Does it matter where you put the tempo marking? For example, above the treble staff, in between the treble staff and the bass staff or underneath the bass staff? I know that when you put a dynamic marking above the treble staff, it only applies to the treble staff, and when you put the dynamic marking in between the treble staff and the bass staff, it applies to both and when you put it underneath the bass clef, it applies only to the bass clef. But this isn't true for the tempo marking right? I believe the tempo marking applies to both staffs always, and it doesn't matter where you put it. Is it true? Or is the tempo marking always above the treble staff?

1 Answer 1


You always put it at the top of the whole system (= "line" of music), like this: enter image description here

If there are more instruments (for example in the orchestral score), there may be several identical tempo markings for easier reading, but it's not necessary at all. The only thing that is necessary is to put a tempo indication at the top.

enter image description here

As you see, the tempo indication "Largo" is only at the top and above the string section.

Anyway: wherever the tempo markings are, they of course affect everything. In the example above, everybody plays Largo, not only flutes and first violins. (If you think a little bit about it: the music in all staves must go equally fast. Otherwise you would be on different place in each staff! Your left hand could be at the start of the line and your right hand at the end. That would be most confusing and useless.)

This also applies to words like "rall." Whenever more instruments are present, these go always to the top. In a score for solo instrument, they can go anywhere: enter image description here

However, they still apply to the whole music.

  • Yes 99.99% of the time, but there is music out there with different tempi indicated for different instruments on a per-staff basis, e.g. Reich's Piano Phase. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 13:10
  • Thank you very much for your answers! I have a few questions though, why does the marking 'ad libitum' appear underneath the bass staff? Because this is a different kind of marking? And can you put markings like grandioso or con espressione underneath the bass staff as well? And what do you need to do with the tempo marking, if the notes are really high and you have no space?
    – Stall
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 13:16
  • @Bob — I actually didn't know that. I guess I'll have to have a look on that (I can't imagine how you would read the sheet music though!)
    – Ramillies
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 13:40
  • @Stall — Most of the markings can go anywhere. You're right that if an indication like "espr." is above the treble staff or below the bass staff, it applies only to that one staff, but otherwise, you just stick them somewhere and that's it. // You can't have no space for that :—). (Today, you would be making scores on a computer, and the programs will make the space as necessary. In the old times you just had to plan beforehand to make that space.)
    – Ramillies
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 13:56
  • @Ramillies in Piano Phase two pianos are basically both playing the same bar over and over again, but not at the same speed, so all the musical detail is actually in the tempo instructions. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 20:43

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