Bahia Blanca Section B: The First 4 Bar Phrase


Preamble

Previous Bahia Blanca posts examined Question and Answer (Q&A) Phrasing in the first playing of Section A. (It is heard three times, with some differences between them). The first 8 Bar Phrase and the second 8 Bar Phrase. It is not necessary to have read these posts before reading this one.

Continuing the series, this post takes a close look at the first 4 Bar Phrase in Section B. The first time the section is heard; it is played twice. Future posts will explore the other three 4 Bar Phrases, then how they relate and interact within the two 8 Bar Phrases and the section as a whole.

Recently I (re)posted a table of fundamental musical components every piece of tango music uses in some way, The Musical Elements I study. In this and future installments I focus on these elements, describing the s, how Di Sarli masterfully uses , melodic shape, , both and punctuated rhythmic playing in the melody, intricate connecting s and transitions by the piano, both simple marking of the beat and syncopated rhythms in the accompaniment. I describe both how the music is constructed and how Di Sarli interprets it, that is, how it has been arranged.

I use music terminology for the reasons given in On Listening to Music. Each term has a brief popup definition and none of them are difficult to understand. If a term is unfamiliar to you, after reading it – maybe pursuing the more detailed version in the link, when there is one – and hearing the music, you probably won’t need to ever popup the definition again.

I struggled with this post – a lot! Not because I found it difficult to analyse and describe the music; quite the contrary. I had too much highly descriptive and technical information – in note-by-note detail. So I wrote two versions: Part One: Summary Analysis is, yes, a summary, though comprehensive and perhaps still too much information for some; Part Two: The Details fills in the detail. Part One stands on its own. So does Part Two, but reading through Part One first is a nice, informative introduction to the new material and detail in Part Two.

Comments and questions are welcome. Please use the comment field at the bottom of the post or contact me. And, a couple of weeks ago I added a thumbs-up “like” counter to the site to see which posts are best received. If you enjoyed going through this post and found it worthwhile please vote by “liking” it at the bottom of the page. Sorry, I did not activate the “dislike” thumbs down counter…

 
Enough preliminaries. I’ll start with a quick review.

Form, Instrumentation, Time Signature, Key, Tempo
To backtrack a bit, Bahia Blanca has two s, A and B, played in A-B-A-B-A order. Both sections have phrases at 2, 4, and 8 bar levels. Di Sarli’s has strings, bandoneons, piano, and bass (bass is also a string but it functions differently than the others). The is 4/8, indicating we will likely hear 4 marked beats per bar most of the time. The tempo is in a moderate “4”, around 112 beats per minute. (Around 56 if counting or dancing 2 beats per bar). Both sections are in the of F sharp minor; minor keys generally being somewhat morose, melancholy, intense.

Sections have distinct musical and emotional moods and qualities. (That is why I always point them out in my posts. Understanding a piece of music requires knowing its structure – the ordering of the 2-3 sections – and instantly recognizing them when they are played). Before exploring Section B we should briefly reacquaint ourselves with what came before in Section A, to get a sense of its character.

Section A is thickly scored, that is, most of the time all instruments are playing simultaneously and/or the harmonies are spread out into a wide range, creating a very full and lush sound. The is mostly quite full and expansive. If you are not familiar with Section A or would like to refresh your memory, here it is:
Section A (bars 1-16).

  
There are two broad categories of tango music: rhythmic and melodic. Bahia Blanca clearly falls into the melodic camp. Therefore a large part of the commentary necessarily explores and describes the melodies. Let’s get to it.

 

Section B: The First 4 Bar Phrase (Bars 17-20)

Part One: Summary Analysis

Below is the segment of music under discussion today:

The first 4 Bar Phrase, bars 17-20.

(A word about the sheet music, for those reading it: there is much more going on in the accompaniment than what is written on the page; that’s always the case. No matter; the ears pick up what the eyes cannot see and I fully describe everything Di Sarli does, whether written in the sheet music or not. The syncd sheet music and audio recording is available on Noteflight, here).

Even if you do not read music have a look at the excerpt above. The annotations should help visualize the written descriptions and may be interesting to see. Question and Answer segments are marked, arrows indicate melodic shape, components of the melodic rhythm are bracketed and named (Perhaps not all that clearly: HAB 1 is the habanera, HAB 2 is the syncopa), and the harmonies in name and type are notated above the staff and the scale degree circled below it. Most importantly, observe the melody’s rise and fall and rhythms.
 
If you haven’t listened to the phrase, please do so now. The thing which strikes me most when hearing Section B, after listening to Section A, is the instant change in mood, beginning with a very thin and dark sound: essentially unaccompanied bandoneons on a somewhat melody in a low . Section A was hardly a ray of sunshine, with the echo-sigh [] so prevalent; yet Section B is instantly darker, somber, more intense yet subdued.

