The Three Rhythms of Tango Dance Music

Originally tango was played on a guitar, sometimes accompanied by piano. Later, as its popularity grew, the orchestras became more formalized, and the bandoneon, a German-made instrument resembling what used to be referred to as a ‘squeezebox’, became the central instrument of the music. Earlier pieces of tango music were composed and played in 2/4 time – that is, two beats to a measure. Later, in the 1940s the music transitioned to 4/4 time, and the style of dance changed significantly, since the music introduced opportunities for more prolonged embellishments and pauses.

EARLY TANGO and TANGO AT THE MILONGAS TODAY

Here is an audio clip of Flor De Tango played by Orchestra Victor, a studio orchestra from 1925 – 1934, in 2/4 time. Very march-like in nature.

Flor De Tango(Victor25-34)clip

A version of Flor De Tango by Osvaldo Pugliese y Orchestra from 1944 – 1945. Very different in nature, very different in emphasis, but about 45 seconds in similar phrases are identifiable.

Flor De Tango(Pugliese44-45)clip

MILONGA

It is often said that the style of music, milonga (a word used to describe the dance venues, parties, as well as the dance style) preserves the original rhythms of tango. And the style is danced rhythmically rather than dramatically.

The milonga, Azabache, by Francisco Lomuto y Orchestra, 1931 – 1950, probably brings out the rhythm as well as any.

Azabache(Lomuto31-50)clip

But milongas can be quite peppy, as with ‘Repique Del Corazon’ by Edgardo Donato y Orchestra.

Repique Del Corazon(Donato35-42)clip

And the rhythm can be more subtle, as with ‘Advertencia’ by Ciriaco Ortiz.

Advertencia(Ortiz31-55)clip

VALS (WALTZ)

And then we come to vals, or waltz, as Americans are accustomed to the music. As with all tango music, vals is varied. Some songs resemble the Austrian waltz to which we may be accustomed, but many are lively and syncopated.

A fairly Viennese style vals might be ‘Corazon de Oro’ by Orchestra Tango.

Corazon de Oro (Tango)clip

But a more rhythmic and exciting version that would get you moving might be ‘Pobre Flor’ by Alfredo D’Angelis y Orchestra.

Pobre Flor(DeAngelis44-49)clip