Bahia Blanca Section A: The First 8 Bar Phrase


In the next few posts I’ll discuss the phrase structure in Section A; how they are constructed and how they are interrelated. Mostly how those interrelationships create the strong Question and Answer phrasing so prominent in Bahia Blanca.

I concentrate on just the first of the two 8 Bar Phrases in this post. The next post will cover the second one. Perhaps after that I’ll delve into the masterful way Di Sarli creates the phrasing, making it come alive: Di Sarli’s use of melody, the shape, range, rhythm; piano fills between the phrases; ; accompaniment; .

Labeling Phrases
Recall how s in tango music are typically structured: 16 s with two 8 bar s, both having two 4 bar phrases within them, and those 4 bar phrases having two 2 bar phrases within them. Bahia Blanca follows the pattern.

There are several ways to label phrases: “periods”, “sentences”, “antecedent”, “consequent” (I call those two Question and Answer), and many others. I’m simply going to name the phrases explicitly by the number of bars they contain: “8 bar phrase”, “4 bar phrase”, “2 bar phrase”. There is no hierarchy; one is no more important than another. They move through time at different rates; some occur over less time than others. There is an interrelationship though, and this post is about the phrase interrelationships in Bahia Blanca. Just the first 8 Bar Phrase in Section A for now. With a bit of careful listening we should be able to hear and feel each of these levels as the music is played.

Phrase Flow Chart
Descriptions of a multi-layered structure can easily become convoluted. Not mine, I hope. Anyway, the following flow chart should clearly illustrate the interconnections between the phrases, and the Q&As. This is the first 8 Bar Phrase. Think of the music moving through time from left to right.

Phrase Flow Chart

The Music
Time for some music. I have fully synchronized the piano sheet music with Di Sarli’s recording and also provided controls to playback the audio only. They are after the score. If Bahia Blanca is new to you I suggest following the score or listening to the audio clips several times to get the flow of the music into your head and being. This post is very detailed and I think knowing the music reasonably well before getting into it is a good way to start.


A technical note. Currently there is no way to play back a specific measure range in Noteflight. (I’ve exchanged a few emails with Noteflight execs. about adding the ability, and there has been positive response from the company). If you follow along with the syncd music/audio, Section A ends in bar 16, so please stop then. I’ll be discussing only the first 8 bars in this post though, so maybe stop there. There will be references to bar numbers throughout the post, so those who can read music can look at the score and see the notes I’m talking about.

Audio Clips
There are many audio samples, but they are not syncd to the music, other than in the fully synchronized score above. To listen to the recording only, click the play buttons below.

Ex. 1. Section A

Ex. 2. The first 8 Bar Phrase.

Q&A Analysis, The First 8 Bar Phrase
I’m going to work through the first 8 Bar Phrase in Section A, bar by bar, starting with the initial pair of 2 Bar Phrases. They act as Question and Answer (Q&A) within the 4 Bar Phrases. Then I’ll take a look at how the 4 Bar Phrases create a Q&A quality within the first 8 Bar Phrase. And lastly, how the first 8 Bar Phrase is a Question to the second one’s Answer. Which will be more fully developed in the next post, about the second 8 Bar Phrase.

1) The First 4 Bar Phrase
Section A is mostly based on the first 4 bars, a complete musical thought on its own. It is played three times in succession, with some variation. Since it has such prominence we should take a close look at it. The first 4 Bar Phrase has two segments of 2 bars each. These are the Question and Answer.

Ex. 3. The Question (bars 1-2).
Ex. 4. The Answer (bars 3-4).

The Question is emphatic, the Answer restrained, with an echo-like or sighing quality. Together they make a complete and complimentary statement. There is tension and resolution.

Ex. 5. Q&A combined, forming the first 4 Bar Phrase (bars 1-4).

The first 4 Bar Phrase is a complete musical unit on its own. It is also the first 8 Bar Phrase’s Question. Questions typically are bold, emphatic. In this case, the echo/sigh motiv ends the phrase with restraint. As the echo is ending a piano fill, playing between phrases thereby linking them, boldly enters, leading with energy into the next phrase. There is restraint in the melody as the first 4 Bar Phrase ends then action and a forward drive into the next phrase.

2) The Second 4 Bar Phrase
The second 4 Bar Phrase (bars 5-8) begins identically as the first. Its 2 bar Question (bars 5-6) is the same as the first Question in bars 1-2.

Ex. 6. Second 4 Bar Phrase, the Question (bars 5-6).

The Answer (bars 7-8) is quite different from the Answer in the first 4 Bar Phrase (bars 3-4). Before there was an echo, a sighing, now there is not. Look at bars 7-8 compared to 3-4 in the score and compare audio Ex. 4 to the following one.

