Robert Estrin - piano expert

What's the difference between Allegro and Moderato?

Interesting insights on how to interpret the most common tempo indications

In this video, Robert gives you interesting ideas about how to handle pieces marked as "Allegro" or "Moderato" and how to approach them in a "relative" way. Some interesting historical information about the Italian origin of these two common musical terms are also included.

Released on May 29, 2013

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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 here at Today's question is, "What's the difference between allegro and moderato and where do these terms come from?"

Well, allegro means simply fast, to play the piece fast. Moderato means moderately fast. So there's a little bit of difference. You have to put into context for the original score. Every piece has different requirements. In fact, you might have seen metronomes that have the allegro is from this number to that number, andante from this number to that number. But that's kind of ridiculous, because each piece has a different pulse so that allegro on one piece, it can be completely different number on your metronome. You have to use the sense of the character. So fast and slow are not absolutes. They are just characters of the piece. Now, where do these terms come from anyway?

Well, they're Italian words. And why Italian words? Well, western music has its roots in Europe, and Italy was a big epicenter of music. And it just became standard practice for musicians in all cultures to use Italian so that every country didn't have to learn every language. Well, for the most part, Italian is pervasive and you can learn these terms, get a little pocket dictionary or even go online and you'll see some resources for that.

Now, sometimes you might study French music of Ravel or Messiaen or Debussy and you'll see all these French words. Same is true of many German composers who have long words and phrases that are even hard to pronounce. I suggest going online or using Google Translate on your phone to find out what these words and phrases mean.

Sadly, Italian is not the universal language completely. But for the most part, you should be fine mastering the Italian terms and using translation tools when necessary and you should be fine knowing all the expressive marks in your composition. Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

JOHN RAFTOPOULOS * VSM MEMBER * on March 11, 2015 @2:37 pm PST
well! after watching your video
Robert, and reading through the comments, I am completely lost about at what speed any composition should be played. some composers indicate the speed by giving the metronome figure (or maybe given by the editor!) I have heard the same composition at the speed of light or at the speed of a race horse! An example is Mozart's sonata III in C+ edited by R. Epstein. he gives a speed indication of Quarter=132, but I have heard it much faster. could you give a hint on choosing the speed and could you comment on difference between "allegro", "vivace", presto? thank you!
Robert - host, on March 12, 2015 @5:47 pm PST
The tempo indications in music are as much about mood and character as they are about speed. There isn't one speed that is "Andante" or anything else. Just as Shakespeare (and others) wrote plays which have direction markings as to how the lines are to be spoken, music scores also offer some direction. However, while no two actors will recite lines the same way or at the same speed, so it is with music. I would suggest listening to recordings to get an idea of how your performance relates to what is "normal" realizing that norms change over time. Listen to old recordings and you will hear different tempos (and concepts of performance) from what is fashionable today. Some great artists purposefully go their own way in regards to tempos and performance practices while others strive to play as close to the center of what is typically heard. Ultimately you must go with what you feel committed to and make it convincing to your audience.
John Raftopoulos * VSM MEMBER * on March 14, 2015 @4:16 am PST
thank you Robert! you precisely described how one can build up a version of his own about the speed a composition could be played...I very much liked your parallelism to what the actor tackles his role, thus giving to his performance a personal touch...You are absolutely right about a pianist playing not just an execution, but playing his own performance...Thank you so much!
Garry * VSM MEMBER * on May 30, 2013 @7:30 pm PST
Nice to hear and see you. Please keep this format going !

Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on May 29, 2013 @6:12 pm PST
I also have a special request for Robert! Could you play at least a short part of the Rondo alla Turca of Mozart at the appropriate tempo? I have been playing that piece since I was a teenager, and my mother was a pianist. Recently I heard it on the radio, by a top pianist, but I was incredibly fast, from my modest point of view, it was too fast, I felt that the melody and espression were practically lost. Thank you.
PS: Fabrizio, I too am from Italy, Trieste!
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 30, 2013 @10:19 am PST
Thank you Fulvia for your comment and very nice to meet you here! I love Trieste! Grazie! Smiley Face
LUIZ SETTE * VSM MEMBER * on June 24, 2013 @7:04 pm PST
Very nice pick to discuss that subject. It seems that there is not a consensus about the proper speed in this Rondo. I've heard many different interpretations. Some of them are sheer showing-off of keyboard technique that, in my view, offend the real spirit and beauty of the piece.By the time it was composed, Europeans had a sort of crunch on the "oriental thing". Mozart was inspired by the Turkish Fanfarre or Band in which the drums and the cymbals played a very important role marking the 1st beat. They are evoked in those A MajorE major arpeggios. Though the mouvment was described by late editors as a "march", it is originally a Rondo, that is, a dance. Well, I think a dance that was meant to ordinary people, not acrobats or ballet dancers. Ordinary dancer may dance fast but not running like cheetahs.
Robert - host, on June 25, 2013 @2:58 pm PST
Yes - I will make a video for you!
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on June 25, 2013 @3:47 pm PST
I totally agree with you Luiz. A Rondo' must be definitively "danceable", and therefore cannot be too fast.
Richard L Walker on May 29, 2013 @9:57 am PST
Maybe a part 2 where Robert could play a couple of examples showing the differences in allegro, moderato, or anything else, based on the piece being played. It could be interesting.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 29, 2013 @11:18 am PST
This is a great idea! Robert, can we do that?

Thank you again Richard for this excellent idea!
Robert - host, on May 29, 2013 @11:28 am PST
I love this idea! We can show not only Allegro and Moderato, but highlight examples of several musical terms.
Richard L Walker on May 29, 2013 @12:06 pm PST
When you show allegro, moderato, etc. could you show how a single term might be somewhat different based on the piece being played? I think that is what you were describing.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 29, 2013 @11:41 am PST
carole zakrzewski * VSM MEMBER * on May 29, 2013 @6:21 am PST
It was good to hear the comment that you need to think about the character of the piece to decide if it should be allegro or moderato.
Viviane * VSM MEMBER * on May 29, 2013 @9:24 am PST
Not to decide if you should play allegro or moderato! To decide if moderato should be slower or faster in the piece!
mozartiana * VSM MEMBER * on May 29, 2013 @5:17 am PST
Allegro does not mean FAST, but happy.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 29, 2013 @6:53 am PST
Yes, that's the actual Italian meaning of the word "Allegro", and I can confirm that (I am Italian!), but I think Robert meant to tell its "musical" meaning, from a "tempo" stand point. Thank you for your comment!
Robert - host, on May 29, 2013 @11:14 am PST
You bring up a good point. While Allegro indicates a fast tempo in a musical score, the spirit generally is happy. Thanks for the comment!
mozartiana * VSM MEMBER * on May 30, 2013 @2:47 am PST
Hello Robert, yes, I agree with you. In sense of "tempo" it´s correct, sure.
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