How Fast is Allegro? How Loud is Forte?

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I have two questions for you today: How fast is allegro, and how loud is forte? Have you ever seen a metronome with a tempo guide? It gives you all the speeds for andante, adagio, allegro, presto and more. But when you look at the guide, allegro is from 80 to 120. How do you know how fast it is? Is 80 allegro, or is it 100, or is 120 allegro? It’s the same thing with forte. How loud do you have to play for it to be considered forte? These are excellent questions!

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 it’s really serious business! It’s really loud because it happens so rarely. Same thing with pianissimo in Mozart. But I’ve played some Mahler symphonies that have , FFF, sometimes FFFF, and even FFFFF fortissississississimo! So when you see a forte in Mahler, you have to take it with a grain of salt. There’s such a range and so many different levels of loud, louder, loudest and beyond.

You must consider the acoustics of the room and the sound of the instrument you’re playing.

The acoustics of a room and the sound of the instrument have an affect not just in regards to volume, but speed as well. How you articulate can make something sound faster or slower. If you play very legato, it might sound slower even playing at the same tempo. But if you play with more separation between the notes, really well-articulated staccato fingers, it will sound faster even at the same tempo.

Allegro isn’t just a speed, it’s a mood.

The same thing is true of presto which is very fast, and vivace, which is lively, and andante which is a relaxed tempo like taking a stroll. These are not just tempos or speeds. They have to do with the mood and character of the piece you’re playing. This is really obvious when you have dance movements, like a minuet or a waltz. Everything has to be in the character of the music. It’s not just an absolute 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.

How fast is allegro? How loud is forte? It depends upon the piece and what you’re trying to create with it!

Listen to how loud the loudest part of your piece is and how soft the softest part is. Then you can come up with an architecture that makes sense of the dynamic scheme. Find tempi that work for the mood you’re trying to create in your music. That’s the answer. Keep an open mind, and think about what you’re trying to achieve with every piece you’re playing. Thanks so much for joining me. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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8 thoughts on “How Fast is Allegro? How Loud is Forte?”


 
 

  1. How loud is fortissimo? I used to play for my wife’s dance class. Mostly ragtime and similar stuff. We rehearsed in a church hall and with 20+ kids all tap dancing I had to play as loud as I could on an old upright piano so the kids would hear it. Come the week of the concert in a theater in Glasgow, there was a 9 ft Steinway (older model but in great shape) below the stage. Kids are on the stage and ready to go – 1,2,3 and I launched into the Steinway. The poor kids just about jumped out of their skin as I could feel the floor vibrating below me! I could play this beast with a much lighter touch and the kids could still hear it!

  2. The organ tends to lend itself to legato playing, since the notes don’t die out and decay, and you hold down the key for as long as you want the note to sound. So organ playing is really much more legato than piano playing, I think.

    Anthony Newman, the organist, plays at lightning speed to begin with. And then on top of that, he plays everything staccato. Talk about a WOW! performance! It seems no human being could possibly play that fast!

      1. Actually, that never bothered me. There are things you do with your fingers (like exchanging fingers on a single key) that help a lot. It just seems to come naturally for me.

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