Melodic Rhythm: Repetition in Demare’s “Malena”

(Some of the material in this post was first used in a rhythmic excercise, here. And I wrote a bit about Malena and the form, and there’s a translation. Here.)

Repetition is a technique musicians use to create predictability, coherence, stability, and constancy in music’s character.

The melody in the entire first in Malena, all 20 s of Section A, uses just two rhythmic ideas. And they are quite similar: mostly a series of fast (16th) notes. Each individual pattern is heard a total of ten times. That could be boring – too predictable. Demare conceals the repetitions, mostly by clever use of varying and developing the melodic shape. More on that a bit later.

cannot exist without while rhythm can exist without melody. So it is possible and worthwhile to listen to melodic (and any other) rhythms in isolation and get a feel for them. Here are the two rhythmic patterns used in Section A.

Pattern 1.

Five fast notes ending on two slow ones: movement then pause.

Pattern 2.

Five fast notes: movement with an abrupt stop.

The rhythms are played successively, forming a 2 bar .
First 2 bar phrase.


There is a distinct, albeit brief, statement/response quality in these 2 bars.
The two bar phrase, specifically the rhythmic patterns, is repeated, forming a 4 bar phrase. The first 2 bar grouping is a Question, the second an Answer. Pattern 2 is one note shorter on the repeat, and that creates the Answer quality; there is a sensation of completion and rest.

The entire 4 bar phrase.

Now listen to the same segments from the beginning of Section A, as Demare plays them.

(The clips may not work on some mobile devices. My apologies – I’m looking for a way to fix this.)

Pattern 1
Pattern 2
Pattern 1 and Pattern 2, a 2 bar phrase.

The two phrases are joined to form the first 4 bar phrase.
Two 2 bar phrases, forming a 4 bar phrase

Such richness and depth from such a simple foundation!

We can compare the 4 bar phrases, listening for the rhythmic patterns while enjoying the subtly shifting moods created by the changing melody and its . By differentiating the melodic shape, the way pitches are built on top of the rhythms, Demare simultaneously manages to maintain a consistent mood through rhythmic repetition, and hold our interest through melodic development. And different accompaniments. Brilliant.

(Be aware that multi-phrase Q&A exists in this music. There are 2, 4, and 8 bar phrases interacting.).

The first 4 bar phrase was just heard, here are the other four.

4 bar phrase 2.
Similar to the first 4 bar phrase: the first 2 bar phrase is identical; the second one has a lower . (Creating the Answer quality at the 8 bar phrase level).

4 bar phrase 3
This phrase begins the second 8 bar phrase, and to differentiate it from the first one the melody takes on a very different shape and character. Both previous 4 bar phrases (completing an 8 bar phrase) began by rising on the rhythmic patterns. Now the melody declines. And the mood is somewhat different, perhaps a little more cheerful. Quite impressive, given the melodic rhythms are exactly the same.

4 bar phrase 4
This phrase is an exact repeat of the first one. In the primary melody that is, which may be hard to hear under the much more prominent countermelody. (Listen to the vocal version of Section A. There the phrase doesn’t have a countermelody).

4 bar phrase 5
This phrase is an almost exact repeat of the first one and functions as a coda – extending the section from the usual 16 bars to 20. (Here, at the very end the melody declines – before it rose – effectively concluding Section A with a sense of resignation.)
Here is the section, straight through.
Section A


The entire recording is syncd with the piano sheet music, below. Follow the score or use the “Audio only” controls. Although you may not read music I recommend using the music/audio sync. The sections and phrases are marked on the score. Follow the moving orange bar and observe how the music changes at these spots.

Lucio Demare with Juan Carlos Miranda, 1942. (Computer user, close the synchronized audio/video window and change the zoom level to fit an entire stave in the frame if necessary, or click here to load the score on Noteflight’s server. Click any measure to stop the playback. Mobile device users, tap the play icon near the top left corner. It is replaced by a square. Tap that to quit playback.)

Audio only.


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.

Melodies are a succession of notes moving through time, one at a time. Melody is the proper term for what some some call the "tune".

Melodic shape and melodic rhythm are two factors every melody uses in some way. Melodic shape is the general direction the melody moves in terms of pitch: up, down, sideways. Melodic rhythm is the rhythm(s) applied to the pitches.

Many other elements fall within these two categories. Some are: tessitura, interval spacing (the distance between two notes), the use of arpeggios, chord tones, scales, non-chord tones, syncopation, and many others.

Rhythm is the ordering of sounds and silences on and between a continuous and evenly spaced unit of time, called the beat.

Sounds may or may not have pitch. Many percussion instruments do not have pitch yet function as the rhythm section in most popular forms of music: they create and maintain the beat. (Tango is quite unique in not having a dedicated rhythm section). Musicians call sounds with pitch, notes and silences, rests. A note has both pitch and duration; a rest only duration.

When notes, and possibly rests, of (usually) different duration are combined there is rhythm.

There are usually two layers of rhythm in tango: melodic and accompaniment. More...

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...

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.

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.

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