In the first bar of the phrase (bar 17), as noted above, the bandoneons play a mostly unaccompanied melody. The only other instrument heard is the bass, which plays on beat one, just before the melody begins, and not again until beat 4, providing a mild leading into the strong beat of the next bar. The melody rises from the depths, moving us forward, then briefly pausing to catch our breath before rising again to the highest note in the phrase. The initial rise is an on the harmony, F sharp minor. There is a certain feeling here. Arpeggiated melodies lend themselves to that quality, and the bandoneons play the notes in a somewhat . The pause has a sideways melodic shape, it falls a semitone down from the top of the arpeggio, then rises back to that note, then one above it. That note (D) is the climax of the phrase. The climax note (D) is the highest note heard so far. (It is actually the highest note in the phrase, but we don’t know that yet). It is also the longest note heard so far.

Rhythmically, the melody is full of . The rhythm is used twice. (Not in full, specifically the most syncopated notes, and with some alterations). The rise up uses the first syncopa and the top of the arpeggio (C sharp) through the sideways, pausing movement, is the second one. Syncopation can be hard-driving and forceful; not here. We feel it moving us forward to the beats, but we are gently led.

Often as melodies rise musicians play the notes gradually louder, they . This happens here, and combined with melody’s rise from its lowest note, the sideways pause, then the rise to its highest and longest held note (the climax D, in bar 18), and the way rhythms are used, a climax is reached in the music.

From the climax the melody has a descent throughout bar 18 and onto beat 1 in bar 19. The melody is now harmonized by the bandoneons: they play other notes in harmony with the melody, using exactly the same melodic rhythm. The effect is quite dissonant, compared to the more lyrical, sparse and arpeggiated initial melodic segment.

Often descending melodies are played gradually softer, they . Not at all here. The forte (loud, strong) is maintained all the way down. Rhythmically, the climax note (D) and the next note (C sharp), beginning the straight line descent, use the rhythm. The next several notes use the syncopa. The bottom note in the passage (E sharp) is held the longest (another dotted 8th), similar in effect to the the highest note (the climax D). These elements combine to create a secondary climax at the bottom on beat 1 in bar 20.

From the bottom note the melody does something unexpected: it reverses, taking a big leap up back to the climax note (D). This time the note is not climatic. We recognize it and the effect is more one of remembrance and return than something new. Dynamically, the note is still forte, but both the dynamic level and the note are brief. This note and the prior one (the E sharp bottom note of the previous descending scale) use the habanera rhythm. This time the high note (D) is heard for only a short time (a 16th). From here the melody descends two notes then rises one. There is a big and the phrase comes to a restful .

In terms of accompaniment, only the bass is heard in the first bar (17). In the next two, during the descending scale and the leap up and cadence, strings (sometimes), piano (sometimes) and bass gently mark the beat. The bass has a special role, which is to prominently play on beat 4, always providing a mild syncoption leading into the strong beat (1) of the next bar.

Harmonically, the music moves from i during the rising arpeggio melody in bar 17 to iv in bar 18 on the descending scale, then to V#7 on beat one of bar 19, the secondary climax note at the bottom of the scale (E sharp). The leap up and sideways melodic movement remains on the dominant, with the last melodic note (C sharp) resolving to i on beat 1 in bar 20. The is one chord per bar and the is one frequently used in music: i-iv-v-i. There is stability, movement with some tension (iv), more movement and more tension (V#7), and resolution (i).

Next comes a piano , which I won’t go into here. It’s covered in Part Two, without too much detail. So is Question and Answer Phrasing in the 4 Bar Phrase. You can read about both, starting, here.

 
 

Part Two: The Details

Part Two divides the musical elements into categories and explores how Di Sarli uses them, both in terms of the music itself and how it has been arranged and interpreted. Here is the music, once again.
The first 4 Bar Phrase, bars 17-20.

The syncd sheet music and audio recording is available on Noteflight, here.

Melody
(Using note names is really unavoidable when describing melodic direction and rhythm in detail. If you are unfamiliar with notation please bear with me, and maybe read through Notes: Naming them sometime. Learning note names and the staff system isn’t difficult – or time consuming. I promise).

Some of the commentary necessarily repeats what was said in Part One. There is ample new material.

Melodic Shape
The entire melody is in a comparatively low , written in the bass clef; much lower than any melody heard in Section A. The pitch range is just over an (from C sharp an octave below middle C to D above middle C); neither narrow or wide. The melody begins on the lowest note in its range (C sharp) and flows somewhat lyrically upwards in an on the harmony, an F# minor chord, in second inversion: C sharp-F sharp-A-C sharp.  (I’m pointing out the chord inversion because the second 4 Bar Phrase begins very similarly but the arpeggio starts on a different note in the F sharp minor harmony, and that simple difference makes a big impact. More on that another time.) Only the bandoneons play the melody, and they are mostly unaccompanied. The melody rises to its highest note, a D above middle C on beat 1 in the next bar (18). It then broadly descends in a pattern this time, down to E sharp on beat 1 in bar 19. Bar 17, with the arpeggio was consonant, here the broadly descending scale sharply contrasts the lyrical quality with dissonance. These bars are the Question.

From the E sharp there is a large leap up, back to the high D. This is the largest interval distance (a diminished 7th) between any two notes in the melody, and it begins the Answer. The melodic shape continues slightly down to sideways then rises one note at the cadence.

Describing the character of the melody, it is somber, becoming more hopeful as it rises and s. There is a sense of forward motion on the rise then pause and retreat as it declines. The big leap up comes as a surprise, which is softened as the melody moves sideways, becoming still and resigned as it cadences, ending the melodic portion of the 4 Bar Phrase.

