The way I achieve this in my campaign is through manipulation of the players. I can do this because I tie the character into the my setting background through a one on one session prior to the start the campaign. We go back and back forth with the players telling me what they like and me telling them how it could fit in the campaign. The results is a short one page background with benefits and complications.
What the player don't realize is that I am also using the process to manipulate the choices so that there are natural reason for the players to be together. It not heavy handed so sometimes it doesn't quite work but often it helps a lot.
Then I have a plot, not a story. A plot is a series of events that would occur in absence of the characters. It includes associated NPCs and locales. It is a plan that will change once players start interacting with it. Basically after each session you alter it to account for what the players.
At times it may feel like you are throwing away a lot of work but with experience and a little awareness you can setup things so that the action will naturally flow to certain NPCs or locales. Just don't get wedded to any particular "thing" treat the elements of your plot as bag o' stuff that you pull out and combine in response to what the players doing.
Now the plot is where you first setup a "beat" and control the "tempo" of the campaign. I call them slack and climax. Slack times usually involves a lot of roleplaying, travelling, etc. The climax involves of course conflict either combat or other types of things a RPG can handle. (Some RPGs have social conflict rules for example).
I view the overall plot in two or parts. Slack1, Slack2, Climax 1, Slack 3, Slack 4, Climax 2. And it operates on several levels. For example Slack2 could have one or two small climax say Investigate Library, Investigate Tavern, Break into Merchant's Home. Followed by Talk with the Big Boss, Find out where Lefty is, Chase down Lefty.
To make this not a railroad you have to use the elements of your campaign as the Bag o' Stuff I mentioned earlier and think on your feet was to what to tell the players at each point. The players are making the decision but you setup things so that rational choices given their current goal and motivations is to go from A to B and not C. But if they do go to C (usually because they guessed wrong) you are not caught with your pants down as you have your Bag o' Stuff. Just pull out what you need to run that portion of the campaign.
Manipulating the logical choices is how you control as what you describe as tempo and setup beats. Doing the way I suggest make the players feel in control of their character's destiny, part of a vibrant and living setting. Not that they are observers of your story.