Most italian musical indications and concepts are easy to translate in one or two words (largo, presto, crescendo, ...) but it is difficult to find even an approximation to rubato.

Any suggestions?

  • 5
    Why not literally? Stolen time or robbed time. Cause that's what you do. Commented May 12, 2011 at 7:09
  • @Tom : Because it is just one side of the coin. The kind of translation I am looking for is not only from italian. It is also from musicalian.
    – ogerard
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 16:27
  • 1
    @Tom : to me, a good translation in this case, is one that goes already half-way explaining the musical concept behind the word for someone who never thought about that.
    – ogerard
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 14:17

6 Answers 6


"Flexible time" is probably the closest translation that gets the point across. However, "stolen time" or "robbed time", as Raskolnikov suggests, would be the most accurate translation. The English speaker unfamiliar with it would just need to think about it a little: stealing time from some notes and giving it to others. Heck, maybe "Robin Hood time" would be a good name too :P

  • 4
    +1 Robin Hood time. Probably the best name there is. And it is easy to remember the explanation after have heard it the first time. (Also +1 for having a complete answer) Commented May 12, 2011 at 15:14
  • 1
    Nice idea!
    – ogerard
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 16:29

How about some Elasticity?

Possible Usages: In Elastic Tempo; Elastic; With Elasticity


A couple of subjective suggestions, none of which I find very good:

  • "Free pace"
  • "Moving tempo"

The problem is that this freedom must be within keeping the average tempo.


I think "flexible tempo" could work.


According to Wikipedia, this is stolen or robbed as in stolen/robbed time.

A musician playing with rubato would "rob" from a part of the phrase they would want to be slower, and speed up later on according to the music. For example if you had a rising passage, you may wish to slow down to emphasize it, but resume your normal tempo after.

And this is further outlined by Anthony Tomassini, Chief Classical Music Critic for New York Times:

Let me start my answer by trying to define, for those who need some help, this loose term "rubato." It describes the practice of playing with expressive and rhythmic freedom. Specifically "tempo rubato" means "robbed time," a term that indicates that strict time in a passage is ignored temporarily while some time is "robbed" from one passage or group of notes and given to another. There are intense debates within the field over the degree of rubato that is considered tasteful and appropriate.


Google Translate (which doubles as a dictionary) says it means stolen but can also mean bent.

  • Bent makes sense. And for guitarists it would be a good image (you bend the tempo, like you bend a string to change its pitch).
    – ogerard
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 22:35

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.