Melodic Rhythm
Constant use of habanera s occur in the melody. As a review, the habanera looks and sounds like this (In 2/4 time signature; count or tap four 8th notes in the bar – that’s all 4/8 is):

And a variation, the syncopa, looks and sounds like this:

Of the seventeen notes in the melody, eleven of them are syncopations. 65% of the notes occur between the 4 beats! And every one of those syncopations comes, in some way, from the habanera rhythms. Here’s the music, once again:

Each habanera-based rhythm is bracketed and labelled. The syncopation happens solely in the melody; there is none in the accompaniment. Di Sarli saves that for later. I’ve said elsewhere the habanera rhythms are not always used in full and/or they may be altered. This happens here. Hopefully the labeling makes sense and you can see how they compare to the habanera and syncopa rhythms, even if you don’t read music.

In the first bar the melody rises from C sharp in the bass clef up an then moves sideways on C sharp – B sharp – C sharp. This segment uses the syncopa rhythm twice: on the rise up and the sideways motion of the C sharp – B sharp – C sharp. The first time, instead of the initial 16th note there is a rest. And the third note, which should be another 16th, is expanded to two 32nd notes. (Verify by comparing the sheet music with the syncopa example). The second syncopa uses just the first three note values, the most syncopated ones in the pattern.

The rising one octave arpeggio (C sharp-F sharp-A-C sharp) covers the first syncopa and the first note of the second one. The syncopa rhythm (16th-8th-16th) is used to pause what was a rapid and spacious melodic rise. After completing the arpeggio with the C sharp on its first note, the second syncopa halts the rising melody. The sensation of moving forward stops. The next two notes beautifully pause then lead into the climax note: the highest note in the melody, the D on beat 1 in bar 18. The syncopa’s initial 16th note is slower than the preceding two 32nd notes and that begins the rhythmic slowdown. The next note, a longer note, an 8th, increases the pause and falls; just a semitone to B sharp. The longer time value of the 8th note largely creates the pause; and the semitone drop down to the B sharp makes an important contribution. B sharp is not in the key of F sharp minor, B natural is. Semitone drops to non-scale notes create tension, which is usually resolved by moving back to the preceding note. Pausing briefly on the B sharp creates the need to rise up, which is what happens. The rise resumes and the syncopa rhythm ends with the last 16th note leading into the climax D on the strong beat of the next bar (18). The syncopa beautifully adds to the pause-drive to the climax sensation. The climax D is a dotted 8th note, it is the longest note value heard so far and placing it here makes the note more prominent, adding to the climatic effect: the highest note is held the longest.

Listen to the passage, feel how the melodic shapes and rhythms “breathe”.
Bar 17. Melody rises to a climax using two instances of the syncopa.

From the climax note, D on beat 1 in bar 18, the melody has a descent throughout bar 18 and onto beat 1 in bar 19. The melody is now harmonized by the bandoneons: they play other notes in harmony with the melody, using exactly the same melodic rhythm. The effect is quite dissonant, compared to the more lyrical, sparse and arpeggiated initial melodic segment.

Describing this descending melody, the melodic rhythm of the first two notes, D to C sharp is the habanera dotted 8th-16th. The short 16th note effectively kick starts the descent by being faster than the prior note. Continuing down the scale, the next 4 notes, B-A-G sharp-F sharp, use the syncopa rhythm, with the last 16th once again expanding to two 32nd notes. The decent quickly begins with three fast notes, the last one held for an 8th of beat (the second note in the syncopa, the A), briefly pausing the descent before resuming by doubling the time value – the two 32nd notes. The lowest note in the descending scale is heard on beat 1 in bar 19, the E sharp. Modifying the last 16th note to two 32nd notes in the syncopa creates a very nice feeling of rushing, not forward exactly, but towards another type of climax, the E sharp on beat 1 in the next bar. The E sharp is held for a dotted 8th, just like the highest note in the initial rising passage, the climax D. Similarly, this note being the lowest note after a long descending passage and having the longest time value, creates a secondary climax. This descending bar is somewhat a mirror image of the first, punctuated at the ends with a longer held notes for emphasis. The note E sharp is a very important one: the (raised) . More on that later.

Listen to the descent from the climax D and feel the flow and pulse of the syncopation down to the E sharp:
Bar 18, Melody is a 7 note declining scale using the habanera and syncopa rhythms.


From the E sharp the Answer begins with a leap back up to the high D. The descending melody is suddenly reversed. This is a big leap (a diminished 7th), especially noticeable coming after the broadly descending scalar passage. It is the only time the melody has an interval this large. We are instantly brought back to the climax note but without a climax. The rhythm on the E sharp to D is the habanera dotted 8th-16th. The syncopation on the 16th, combined with the leap up to it (the D), effectively and immediately changes the mood. Rhythmically, the high D is short and syncopated, leading us into the next beat. Importantly, rather than continuing moving up, the melody turns back down. The two note descent seems to repeat the start of the descending scale passage from the climax heard in the previous bar. But there are only two notes this time and the second note is raised a semitone from B to B sharp. Recall in bar 17 the exact notes (C sharp-B sharp-C sharp) were used to pause the rising melody and lead to the climax D. The B sharp was held longer and had more prominence. This time it flows by quickly, almost whimsically. After the high D the notes are played very gently with a nice . The C sharp and B sharp use the dotted 8th-16th of the habanera and resolve to the C sharp on the strong beat.

