So, the thought just crossed my mind of composing a Tarantella. But the thing is, I have only listened to and played a few of them in my 10 years of piano playing, so I don't know much about what is typical. However I do know this. It is a dance from southern Italy that is typically in 6/8 but sometimes in 12/8 or 4/4. And it has a typical rhythm, namely this rhythm:

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Tarantella rhythm

And the tempo is typically very fast, easily Presto. And the pieces themselves are typically short, not much longer than 5 minutes on the outside. And from what I know of the tarantella pieces I have listened to in the past and the ones I am listening to now, the bass is usually constant eighth notes or changes between eighths and dotted quarters whereas the melody has the typical 1 - a 2 - a, 1 & a 2 & a, rhythm(hyphens I'm using to represent that the note takes up 2 eighth notes) and the overall piece has a constant eighth note momentum until the final cadence.

Do I need to know anything besides the typical rhythms of the dance and the tempo and time signature it is in before I compose a Tarantella myself? Just asking because I have never written an Italian dance before. I've written French dances(the Minuet originated from France), I've written Austrian dances(the waltz has Austrian origins), I've even written Polish dances, but never an Italian one.

  • 1
    I don't understand the original downvote? This looks like a well-asked question, and some work has gone into it.
    – mkorman
    Apr 2, 2020 at 12:39
  • The music has to be suitable for reviving the victims of Tarantula bites en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarantella#Tarantism
    – PiedPiper
    Aug 30, 2020 at 8:28

4 Answers 4


There is quite a tantalizing (brief!) essay, "A Question about the Tarantella", which at minimum may inspire some further research.

Almost all students ... have confused the Tarantella ... with a dance ... by those who have been bitten by the tarantula. It is therefore necessary to point out some differences. The Tarantella is a courtship dance ... and is graceful and elegant ... of fairly brief duration and has its own music. ... The confusion ... comes from the fact that both the courtship Tarantella and [the] "tarantolati" derive their name from the city of Taranto.

The 2004 dissertation "Spider dreams: Ritual and performance in apulian tarantismo and tarantella" appears to have a great deal of information about the history of the spider-inspired version of the dance, including the music and both historical and modern performance practice.

ABSTRACT: The objective of this dissertation is to look at the relationship between ritual, performance, and social change in Southern Italy since the end of World War II. The focus is on Apulian tarantismo, a ritual of healing involving music and dance. Pivotal, in the system of tarantismo, is the figure of the taranta, a local spider, whose bite "possesses" the bitten with acoustic qualities that match its anthropomorphic characteristics. The healing for this bite happens during the pizzica tarantata ritual, in which professional musicians diagnose the vibration of the spider venom by performing a repertory of tarantella tunes. When the right tune is found, the person bitten begins to dance a cathartic tarantella dance. Since the 1950s the ritual has slowly changed, leading some scholars to say that it has disappeared. I look at the ritual changes and at the ritual revival that, since the 1990s, have enthralled musicians, dancers, poets, directors, and filmmakers in Italy and in the United States. I situate the revival of tarantella and tarantismo at the tail end of the larger Italian folk revival of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Key concepts such as "originality," "tradition," and "identity" as they relate to "local" music in a "global" market are discussed in the context of Salentine folklore. The dissertation research includes interviews and notes gathered during my fieldwork in Salento in the summer of 2002, analysis of staged performances of tarantella music and dance, and analysis of the tarantata ritual through the study of descriptions on books and articles, as well as the study of historical video and sound recordings. (emphases mine)


I've played a bunch of tarantellas - they make pretty cool guitar pieces. Here's what I've noticed distinguishes them from other styles:

  1. They're always in duple compound meter
  2. They are always in minor keys
  3. They're always lively, vivace or faster
  4. The rhythm you showed does sort of define a tarantella, but in the same way that beats define rhythm: it's the thing that underlies the actual performance. I haven't seen many tarantellas that use that exact rhythm, but I can "feel" that rhythm in practically any tarantella.
  5. The spider legend referenced in Aaron's response can be extremely important. Some tarantellas have a molto retardando at the end of the B section followed by an a tempo return to the A - I always picture the victim of the spider bite exhausted from the dancing, and being prodded to keep it up in order to recover.
  • You mean almost always in a minor key, this Beethoven tarantella is in major: youtube.com/watch?v=j42HjfCUClU
    – Caters
    May 28, 2021 at 4:36
  • @Caters - Beethoven titled that piece "Presto con fuoco". Several editions make that presto con molto fuoco, but I can't find any that give it the name tarantella, and that seems to be the ONLY video of it on YouTube so titled. It sounds to me like a similar 6/8 Italian dance, the saltarello en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saltarello. That would also make sense in context, since it's from his "hunt" sonata, and saltarello (jumping) has more to do with something like a fox hunt than spiders would.
    – Tom Serb
    May 28, 2021 at 13:23

I think you're being too prescriptive regarding the rhythm. A Google search for Tarantellas found plenty of examples, but not one followed that exact pattern. And I'm not hearing many 8ths in the bass lines, just plodding dotted quarters. So, apart from getting those two points wrong... :-) Yes, fast 6/8. As if trying to sweat the poison of a tarantula spider out of your system!


I agree with Laurence as far that there is huge list to find in the wiki article to find and on youtube. So you don’t need to have played many tarantellas.

So listen to them, find common features and differences of local styles - there are more than the rhythm.

Or just close your eyes, see the pictures of joyfully dancing people, colorful clothes, the moves and sounds and write just your own style.

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