Musicality 103

4th July 2010

"I believe that anyone interested in dancing tango needs to start by listening to the recordings for at least a year. Then their tango will come out of them." ~ JanTango

Musicality 101 | Musicality 102 | Musicality 103 | Musicality 104


The above quote sounds like a good idea. But in practice I'm not so sure.

Firstly you need to consider what "listening" actually means. I listen to the music all the time at milongas, I find it makes the whole dancing thing easier. But, pretty much, tango music itself remained a mystery to me. And to be honest, from what I've seen in musicality classes, I'm not the only one!

Adrian Costa has an interesting version of listening. He puts on pieces of music, pours himself a nice glass of something and every time he hears a traspie he takes a sip. That makes sense to me. But it pre-supposes that he knows what a traspie is in the first place and is able to recognize it. So I think this is too advanced for a starting place.

Pop musicality - name that tune

I find the continued existence of pop music fascinating. Pop music by its nature is remarkably simple. Yet each one has to be distinguishable from the others.

I remember a few years ago, Capital Radio did a competition where they played part of the song and you had to ring in and identify it. As time passed, they gradually reduced the amount of the song that was played, until at one point they only played a single note. If you think about it, that's insane. Yet surprisingly the people who rang in all suggested Madonna songs and it was indeed a Madonna song! The TV show "Name That Tune" had a similar idea.

In contrast, I think part of what confuses people trying to get to grips with tango music is the freeform nature of it. If you listen to a hundred different songs, you'll still probably be confused. There's simply too much chaos / variation to make sense of it.

A different approach

Consider the way that children learn a language. You tell them their favourite story over and over again. Gradually they start to be able to read it.

Or in Sesame Street, although it appears to be different each week, the Alphabet Song will keep coming up. Count von Count will, well, count.

The counting Count

There will be a letter and a number that comes up repeatedly through the episode.

In the same way, I think it's easier to learn musicality by limiting yourself to a set number of pieces rather than trying to listen to everything.

But which pieces?

There's really not that many things you can do musically in traditional tango. It still has to be tango music after all.

Take pop music as an example first. You can dance to the beat. You can do something to acknowledge the break. You can mark accents. The easiest way to do this is simply to find a piece of music that has a strong beat and dance to it. Then find a piece that has very clear breaks and dance to that. And so on.

You can do the same thing with tango. The following list is based on Joaquin Amenabar's DVD on Tango Musicality:

  • Viego Ciejo - Canaro (simple time)
  • de Julio - Canaro (double time)
  • Bahia Blanca - Di Sarli (half time)
  • Derecho Viejo - Canaro (half time)
  • Suerte Loca - Troilo (melodic rhythm)
  • Don Juan - Troilo (melody without basic 4 beat rhythm)
  • Indio Manso - Di Sarli (melody without basic 4 beat rhythm)
  • Casas Viejas - Canaro (dialogue between two melodies)
  • Alma - Carabelli (form and structure)
  • Marejada - Firpo (form and structure)
  • Milonga del 900 - Canaro (milonga)
  • Milonga Brava - Canaro (milonga)
  • Milonga de Antano - Canaro (milonga)
  • Lunes - Padula (clear predictable music with a lot of different things going on)

(The DVD explains the concepts in brackets clearly and in more detail, as well as providing the music listed)


You can obviously use whatever you like. I have however found that by repeatedly practicing to the above pieces of music, I find it increasingly easier to dance to music that I haven't heard of. It starts to make sense on an intuitive level. Rather than my having to figure it out in real-time, I began to "know / feel" what to do.

The reason for this I think, is that although there is a certain degree of freeform within tango, there are still limits. The composer only has a certain number of "musical lego blocks" to play with to create his piece.

So what I need to do is use Musicality 101 to recognize "oh I could do a double-time to this" and then combine that with the ideas inMusicality 102 to respond "so to interpret that from here, I now dance a double-time cross". And so on.

Then, when you get to the stage where all that makes sense and flows easily, break out the hot chocolate and listen to Pugliese ;o)

Next: Musicality 104.

~ Christopher O'Shea, 4th July 2010

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