Listen from the E sharp through the leap up and gentle cadence:
Bar 19. Melody leaps up using the habanera and cadences using the syncopa.

Despite an abundance of melodic syncopation, none are emphasized. The notes are played in an unaccented pseudo , not fully connected but more so than separated. Given all the syncopation, which can easily be played in a more hard driving manner, the melody’s is incredibly gentle. There is tremendous restraint. The syncopation is purely melodic; after the first bar the accompaniment simply marks the four count, playing only on the beat. Nevertheless, we feel the syncopations leading us forward onto the primary beats.
 
Have a listen once again to the entire phrase, noticing and feeling the melody breathe as it moves up and down.
The first 4 Bar Phrase, bars 17-20.

Orchestration and Texture
After the initial bar the texture thickens. The bandoneons fill out the harmonies and the piano, strings and bass come in to mark the beat.

Dynamics
Musicians will often a rising melody and a falling one; that’s part of phrasing the music. In this case the bandoneon melody begins softly and crescendos as it ascends to the climax, as would be expected. The louder dynamic level is maintained as the melody descends to the E sharp, and this is somewhat unexpected. There is a reason. The volume level is maintained on the forceful drive down to the E sharp, the , which is partly responsible for creating a secondary climax on the dominant (V) harmony.

After the leap to the D, which begins the abbreviated Answer, there is a big decrescendo as the melody falls slightly then rises a half step and cadences, ending the first 4 Bar Phrase. The phrase ends almost as gently as it began, largely due to the decrescendo.

Accompaniment and Its Rhythms
In the first bar of the phrase, bar 17, the only other instrument heard besides the bandoneons is the bass, which plays on beat one, just before the melody begins, and not again until beat 4. This creates a mild syncopation leading into the strong beat of the next bar. After the opening bar the accompaniment instruments mark the beat in a mild marcado in “4” style.

Banodoeons have the entire melody and the other instruments mark the four count in bars 18-19. The bass marks the “four” with the piano assisting. The piano drops out towards the end of bar 19 in preparation for its role in connecting this 4 bar phrase to the next one, “filling” in the space, the rests, in the melody between the phrases. As the melody decrescendos into the cadence in bars 19 and 20 strings and bass mark beat 3 and then beat 1, with the harmonies played .

In bar 19 the bass once again prominently plays on beat 4, providing a gentle syncopation into the strong beat. The note is C sharp, the dominant or fifth scale degree, which moves, resolves, to the tonic (F sharp) on beat 1 in bar 20. The bass has an important role in creating the as the phrase ends.

Harmony
The is one harmony per bar, creating an evenly flowing and balanced movement through time.

The is a very common one: i-iv-v7-i; one we should recognize when we hear it. It moves from the (i), F# minor in bar 17, to the subdominant (iv), B minor, in bar 18, to the (v#7), C#7, on beat 1 in bar 19, to the (vii7), E# diminished 7 on beat 2, and back to the dominant (v#7), C#7 on beat 3. Beat 4 stays on the dominant 7th and resolves to the tonic (i), the primary harmony, F sharp minor.

There is the establishment of the tonic (i, F# minor) during the ascending arpeggio in bar 17. Movement away from the tonic to the subdominant (iv, B minor) with the descending scale in bar 18. Its last note, the E sharp on beat 1 in bar 19, is on the dominant seventh (V#7, C#7). The leap back up to the high D and the following declining notes remain on the dominant harmony. On beat 1 in bar 20 the melody rises a semitone and the harmony resolves to the tonic

Over the course of these four bars we feel stability and centeredness (i), movement to more (iv) and more tension (V#7), then release and resolution back to the stability of the tonic (i) harmony.

I should say a bit about the functional relationship between the and notes and the harmonies built on them. The fifth scale degree has a natural, indeed need, to resolve to the tonic. So does the . The dominant harmony is built on the fifth degree (in this case, C sharp-E sharp-G sharp- and the 7th, B) and the chord contains the (raised) leading tone (E sharp). (The leading tone is always a semitone away from the tonic, which requires it to be raised in minor keys).These two factors require resolution back to the stability of the tonic note and harmony. The V(7)-i progression is called a Perfect Cadence, highlighting the important functional basis these chords have in creating tension and instability followed by resolution and release. They create a resting point in the music, a . (I recommend reading Harmony and Scales).

  
Time to listen once again and incorporate the many things I’ve written about this small segment of music into our being.
The first 4 Bar Phrase, bars 17-20.

 
Fill Between the 4 Bar Phrases
Bar 20 is a
between the 4 bar phrases.

Connecting piano fill between the first and second 4 Bar Phrase, bar 20.

