The Musical Term Allegro and Its Lively Definition

Classical music in Montreal: discover the scene via OSM Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Kent Nagano.
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal Music Director Kent Nagano rehearsing the opera 'Alice in Wonderland' by the Korean composer Unsuk Chin on June 25, 2007 at the Munich Opera house Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Germany. Johannes Simon / Getty Images

If you can read sheet music then the likelihood of seeing the Italian word allegro at some point as an indicator for you to speed up the tempo has appeared before your eyes. It is one of the more common speed markings you will come across in music composition.

The Tempo of Music

Allegro is an indication to sing, play an instrument or conduct music in a quick, lively tempo. Tempo is the speed or pace of a given song or section of music, indicating how fast or slow you should play the music. Tempo is usually measured by beats per minute. Tempo is changeable and can be dictated by a conductor or beat keeper, like the drummer of a band.

Beats Per Minute

Allegro is usually measured at 120 to 168 beats per minute. An accurate way to measure beats per minute is to play along with a mechanical or electronic metronome, which is a device that ticks out the tempo of a song. The mechanical device visually displays a set beat with a left-to-right pendulum arm that resembles the movement of a car's windshield wipers. There are also smartphone apps or electronic devices that you can use to make a clicking sound that is set to the desired beats per minute.

Italian Terms in Music

In classical music,  it is customary to describe the tempo of a piece of music by one or more words. Most of these words are Italian, because many of the most important composers of the 17th century were Italian, and it was during this period that tempo indications were first used extensively.

Related Terms to Allegro

You will sometimes see other related terms in music, such as allegrettoallegrissimo, allegro moderato, molto allegro, and allegro misterioso. Allegro is faster than allegretto but slower than allegrissimo. 

Allegro is paired with other Italian terms to compound the meaning and describe the mood. For example, allegro moderato means moderately lively. Molto allegro means very vibrant and lively. Allegro misterioso means lively with a touch of intrigue.

There is even a redundant term allegro allegro, which tells the music reader to play or sing at an "even livelier allegro."

Other Musical Terms Also Meaning Fast

Presto is another music marking that is used to mean fast, in fact, it is faster than allegro. Allegro and Presto both indicate a fast speed, but a key difference is that allegro expresses mood, it connotes a sense of joy. Presto, on the other hand, simply indicates speed. The beats per minute of presto are usually measured at 168 to 200. The absolute fastest speed in music is prestissimo, which measures at anything faster than 200 beats per minute.

There are two speeds that are wedged between allegro and presto, namely vivace and vivacissimo, meaning "lively and fast" and "very fast and lively," respectively. They are not as commonly used as allegro and presto but are understood to mean "a faster allegro."