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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Best Strategies for Teaching Tempo

One of the fundamental aspects of music that students need to explore in general music is tempo, but it can be difficult to come up with different lesson ideas to keep students engaged while giving them the practice they need. Today I want to share some of my most effective strategies and lesson ideas for teaching tempo, no matter what grade level or specific aspect of tempo I'm working with.

Stationary movements: of course one of the easiest ways to have students follow the tempo is to show the beat with motions, whether it's patting, clapping, waving, or anything else they can do without leaving their spot. My favorite, though, is to use dance moves. The best way I've found to expand "movement vocabulary" to give shy students ideas and expand other students' repertoire, is to use visual prompts like these cards.

Conduct: sometimes the entire class will conduct with a recording, or I'll have one student conduct at whatever speed they choose and have the class follow their tempo.

Move around the room: students follow each other around the circle, or follow in a line that I lead around the room (songs about trains are perfect for this!), or I tell students to move within a specified area in any direction they want in scattered formation.

Dance: beyond just moving one way with the beat, it's fun for older students especially to experience the tempo with more complex choreography, whether it's a folk dance or a more modern dance sequence. This is particularly helpful when I want students to repeat a song several times, particularly when we're working on changing speeds, because it's less mundane.

Vocabulary: to practice using specific tempo vocabulary, I'll have students point to different words on the board and have the class sing at the speed indicated by the words they point to. I also make it a point to say the word at the given speed whenever we are practicing saying it out loud (so I always say "largo" slowly and "presto" quickly, for example).

Composition: I confess I don't do this as often as I'd like, but it is great practice to have students choose a specific tempo for their compositions whenever they are creating their own music. Even with my youngest students, when they create their own short rhythmic patterns, it's meaningful to have them try it fast and slow and decide which they prefer.

Examples to Use
One of my favorite ways to compare tempi (and have students identify the speed of each with specific vocabulary) is through Irish music- the hornpipe is slow, the reel is medium, and the jig is fast. I like teaching students some simple dance steps for each and then comparing the speeds.

A great way to compare multiple speeds in one piece is with Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Brahms. This is a great one to have students identify each tempo by pointing to the matching words.

I hope you find these ideas helpful as you plan your lessons for teaching tempo at any age! If you are looking for more comprehensive lesson plans to cover all of the fundamental musical skills and concepts in engaging and meaningful ways, you'll find everything you need in my general music curriculum sets. Have a favorite lesson for teaching tempo? I'd love for you to share them in the comments below!


  1. thanks for sharing nice info

  2. this is very helpful...thank you for sharing

  3. So good of you to share this. This is incredibly helpful. Thanks much!

  4. Thanks for these ideas! I recently had students come up with things in the world that are largo or presto and they had AMAZING ideas - getting sucked into a black hole, the speed of light, the speed of light for presto; food getting digested, a tree growing, a person on a balance beam for largo. So fun! I will also use this idea for accelerando and ritardando. :)

    1. That's a great idea, thanks for sharing! I often have a conversation like this when I first introduce new terminology for expressive elements- it's a great way to get them to relate the concept to their everyday lives!