The fill very effectively marks the end of the first phrase and transitions into the next. Melodically, the first 4 Bar Phrase ends as the bandonens hold the melody for a few beats into bar 20. The bass plays on beat 1 then is silent on beats 2 and 3. Over top of the sustained bandoneons the piano plays an embellished melodic line with a fast rhythm; there are more notes in this single bar than the melody used in any of the others. The piano line is a . It declines in a repeating melodic and rhythmic , played three times. Under the piano the bass re-enters on beat 4, creating a mild syncopation leading us to the strong beat in the next bar. That bar, bar 21, is the start of the next 4 Bar Phrase and both bass and piano mark the strong beat then drop out, leaving space for the new phrase’s melody to begin.

The effect is to brighten the mood and provide a change of pace from the slower moving melody and timbre (the sound quality) of the bandoneons to the faster moving brighter sound of the piano.

To get the full effect of the fill we need to hear it in relation to the phrases surrounding it. Below is the first 8 Bar Phrase, which is the first 4 Bar Phrase, the piano fill, and the second 4 Bar Phrase, to be explored in a future post.
The first 4 Bar Phrase, the piano fill, the second 4 Bar Phrase, bars 17-24.

Question and Answer Phrasing
There is Question and Answer Phrasing within the first 4 Bar Phrase, but not in even 2 bar sub-phrases and not as clearly defined as in Section A, or what is to come in Section B. The Question is extended a few beats while the Answer is truncated a few. I won’t comment much on them here; there’s enough description in both parts above so the Q&A effect should be readily heard.

The (extended) Question
Bars 17-19.

Many notes in a rising and falling melodic shape and fast melodic rhythm with a crescendo.

The (abreviated) Answer.
Bars 19-20.

Few notes after a leap up in a sideways melodic shape and slow melodic rhythm with a large decrescendo into the Perfect Cadence.

 
 

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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...

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).

Tessitura is a term used to describe two things, both concerning pitches in a melody or portion of music. One aspect specifically describes the pitch range, for example from the lowest to highest note in a melody. The other aspect is the music's overall pitch level, its register, such as mostly low sounding notes or mostly high sounding notes.

For more information and audio examples, click here.

Music that is smooth and connected, with a flowing character, often with a broad sweeping melody and gentle accompaniment.

A fill "fills in" the space between the end of a phrase and the start of a new one. A fill is short, usually less than a full bar.

The musical character is different than the previous phrase in terms of melodic shape, rhythm, instrumentation. Fills are often a melodic flourish and function to punctuate the phrases: phrases are made more apparent by the change in musical character of the fill.

Fills may be played by any instrument, most commonly the piano or bandoneons.

Sometimes fills are used to shift the musical character towards that of the music to come. In these cases fills may be called transitions.

Marcato is Italian for marked, meaning the notes are to be accented and emphasized. In tango the notes are also played clipped or cut shorter than the note value as written. That is called staccato. The performance style, the articulation, combines marcato and staccato. And that gives the music a crisp and bold character. When I use the term marcato those are the qualities I mean.

Tango uses marcato style playing very often, especially in the accompanying instruments, frequently the bandoneons but others as well.

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.

An orquesta típica is an ensemble of musicians who play tango music. Typically,  there is a string section, a bandoeon section, a piano, and sometimes a singer or two. There is no specific rhythm section – no drums or other percussion instruments. An orquesta típica is an expanded version of a sexteto tipico, which includes 2 bandoneons, 2 violins, double bass, and piano.

I call any band that plays tango, no matter what the instrumentation, an orquesta. Not entirely accurate but it simplifies things.

The two numbers, one above the other, written near the beginning of the first staff line (or whenever it changes), specifying the number of beats in a measure and the type of note that gets one beat.

The key specifies the first note in the scale and the interval, or distance, between successive notes. Keys are either major or minor and have strikingly different musical qualities. Major keys are "bright", "happy". Minor keys are "sad", "melancholic". (Very generally speaking!)

Keys are identified by the key signature, the sharps (#) or flats (b) (or lack of them in C major/a minor), that are positioned on the lines and spaces at the beginning of each staff, after the clef sign. The key signature alone tells us only which major or minor key the music is in. Not until we read or hear the music is it possible to know whether the music in a major or minor key, because every major key has a relative minor and vice versa. That is, relative keys - one always major, the other always minor - share a common key signature.

more...

Texture is the overall "size" or "weight" of the musical sound, using descriptive terms such as "large", "thick", "full", or "thin", "sparse" or "light".

Many musical elements contribute to texture, including: the way notes in the harmonies are spread out into different octaves and instruments; whether different instrumental sections (strings, bandoneons, piano, bass) are playing simultaneously or alone; whether the sections are playing in unison (the same notes) or in harmony (playing chords).

More information and audio examples are available, here.

Music that is smooth and connected, with a flowing character, often with a broad sweeping melody and gentle accompaniment.

Tessitura is a term used to describe two things, both concerning pitches in a melody or portion of music. One aspect specifically describes the pitch range, for example from the lowest to highest note in a melody. The other aspect is the music's overall pitch level, its register, such as mostly low sounding notes or mostly high sounding notes.

For more information and audio examples, click here.

A short melodic and/or rhythmic figure having distinct musical character and qualities. A motif is often a component of the larger melody.

An example, Carlos Di Sarli's Bahia Blanca:
The first 2 bars

Notice how the last few notes, the melodic shape and rhythm, are used to create the echo-sighing effect in the next couple of bars. Those notes are a motif.
Bars 3-4

Notes between the primary beats or emphasizing normally weak beats. In tango almost always as part of a rhythmic pattern, most frequently the habanera or its variations. Often the syncopated notes are emphasized or accented in a marcato style, but not necessarily so.  more...

