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.

Phrases happen over a specific number of s, usually 8 in tango, and frequently those have two smaller sections of 4 bars each, and those often divide further into two 2 bar segments. All very symmetrical; tango music usually is.

There is often a call and response or question and answer quality to the phrases and sub-phrases. Very often the 4 bar phrase is the dominant one with a distinct Q&A feeling.

(A note about the phrase in terms of the “count”. Dancers often misuse the word – at least in terms of how “beat” is defined by musicians. Whether there are 2 or 4 beats, as defined by the , tango dancers usually dance to 2 primary beats: beats 1 and 2 when the music is in “two”, and beats 1 and 3 when the music is in “four”. “Counts” rather than “beats” is a more accurate term to use in this case. Dancers add “counts”, at 2 per bar, so a 4 bar tango phrase has 8 counts. That’s why the so called “Eight Count Basic” step sequence is eight counts.)

See Phrasing for more details.

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

Beat is the underlying and regularly spaced pulse of the music, measured in beats per minute. There are a fixed number of beats in a bar, indicated by the time signature. Tango (2/4, 4/8, 4/4) has 2 or 4 beats per bar, vals (3/4) has 3 and milonga (2/4) has 2.

(There may be a sense of 4 beats even though the time signature is 2/4. Tango very often subdivides the 2/4 beat, doubling the count from 2 to 4, effectively using a 4/8 time signature. Some tango music is explicitly written in 4/8, most are in 2/4. See Tango Time Signatures and the Beat).

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.

4 Responses to Phrase

  1. Erico says:

    I am getting confused with my “RUSTY” musical knowledge. I am acknowledged by friends to be a good dancer musically speaking.
    The more I look at scores of golden age tango I only seem to see 2/4 written. this of course is what most of us dance to. I am trying to become better at feeling the sections, phrases etc.
    I note here in Phrases that you seem to say the so called 8 basic count is really 4 x 2 beats in a bar. Am I underdstanding that correctly?
    My question is when I am usually counting myself in within my own internal clock and count 1 2 3 4 , for most tangos am i counting 1, 2 ( bar 1 ) 3, 4 (bar 2) If that is so would I also be relying on my internal system to be starting on the question and not the answer?? I just seem to be getting very confused between music and phrases and just what the hell i am counting anymore!! It might help me and others with a little musical knowledge if you maybe put up something that is very distinctive with that wonderful device you have that tracks the notes. Only this time possibly putting the notefinder to follow the beats that we count with a little explanation of the phrases we may be looking at. Any help apreciated. Love what you are doing

    • tangomonkey says:

      A lot of tango music has very distinct 4 bar phrases – 8 counts. We should distinguish “beat” from “count”. Musicians count beats per the time signature. As you say, dancers think in counts, at 2 per bar regardless of time signature or the number of beats being marked by the musicians. Even when 4 beats are marked we dancers often simply walk on beats 1 and 3. Musicians would say there are 4 beats; dancers would say there are two counts, and not necessarily relate them to a bar or a specif time signature. (Dancers call double-time stepping – on beats 2 and 4 – syncopation, which isn’t quite correct from a musician’s point of view).

      Yes the “8 count basic” is 2 counts per bar, covering a 4 Bar phrase in total, regardless of the time signature. Thinking this way – 2 counts per bar – the question is counts 1-4, the first 2 bars, and the answer is counts 5-8, the next 2 bars.

      I recommend going through the Bahia Blanca Q&A posts, here and here. The music has a great ebb and flow in 2 and 4 bar phrases. As a practice aid count the beats. It’s in 4/8 but you can count in 2, beats 1 and 3.

      And I’d suggest following the music/audio syncs. and listen carefully to the musical character each section has within the piece. The sections are marked (A,B,C) and some have the 8 bar phases identified too. You can start from any bar by clicking it and choosing “Play/Play from Selection” in the menu. And click any bar to stop playback. Take a look and listen to Di Sarli’s El Choclo in particular – perfect marking of 2 beats per bar with 2-4-8 bar phrases in each of the three distinct sections. Count the 4 bar phrases and feel the natural phrasing in the music, listening to how the 2 bar phrases form the 4 bar ones. As a simple dance exercise step forward on 1 (left), 2 (right) ,3 (left) collect then do a weight transfer to the other foot (right) on 4. And repeat…

      If you know the music has 2 8 bar phrases and 16 bar sections, like Bahia Blanca and El Choclo, you could keep track of the number of 4 bar phrases you’ve counted off. An 8 bar phrase is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, 2-2-3-4-5-6-7-8; a 16 bar section is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, 2-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, 3-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, 4-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. It might be an interesting exercise. And listen carefully to the music, internalize the ebb and flow.

      The average section is around 30 seconds, so don’t listen for them in a shorter time frame. At the end of a section there will always be a very clear cadence – the music finds a resting point. Often there is a build up in intensity then a final release. Feel that. Immediately afterwards music with a different character takes over. Maybe music with a different type of melody or rhythm and/or different accompaniment or instrumentation. Something distinctly different from what was just heard. A similar thing often happens with 8 bar phrases too, but much less distinctly. There may be a cadence after 8 bars ( 16 counts) but the music continues along in the same general way.

  2. erico says:

    Many thanks for such a quick reply. Also I think this may make a few others sit up and read/listen.
    I am amazed how many “experts” there are in the TAngo world who dont have any musical knowledge yet “sound off” about this and that. I reached grade 5 in Piano about 23 yrs ago but it is so rusty I felt I needed to ask to ask theses questions and come in out of the fog! I am injured for the next few months so dancing is out of the question till about Feb ’14. a wonderful opportunity to do all these things you suggest. I will try to limit my Q’s to real difficulties. best wishes Erico

    • tangomonkey says:

      Well that’s too bad about the injury, but maybe you’ll have more time for listening and thinking about tango music. That will certainly help when you get back to dancing.

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