It means WATCH ME!"
    – JimM
    Jan 18, 2017 at 23:17

Poco means little, Poco Piu, little by little. Ritenuto is the opposite of Sostenuto, Sostenuto means Sustained and Rituneto means the opposite, detached.

The word Ritardando probably has the same ancient origins as the English word Retard and as terrible as it may sound Ritardando is also just a little bit slow ie Gradually getting slower.

Poco Ritenuto would mean you're are taking a little bit away from the singing, not completely 100 percent, you are withholding a little bit of the gutso.

With Poco Ritardando it is only a very slight tempo change, you are not singing any less powerfully, you can still give it the proper heave-ho if you are just singing gradually slower.

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