An arpeggio is a chord (a harmony) that is broken up into individual notes, that is, the notes are heard one at a time in succession, not simultaneously. Arpeggios are frequently heard in the melody and somewhat less in the accompaniment.

More information, music and audio examples are here.

The tonic is the first note, or scale degree, in the Western diatonic scale system, and is indicated by the Roman numeral I. It is the primary and foundational note in the scale.

Tango music most often begins on and ends phrases and/or sections on the tonic harmony; the chord built on the first note in the scale, which is a major chord in a major key and a minor chord in a minor key.

See Scales, Keys, and Key Signatures and Harmony for more information about scale degrees and their function.

Music that is smooth and connected, with a flowing character, often with a broad sweeping melody and gentle accompaniment.

Legato is Italian for tied together, meaning the notes are played in a connected way; there is no separation or space between them. Legato playing is part of the quality of lyricism, that is lyrical music.

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.

Notes between the primary beats or emphasizing normally weak beats. In tango almost always as part of a rhythmic pattern, most frequently the habanera or its variations. Often the syncopated notes are emphasized or accented in a marcato style, but not necessarily so.  more...

Notes between the primary beats or emphasizing normally weak beats. In tango almost always as part of a rhythmic pattern, most frequently the habanera or its variations. Often the syncopated notes are emphasized or accented in a marcato style, but not necessarily so.  more...

The syncopa is the most commonly used in tango music, in both the melody and the accompaniment. It is derived from the habanera and looks and sounds like this:

The entire rhythm is usually not played in full. Often just the first two or three notes - the most syncopated ones - will be heard.

See Habanera Variations for more information.

Crescendo means to get louder. See Dynamics for more information.

When a melody or segment of music moves mostly in step-wise fashion using notes of the underlying scale. A scalar melody uses both chord and non-chord tones, compared to an arpeggio which uses only chord tones.

Scalar and arpeggiated melodies have distinctly different sound qualities. Composers blend the two together to create melodies of vastly different and varying character.

Music examples are here.

Decrescendo means to get softer, quieter. See Dynamics for more information.

Dynamics is the volume factor in music. There are two broad categories: a relative volume level which does not change until some marking specifies it does; and a volume that changes gradually or suddenly.

Milonga came before tango and its characteristic rhythm was, and is, the Cuban habanera. Early tango's rhythm was based on the habanera also. Soon other syncopated patterns dominated. The 1st variation, the "syncopa" is the most commonly heard syncopated rhythm in tango music. All three versions are used in milonga.

Habanera Variations describes the syncopation and relationship between these patterns.

Decrescendo means to get softer, quieter. See Dynamics for more information.

A cadence occurs when the music comes to a pause, a resting point, a complete stop, or resolution of tension. It is achieved by a few specific harmonic progressions. Often there is a rhythmic change which helps create the sense of pause or resolution.

The most obvious cadences happen at the end of phrases and sections, and almost certainly at the very end, where the harmonies move from I-V(7)-I.

More information about harmonies and cadences is available on the Harmony page.

Harmonic rhythm is the rate harmonies, or chords, change.

Harmonies may change at a regular pace, for example on the first beat of every bar; that being a slow harmonic rhythm. Or there may be more than one harmony within the bar, a faster harmonic rhythm, or the harmony may last for more than one bar, a very slow harmonic rhythm.

When the harmonic rhythm is slow, changing only on beat one for example, the music feels regular and evenly flowing. When the harmonic rhythm is fast the musical character has more action and movement. Typically during more dramatic moments and at cadences the harmonic rhythm increases.

(The elements of harmony are complex. See Harmony for more detailed explanation with music and audio samples).

A harmonic (or chord) progression is a sequence of two or more chord changes, identified by name and type.

Harmonies may change to any other harmony or type, although there are traditional guidelines in their selection based upon the scale and intended function. There are many commonly used progressions. One being tonic (i)- subdominant (iv) - dominant (V#) - tonic (i). In C minor, for example, the harmonies are: c minor - f minor - G major - c minor.

Cadences are standard chord progressions, such as the Perfect Cadence, in c minor: c minor (tonic, i) - G major (dominant major, V#) - c minor (tonic, i).

The harmonic progression largely determines which notes the melody uses and is a primary element in how the music sounds and effects us. Typically, to achieve a consonant sound, the melody primarily uses chord tones, ie. notes in the chord. Melodies which sound dissonant use more non-chord tones. Very generally speaking.

(The elements of harmony are complex. See Harmony for more detailed explanation with music and audio samples).

A fill "fills in" the space between the end of a phrase and the start of a new one. A fill is short, usually less than a full bar.

The musical character is different than the previous phrase in terms of melodic shape, rhythm, instrumentation. Fills are often a melodic flourish and function to punctuate the phrases: phrases are made more apparent by the change in musical character of the fill.

Fills may be played by any instrument, most commonly the piano or bandoneons.

Sometimes fills are used to shift the musical character towards that of the music to come. In these cases fills may be called transitions.

