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Definition of Adagio

Adagio is a proverb of liturgical origin repeated in a way that expresses a moral thought, advice, or teaching.

In music, Adagio is a term that marks the “tempo” at which a musical piece should be performed. It is also used to refer to a specific movement within that musical piece.


  1. Proverb
  2. Aphorism
  3. Musical tempo


It is possible that “Adagio” is a word that derives from two different etymological sources: from the Latin “adagĭum” or from the Italian word “adagio”.

In the first source, the concept is given in the field of linguistics and is used to name an expression that usually contains a moral teaching that can be easily memorized.

But when we refer to an Adagio in the field of music, the notion refers to a certain “tempo”. Adagio presupposes the execution of between sixty and seventy-two quarter notes per minute.

The concept of tempo is essential to understand this meaning of the term Adagio, as it is the speed at which a particular musical piece should be executed, and it is normal to find the indication of this speed at the beginning of the piece on the staff.


After the invention of the metronome, which took several centuries to adopt the current design and function, it was possible to make much more precise annotations. For example, how many quarter notes should be played per minute.

Although music should not be understood in a mechanical and invariable way, but rather spontaneous and natural, it is very important to have this information because it lets us know how composers want that work to be reproduced, regardless of whether we then print our own or novel nuances in our execution of it.