Robert Estrin - piano expert

How Fast is Allegro? How Loud is Forte?

The basics of tempo and dynamics

In this video, Robert talks about tempo and dynamics. How much relative are they?

Released on December 22, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin, and you're watching

There's two questions today. How fast is allegro, and how loud is forte? You ever see those metronomes that on the back of them, they give you all the times for andante, adagio, allegro, presto, and there's a handy guide? But then you look at the handy guide, and you go, "What the heck? Allegro's from 80 to 120. How do you know where it is on there?" So you think you're short-changed, because you once want to know how fast is allegro? Is this allegro? Or is this allegro? And the same thing with forte. What's forte? Is this forte? Or is this forte?

These are excellent questions; and the answer is, it really depends upon the context. For example, in Mozart, forte may be the loudest indication of an entire piece. When Mozart writes fortissimo, well man, he's really serious business. That is really loud because it happens so rarely. Same thing with pianissimo in Mozart.

But I've played some Mahler symphonies, and sometimes have three, four, sometimes five X fortissississississimo. I mean, so when you see a forte in Mahler, you got to take it with a grain of salt, right? There's such a range and so many different levels of loud, loud, louder, louder, loudest.

The other thing is, there's so much to consider with the acoustics of the room, the sound of the instrument you're playing, not just in regards to volume, but in speed. How you articulate can make something sound faster or slower. That same Mozart C major K. 545 sonata that I demonstrated earlier, if you play it like this, it might sound slower even playing at the same tempo. I'm going to be very legato.

If I play the same tempo, but play with more separation between the notes, more of almost a staccato fingers, really well-articulated, it will sound faster even at the same tempo.

So allegro isn't just a speed, it's a mood, as is presto, vivace, lively, andante, a relaxed almost like walking. These are not just tempo or speeds. They have to do with the mood and character of the piece you're playing. Now, this is really obvious when you have dance movements, like a minuet ... or a waltz.

So everything has to be in the character of the piece. It's not just an absolute of speed or volume. Everything is related to everything else, just like in life itself. There are very few absolutes in this world. There are some, absolutely; but in music, most things are relational.

Listen to how loud the loudest part of your piece is and the softest part, and then you can come up with a architecture that makes the piece work to make sense of the dynamic scheme. Find tempi that work for the mood that you're trying to create in your music. That's the answer. How fast is allegro? How loud is forte? It depends upon the piece and what you're trying to create with it. Be open with your mind and think about what you're trying to achieve with every piece you're playing.

Thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate the comments. I can't answer all of them, but I make every effort to go through emails for you. So keep them coming in. It gives fuel for more video topics. We'll see you next time. Thanks so much for joining me here at Again, I'm Robert Estrin.
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