Understanding Tempo and Character in Music Ensembles

Tempo and Character.

Tempo: Is the speed at which the beat is played.

It is indicated: a) in Italian words.

b) In beats per minute (b.p.m) with a metronome, a device that marks the beats at a predetermined speed.

Regular Tempos. The speed of the beat remains constant until the end of the movement or another indication is given.

Slow tempos: LARGO, ADAGIO; Moderate tempos: ANDANTE, MODERATO;

Fast tempos: ALLEGRO, PRESTO.

Variable Tempos: Indicate a gradual change in the speed.

RITARDANDO: gradual decrease in the speed.

ACCELERANDO: gradual increase in the speed.

A TEMPO: reestablishes the regular tempo.

Character: Indications that show how to interpret the music. They are written in the score next to the tempo indication, also in Italian words. They indicate a certain nuance or a quality of feeling.


Tempo and character are subjective. They can be interpreted differently, according to: – The acoustics of the hall.

  • How the musician understands the piece.
  • Even his/her mood.


An instrumental ensemble is made up of a minimum of two up to one hundred musicians. They can combine instruments:

  • From every family.
  • From a single family.
  • To use a single instrument played by several musicians.

There is a big variety of ensembles:

The Orchestral and Chamber ensembles are linked to Classical music, and the composer specifies the instrumental ensemble that the work is composed for.

  1. ORCHESTRAL ENSEMBLES. More than one musician interprets each musical part in a composition. In these groups, it is important to balance the overall power sound.
  1. CHAMBER ENSEMBLES. A single musician plays each musical part in a piece of music. The composer selects what instruments play the work and its number.
  2. OTHER TYPES OF MUSIC ENSEMBLES. Each type of music has its own ensembles. Electrophone instruments are combined with traditional instruments, so a mixing desk is required to balance the acoustic power.


There are three types: a) ensembles of the same instrument.

b) ensembles formed by certain families of instruments.

c) Ensembles from all families.

The Symphony Orchestra evolution:

From the Eighteenth Century, this ensemble has expanded its timbre range, including new instruments.

18th Century. Contrast between bowed string instruments and winds (oboe, bassoon, and French horn). Timpani are added optionally. Between 25-30 musicians.

19th Century. New aerophones (trumpet, trombone, tuba) and an increased string family. More percussion instruments and the harp. Between 40-60 musicians.

20th Century. Composers demand more specific combinations of timbres. Any instrument can be included. The number of instruments depends on the work.

CHAMBER ENSEMBLES. Characteristics:

Every musician interprets a single part.

Made up of between two and nine musicians.

Chamber ensembles classification depends on:

  1. The number of musicians in them DUO, TRIO, QUARTET, QUINTET, SEXTET, SEPTET, OCTET, NONET.
  2. Timbres combination: similar or contrasting timbres.
  3. Melodic or Polyphonic instruments. Depending on the capacity of playing a single melody or several voices at once.

Duos: a) Two melodic instruments (E.g., violin and flute).

b) A melodic and a polyphonic instrument (E.g., piano and flute).

c) Two polyphonic instruments (E.g., two pianos or piano four hands).

Trio: a) Three melodic instruments (from the same or one from a different family).

b) Piano trios. The piano is the most versatile polyphonic family to combine with.

Quartets: String quartet (VIOLINS 1º AND 2º, VIOLA, CELLO).

Quintets: a) String quintet.

b) String quintet with clarinet.

c) String quintet with piano.

d) Brass and Woodwind quintet.


  1. Traditional music ensembles.
  • Include indigenous instruments.
  • Play outdoors on feast days.
  • The repertoire includes human voice and dancers.

Rondalla (Spain) With plucked string instruments: mandolins and guitars.

Gamelan (Indonesia). An Orchestra made up of gongs, metallophones, and membranophones.

Regional ensemble of choros (Brazil). Cavaquinho among other instruments.

  1. Jazz music ensembles.
  • The music is not linked to any specific ensemble.
  • The improvisation is essential: Rhythmic base (Drums); Chords (piano or guitar) and bass line (Double bass).

The most usual jazz ensembles:

  1. Piano, Drums, and Bass.
  2. Piano, Drums, Bass, and Saxophone.
  3. Big band (rhythmic, woodwind, and brasswind sections).

C) Rock music ensembles.

  • The repertoire is often written by the band musicians.
  • The strong presence of electrophones.

The most usual ensembles of pop-rock music are:

  1. Guitar, Bass, Drums, and voice.
  2. Two guitars, Bass, Drums, and voice.
  3. Guitar, Bass, Drums, Keyboard, and voice.