For many, music theory was not our focused major of study. We have learned through participating in music classes, ensembles, and through our music passion, what adagio or lento might mean, but more often than not we’ve relied on the conductor to guide us. As musicians we can broaden our scope of understanding to be better players, by deliberately studying the marks on the page in an effort to understand what the composer or arranger had in mind for a section or phrase. Pitch, tempo and rhythm are just basic elements of theory represented on the page, for us to execute as an ensemble of multiple players. An outstanding creative commons resource for music theory is Dolmetsch. If you browse through this link you can find just about anything you are looking for to explain what the markings on the page mean.
“But why” you may ask? Isn’t that the conductor’s job? Yes and NO.
Why NO? Your personal scope of understanding of musicianship is broadened by curiously investigating the composer’s intent as you prepare to present a piece. Even for rehearsal #1 as a reading session, it can be helpful to “anticipate what might be coming”, not by wrote practice of a piece, but my following the signposts written on the music sheet. Of course, listening critically to a recording, and following the score when possible, also helps in preparation. If you actively educate yourself on all of the guidance written on your music, you will begin to develop competency for a broader vocabulary for music terminology and how learn over time, how to execute more readily, the composer’s wish.
Why YES?. How the Conductor will interpret the music is the conductor’s personal way of sharing his/her personal feeling about the music. We are part of the execution of that vision.
Here is are several quick links:
With specific reference to tempo, here is a link to the Dolmetch online reference. Its a good reference but also a good read.