Ex. 7. Second 4 Bar Phrase, the Answer (bars 7-8)

The melody and harmonies are different from what we heard before. In the first Answer (bar 3-4) there is fading echo, a series of sighs, the second one (bars 7-8) is somewhat more assertive, less gentle. The first one feels more final, there’s a natural pause and resolution, a feeling of completeness. The tension of the two bars (Q) is resolved during the next two bars (A). In the second 4 Bar Phrase there’s a feeling of slightly unresolved tension in the Answer (bars 7-8). The reason why is Question and Answer phrasing at the 8 bar level.

Here’s the entire second 4 Bar Phrase (bars 5-8).
Ex. 8. The second 4 Bar Phrase.

3) The 4 Bar Phrases as Question and Answer
The 4 Bar Phrase has now been heard twice (Ex. 5, bars 1-4; Ex. 8, bars 5-8). Moving up a level in terms of phrasing, the first 4 Bar Phrase was the 8 Bar Phrase’s Question. This time it is the 8 Bar Phrase’s Answer. It ends with a different musical character than the first playing (Ex. 5, bars 1-4) because at the 8 Bar Phrase level it is a Question. It’s character is “open” or unresolved, there is some tension. To my ears it quite literally feels like a question is being asked, in somewhat hushed tones.

Here are the two 4 Bar Phrases, the components of the first 8 Bar Phrase. Listen to the differences between them, hearing how a change in the ending of the second one – the Answer (bars 7-8) – makes such a big change in how we experience the music, at both the 4 and 8 Bar Phrase levels
Ex. 9. The first 4 Bar Phrase, the first 8 Bar Phrase’s Question.
Ex. 10. The second 4 Bar Phrase, the first 8 Bar Phrase’s Answer.

Listen again to the first 8 Bar Phrase, having gone through this rather long discussion. Hopefully this time makes a deeper impact than the first hearing at the start of the post.

4) The First 8 Bar Phrase as Question
The music has not come to a restful cadence – a resolution. That is because of Q&A phrasing at the section level: the first 8 Bar Phrase is a Question. The second one, the one to come, is an Answer. The first 8 Bar Phrase leaves us hanging a bit. Which prepares and nicely sets up the second 8 Bar Phrase.

That’s for next time.

Orchestration or instrumentation is how the instruments are used; which instruments are playing at any given time and what is their function, such as melodic, accompaniment, creating the pulse, linking phrases (fills).

The way the notes are played and connected to one another: anywhere from gently played to heavily attacked; held for the full duration of the note value or clipped short; smoothly connected to the notes before and after, or continuously separated.

There are many technical terms for these differences, but for tango we mostly need to be aware of two broad kinds of articulation, the extreme ends of the spectrum: a connected legato, which often creates a lyrical quality, and an accented, clipped short marcato. Generally, the strings and singers have a legato articulation, while the bandoneons have a marcato one.

Sections are the top level element of music's form. They are the the large building blocks of tango music, typically lasting around thirty seconds or so. Each section is a unique segment of music, having a distinct musical character.

Tango music has two, occasionally three, primary sections, which we may label  “A”, “B”, “C”. Sometimes there is an "Introduction", "Bridge", a short section between two larger ones, or "Coda", a short concluding section.

Usually each section will be played consecutively in order (A then B then C), followed by various other orderings. Typically in tango songs each section is played instrumentally then each is sung, then section A is played instrumentally: A-B-A (vocal)-B (vocal)-A. But there are many exceptions and other possibilities.

Phrases exist within a section.

A bar or measure is a small segment of music containing all the number of beats as specified by the time signature.

A short section of music with a clear start and end quality, with a consistent or complementary musical character. Generally, the character is different from what comes after or precedes it, anywhere from subtly to very obvious. more...

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5 Responses to Bahia Blanca Section A: The First 8 Bar Phrase

  1. Jantango says:

    I hope everyone following your analysis is enjoying it as much as I am.

  2. Minh says:

    Very useful and interesting!

  3. Cliff Ward says:

    Very interesting. Does every tango song have this question and answer process, and how do we match that to the pauses and sequencing of dancing?

    • tangomonkey says:

      Well, I can’t claim EVERY tango does, but I’d say the number is close to 100%. Not all tangos will have a 4-8-16 bar multi-layered Q&A but the call and response quality will be there. Most music has this character and it’s not something unique to tango.

      I seldom think about any of this on the dance floor, simply react intuitively to the music as it happens. Questions are bolder, maybe suggesting bigger steps or movements. Answers pull-back and resolve, suggesting tighter, fewer movements. It is difficult to explain in words, and in generalities.

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