Italian Tempo Markings: a 'cheat sheet' w/ TV Show Theme Songs

As kids we're taught that if we ever have to give someone CPR we should deliver chest compressions to the beat of 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees. It's amazing how accurately we can recall that tempo at around 100 beats per minute (which incidentally falls into the range for the Italian tempo marking Andante).

Italian tempo markings are highly variable and often times a conductor or musician chooses their tempo marking for a piece based on other factors besides just the written directive, it could be a previous rendition or the aesthetic of the ensemble. This list of Italian tempo markings and TV shows whose theme songs fall into each range isn't intended as an exact guide ~ but rather as a fun and informative list for approximating tempo markings without having to use a metronome. 

1. Largo 

Between 40-60 bpm (beats per minute) the Italian tempo marking 'Largo' means to play broadly. Clocking in at a lazy 48 bpm is 'Secret' a Waltz by The Pierces and the theme song from Pretty Little Liars' and just missing the cut for Largo at about 64 bpm, but still slower than Adagio, is 'Temptation Sensation (Haute Couture)' by Heinz Keissling the theme from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

2. Adagio

Literally translating to 'at ease' Adagio is about 66-76 bpm and communicates to the musician that they should play slow and stately. Coming in slow at 77 bpm, just over but we'll give it to them, is 'Teardrop' by English trip hop group Massive Attack, the theme from House.

3. Andante

Andante, which translates to walking pace (you might have guessed this if you're familiar with the Spanish verb andar), has a high variability. The tempo marking can mean anything from a slow stroll to a power walk, between 76-108 bpm. Two TV theme favorites, clocking in at about 100 bpm, are 'I'll Be There For You' by The Rembrandts from Friends and 'Yo Home to Bel-Air' by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

4. Moderato

Moderato, or moderately as you may have guessed, is between 108-120 bpm and it is faster than you might think! About twice as fast as the ticking clock, this is the tempo for the theme from Shonda Rimes' beloved show Grey's Anatomy. 'Cosy in the Rocket' by the experimental electronica band Psapp comes in at an uptempo 119 bpm. Musicians ~ special bonus if you can figure out how to count the first 20 seconds of this track ~ tell us in the comments!

5. Allegro

Fast, quickly, and bright, the tempo for Allegro is between 120-168 bpm and it literally translates to mean cheerful in Italian. There is a big difference in tempo between 120 and 168 but two themes that clock in in the middle are 'Hey Beautiful' the theme from How I Met Your Mother at 134 bpm, and the theme from Family Guy composed by Seth McFarlane and Walter Murphy at 146 bpm.

6. Presto

Presto, between 168-200 bpm, is very fast. So fast, that themes in this tempo range cannot be heard on television. In fact, any shows whose themes have surpassed 168 bpm have been taken off the air. Ok, I'm totally kidding, but I couldn't find a single show whose theme had a tempo marking that fell into the 168-200 bpm range. The closest show I found at a staggering 158 bpm, was the theme from Batman composed by Neal Hefti. So feel free to use 'faster than Batman' as a reference tempo for Presto.

What did you think of our list? Feel free to add your own TV show themes in the comments and please let us know if you find a show with a theme faster than Batman!