I know that there are many terms that can be used to talk about the tempo of a piece of music but what words are there for change in tempo?

The only ones that I can think of are:

  • Accelerando
  • Rallentando
  • Ritardando
  • Calando
  • Stringendo
  • Smorzando
  • Rubato

Are these all correct in regards to changes in tempo and are there any others?


3 Answers 3


They're all correct, though some have meanings beyond just speed. Smorzando means slower AND softer - 'dying away'.

Meno mosso, piu mosso, ritenuto refer to sudden rather than gradual changes in speed. This can cause confusion as both ritenuto (sudden) and ritardando (gradual) are abbreviated to 'rit.' The only clue may be the presence or absence of an extension line. A gradual change has an extent, a sudden one doesn't.

  • I've seen so many "rit."'s interpreted as ritardandos that don't have extension lines.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 5, 2019 at 16:08

They are indeed tempo change markings, but some of them mean something along with tempo change.

Accelerando means to speed up, to accelerate. That's pretty intuitive.

Rallentando and Ritardando both mean to slow down, but they have slightly different connotations. Rallentando is a sort of fade out type of slowing down, whereas Ritardando is a more deleberate slowing down.

Calando means more than just slowing down. If you want a fadeout to a certain point in both dynamic and tempo, this is a good marking to use. You could mark ritard. and dimin. which would get you a very similar result, but Calando is a way of getting across both a diminuendo and a ritardando without marking ritard. or dimin. Calando literally means to calm down.

Stringendo is another marking that means to accelerate. But more specifically, it means that the music should get more excited. This is often interpreted as Accelerando + Crescendo, because both Accelerando and Crescendo add excitement and/or tension to the music, especially when combined.

Smorzando is another fadeout marking. It literally means dying away. Now, when to use Calando vs. Smorzando? I personally do this:

  • If the music is to fade to a slow pianissimo ending, I mark Smorzando
  • If the music is to fade to a quieter dynamic and a slower tempo(as an example, a forte allegro fading into a piano adagio) but isn't near the end yet, I mark Calando

Rubato is a bit different than all the others because the tempo change isn't unidirectional with Rubato. Rubato means that the tempo is flexible. How flexible it is depends on many factors, like for example Liszt's rubato is more flexible than Chopin's rubato and Beethoven has only the slightest bit of rubato.

  • Weird--I've only seen rallentando in contexts where the music pointedly does not fade out (and possibly crescendos), to the point where I've never been punished for interpreting rallentando as "rally". Also, I've read that stringendo means that acceleration is optional.
    – Dekkadeci
    Mar 30, 2020 at 7:53
  • Well I looked up the difference between ritardando and rallentando and it talked about the typical definition and how that brings confusion and then it went into the literal translation from Italian and that's where I found the ritardando is deliberate whereas rallentando is fading out. And then I looked up the definition of stringendo and it said right there that it is most often interpreted as Accelerando + Crescendo but means for the music to get more excited. Excitement and acceleration fit like 2 pieces of a puzzle.
    – Caters
    Mar 30, 2020 at 17:52

There's a particularly common tempo change marking I'm surprised isn't in the OP: allargando. It marks a gradual slowing and broadening of the music. An interesting example is the optional, parenthesized allargando marking near the end of the C major section of Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 3 in C Minor, which I've heard orchestras inconsistently follow (just like you'd expect).

Your Answer

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

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