TANGO MUSICAL NOTATION
Please also read the description of Musical. Notation given for the Swing dances on page 20.
Tango music is normally written in what is known as a 2/4 time signature, this means that there are two full notes in each bar
of music. This is easier for the musician to read, as there is only half the number of musical notes written in one bar than if
the music is written with a 4/4 time signature. Therefore the notes are more spread out on the page. To the dancer, listening
to the music, you are unable to say in which time signature the music is written.
Over the years the profession has accepted the 2/4 time value and has counted the bars as follows:
1 & 2 & 2 & 2 & etc. Each sound being equivalent to one Quick. This has encouraged the “staccato” feeling in the music.
However over recent years the requirement of dancing in two bar phrases has led to the teaching count of:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 etc. Each sound being equivalent to one Quick.
Whichever method is chosen to count the figure, the musical accents on the first and third beat must be applied. This is
essential to create the sharpness of movement in the various turns that are danced. The accented beats are underlined
There is a definite sound, in good Tango music, between beat 4 and the following first beat of the next bar, which may be
counted &. For example, use this sound to create the compression of the standing leg before taking the first step of a
Promenade figure. This will enable the couple to create a quick movement onto step 1, but also have the control to dance a
Slow (2 beats) rhythm, on this step.
The Tango is known as a staccato dance but there is also smoothness to the music because of the different instruments
used in the orchestra. Therefore a dance showing good character will employ both musical definitions, staccato and legato
(sharp and smooth). For example, the two Slow Walks will be danced smoothly (legato), with a continuous feeling of
movement, and the following Progressive Link will be danced to stop the movement sharply (staccato), as a contrast.
Teaching Tip. One of the original names given to the music in Argentina, before it was universally known as Tango, was
“The Dance That Stops”.
Stillness is an essential quality for the advanced dancer to develop. It is the ability to move quickly and early into the shape
and then hold that position for the remainder of the beat or beats to be danced. It is not being late, by holding the shape for
longer than its time value and therefore dancing out of time. Please study the 4& 12 sounds as described above.
The Line Figures are often counted ‘& S’, the movement being danced into the Line on the ‘&’ count and the Line held still for
the ‘S’ count (staccato). This musicality adds tremendously to the character of the dance. In contrast the movement into a
Line figure could be danced slowly and the shape developed over extra Slow counts (legato).