Tessitura is a term used to describe two things, both concerning pitches in a melody or portion of music. One aspect specifically describes the pitch range, for example from the lowest to highest note in a melody. The other aspect is the music's overall pitch level, its register, such as mostly low sounding notes or mostly high sounding notes.

For more information and audio examples, click here.

The word octave describes two things: most importantly, an octave is the same note 8 notes above or below a given note; "octave" may also be used to measure the range in a group or series of notes, as in "the melody's range is an octave"; meaning the distance between the lowest and highest notes is an octave, 8 notes apart.

Because octaves are the same note they have the same letter name. They are the same note in a different register and should be heard as "higher" or "lower", but not "different".

C in four octaves.


More information and the science behind why we hear octaves as the same note is here.

An arpeggio is a chord (a harmony) that is broken up into individual notes, that is, the notes are heard one at a time in succession, not simultaneously. Arpeggios are frequently heard in the melody and somewhat less in the accompaniment.

More information, music and audio examples are here.

The tonic is the first note, or scale degree, in the Western diatonic scale system, and is indicated by the Roman numeral I. It is the primary and foundational note in the scale.

Tango music most often begins on and ends phrases and/or sections on the tonic harmony; the chord built on the first note in the scale, which is a major chord in a major key and a minor chord in a minor key.

See Scales, Keys, and Key Signatures and Harmony for more information about scale degrees and their function.

When a melody or segment of music moves mostly in step-wise fashion using notes of the underlying scale. A scalar melody uses both chord and non-chord tones, compared to an arpeggio which uses only chord tones.

Scalar and arpeggiated melodies have distinctly different sound qualities. Composers blend the two together to create melodies of vastly different and varying character.

Music examples are here.

Crescendo means to get louder. See Dynamics for more information.

Notes between the primary beats or emphasizing normally weak beats. In tango almost always as part of a rhythmic pattern, most frequently the habanera or its variations. Often the syncopated notes are emphasized or accented in a marcato style, but not necessarily so.  more...

The word octave describes two things: most importantly, an octave is the same note 8 notes above or below a given note; "octave" may also be used to measure the range in a group or series of notes, as in "the melody's range is an octave"; meaning the distance between the lowest and highest notes is an octave, 8 notes apart.

Because octaves are the same note they have the same letter name. They are the same note in a different register and should be heard as "higher" or "lower", but not "different".

C in four octaves.


More information and the science behind why we hear octaves as the same note is here.

When a melody or segment of music moves mostly in step-wise fashion using notes of the underlying scale. A scalar melody uses both chord and non-chord tones, compared to an arpeggio which uses only chord tones.

Scalar and arpeggiated melodies have distinctly different sound qualities. Composers blend the two together to create melodies of vastly different and varying character.

Music examples are here.

The leading tone is the seventh note, or scale degree in the Western diatonic scale system. It is indicated by the Roman Numeral VII.

The leading tone usually "leads" to the tonic (I) note and the harmony built on it, a diminshed chord, frequently functions as a dominant (V) harmony, creating tension and resolving to the tonic (I)

See Scales, Keys, and Key Signatures and Harmony for more information about scale degrees and their function.

Decrescendo means to get softer, quieter. See Dynamics for more information.

Legato is Italian for tied together, meaning the notes are played in a connected way; there is no separation or space between them. Legato playing is part of the quality of lyricism, that is lyrical music.

Phrasing is both how the phrase is constructed to accomplish the composer's objectives and how the music is played, that is, interpreted.

Depending on the context, when I write "phrasing" I may be referring to how the music is written in phrases, such as Question and Answer Phrasing, or how the orquesta interprets and shapes the music, or both.   more...

Crescendo means to get louder. See Dynamics for more information.

Decrescendo means to get softer, quieter. See Dynamics for more information.

The leading tone is the seventh note, or scale degree in the Western diatonic scale system. It is indicated by the Roman Numeral VII.

The leading tone usually "leads" to the tonic (I) note and the harmony built on it, a diminshed chord, frequently functions as a dominant (V) harmony, creating tension and resolving to the tonic (I)

See Scales, Keys, and Key Signatures and Harmony for more information about scale degrees and their function.

Marcato is Italian for marked, meaning the notes are to be accented and emphasized. In tango the notes are also played clipped or cut shorter than the note value as written. That is called staccato. The performance style, the articulation, combines marcato and staccato. And that gives the music a crisp and bold character. When I use the term marcato those are the qualities I mean.

Tango uses marcato style playing very often, especially in the accompanying instruments, frequently the bandoneons but others as well.

A cadence occurs when the music comes to a pause, a resting point, a complete stop, or resolution of tension. It is achieved by a few specific harmonic progressions. Often there is a rhythmic change which helps create the sense of pause or resolution.

The most obvious cadences happen at the end of phrases and sections, and almost certainly at the very end, where the harmonies move from I-V(7)-I.

More information about harmonies and cadences is available on the Harmony page.

Harmonic rhythm is the rate harmonies, or chords, change.

Harmonies may change at a regular pace, for example on the first beat of every bar; that being a slow harmonic rhythm. Or there may be more than one harmony within the bar, a faster harmonic rhythm, or the harmony may last for more than one bar, a very slow harmonic rhythm.

When the harmonic rhythm is slow, changing only on beat one for example, the music feels regular and evenly flowing. When the harmonic rhythm is fast the musical character has more action and movement. Typically during more dramatic moments and at cadences the harmonic rhythm increases.

(The elements of harmony are complex. See Harmony for more detailed explanation with music and audio samples).

A harmonic (or chord) progression is a sequence of two or more chord changes, identified by name and type.

Harmonies may change to any other harmony or type, although there are traditional guidelines in their selection based upon the scale and intended function. There are many commonly used progressions. One being tonic (i)- subdominant (iv) - dominant (V#) - tonic (i). In C minor, for example, the harmonies are: c minor - f minor - G major - c minor.

Cadences are standard chord progressions, such as the Perfect Cadence, in c minor: c minor (tonic, i) - G major (dominant major, V#) - c minor (tonic, i).

The harmonic progression largely determines which notes the melody uses and is a primary element in how the music sounds and effects us. Typically, to achieve a consonant sound, the melody primarily uses chord tones, ie. notes in the chord. Melodies which sound dissonant use more non-chord tones. Very generally speaking.

(The elements of harmony are complex. See Harmony for more detailed explanation with music and audio samples).

The tonic is the first note, or scale degree, in the Western diatonic scale system, and is indicated by the Roman numeral I. It is the primary and foundational note in the scale.

Tango music most often begins on and ends phrases and/or sections on the tonic harmony; the chord built on the first note in the scale, which is a major chord in a major key and a minor chord in a minor key.

See Scales, Keys, and Key Signatures and Harmony for more information about scale degrees and their function.

The dominant is the fifth note, or scale degree, in the Western diatonic scale system, and is indicated by the Roman numeral V. It is next in importance to the tonic (I).

The dominant note creates instability and tension, and the harmony built upon it, a major (or major-minor 7th) chord, most often resolves by moving to the tonic.

Tango music usually ends phrases and/or sections by moving to the dominant harmony then resolving to the tonic.

See Scales, Keys, and Key Signatures and Harmony for more information about scale degrees and their function.

The tonic is the first note, or scale degree, in the Western diatonic scale system, and is indicated by the Roman numeral I. It is the primary and foundational note in the scale.

Tango music most often begins on and ends phrases and/or sections on the tonic harmony; the chord built on the first note in the scale, which is a major chord in a major key and a minor chord in a minor key.

See Scales, Keys, and Key Signatures and Harmony for more information about scale degrees and their function.

The dominant is the fifth note, or scale degree, in the Western diatonic scale system, and is indicated by the Roman numeral V. It is next in importance to the tonic (I).

The dominant note creates instability and tension, and the harmony built upon it, a major (or major-minor 7th) chord, most often resolves by moving to the tonic.

Tango music usually ends phrases and/or sections by moving to the dominant harmony then resolving to the tonic.

See Scales, Keys, and Key Signatures and Harmony for more information about scale degrees and their function.

The leading tone is the seventh note, or scale degree in the Western diatonic scale system. It is indicated by the Roman Numeral VII.

The leading tone usually "leads" to the tonic (I) note and the harmony built on it, a diminshed chord, frequently functions as a dominant (V) harmony, creating tension and resolving to the tonic (I)

See Scales, Keys, and Key Signatures and Harmony for more information about scale degrees and their function.

A cadence occurs when the music comes to a pause, a resting point, a complete stop, or resolution of tension. It is achieved by a few specific harmonic progressions. Often there is a rhythmic change which helps create the sense of pause or resolution.

The most obvious cadences happen at the end of phrases and sections, and almost certainly at the very end, where the harmonies move from I-V(7)-I.

More information about harmonies and cadences is available on the Harmony page.

A fill "fills in" the space between the end of a phrase and the start of a new one. A fill is short, usually less than a full bar.

The musical character is different than the previous phrase in terms of melodic shape, rhythm, instrumentation. Fills are often a melodic flourish and function to punctuate the phrases: phrases are made more apparent by the change in musical character of the fill.

Fills may be played by any instrument, most commonly the piano or bandoneons.

Sometimes fills are used to shift the musical character towards that of the music to come. In these cases fills may be called transitions.

When a melodic pattern is repeated, starting on different notes each time. Each repetition has the same melodic shape and melodic rhythm as the original statement.

The starting notes may be in an ascending or descending direction, based on notes in the underlying scale or an arpeggio on the underlying harmony; or some other interval. Typically the pattern is played three times.

The last 4 Bar Phrase in Section B (bars 29-32) of Di Sarli's Bahia Blanca is a sequence. The same one bar melody is played three times, the second and third time a scale step lower that the preceding one. A sequence doesn't have to be the melody. In this example the piano also plays a sequence in a counter-melody like relationship with the melody. The sequence is a bar of four bass notes in an ascending arpeggio, repeated from different starting notes.

The melodic pattern is played three times.

A short melodic and/or rhythmic figure having distinct musical character and qualities. A motif is often a component of the larger melody.

An example, Carlos Di Sarli's Bahia Blanca:
The first 2 bars

Notice how the last few notes, the melodic shape and rhythm, are used to create the echo-sighing effect in the next couple of bars. Those notes are a motif.
Bars 3-4

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