Because Tango falls in a unique category between Classical, Jazz and World Music, this page is organized by the kinds of musicians that might find it usefull.
For Jazz and Folk Musicians
When Mandrágora first started out, we didn't have any arrangments and we played off of leadsheets like Jazz players off of a fakebook. I transcribed a lot of tunes onto single pages of melody and chords. Here is a a 3.5MB PDF file of that collection. We don't play off of these leadsheets too much anymore, but some folks might find it usefull.
Ben Bogart of tangojam.com leads jam sessions at tango festivals all over the world. He has produced an awesome playbook of about 20 of the most common tangos for dancing. If you can read leadsheets and are just starting out as a tango player, these charts may be just the thing for you. If there is a tango jam in your area, do yourself a favor and attend it.
Julian Graciano of the National Academy of Tango has produced a series of "Tango Fake Books" with about 130 tunes in each of them. They have a lot of the famous bass lines and variations and are used by a lot of players in BsAs. You can buy them directly from Juilan by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Classical Musicians
When tango was new, music publishing was an important way of getting new tangos to the people. No upper middle-class parlor was complete without a piano. As tango became more respectable, it was published as music sheets that cost a fraction ofwhat a recording cost. These "2-pagers" all had the same format. They were folded in half to create a "book". The front cover usually had some sort of artwork to catch the eye. The back cover had advertizing for other songs. When you opened it up, there were 2 pages of piano music that fit easily on a music stand. (Check out our gallery of 50 cool covers here. You can also download it as a screensaver)
When we first started playing Tango, we met Max Valentinuzzi, our friend and Tango Godfather. He's a semi-retired professor from Buenos Aires who has been playing tango piano for more than 60 years. He introduced us to a lot of great tangos and let me scan (and post!) part of his extensive sheetmusic collection. Here are 50 2-page piano arrangments (17MB) of tangos from his collection. If you are just starting out on tango piano, I would reccomend that you download and print this collection. It is laid out so that you can print it 2-sided and punch holes on the left side to create a "book" you can put in a binder.
For the truly obsessed, here is a collection of 655 scans of vintage 2-page tango sheetmusic that I found in some dark corner of the internet: Vol 1 (54M), Vol 2 (53M) & Vol 3 (52M) It is over 1300 pages long, so please don't print out the whole thing. You can print out individual pages with Adobe Acrobat. Most of these tangos were scanned pretty low quality, but they are somewhat more readable than the scans at todotango.com.
One word of warning about all of these piano parts: The left hand rhythms are usually oversimplified and are arranged to make it easy for an amateur musician to play at home. In particular, many older tangos are arranged in the Guardia Vieja (Old Guard) style. You will see a lot of this rhythm: , which is not used that much for tango after 1920 or so. If you speed up this rhythm, it becomes a milonga, so if you are playing these charts verbatim for dancers, don't rush!
I'm a big believer that information wants to be free. I also think that there are not enough Tango bands outside of Argentina. Tango dancers generally prefer DJ'd music because there are simply not enough good tango bands out there to show folks how great it is to dance tango to live music. You couldn't have a swing or salsa festival without a live band, but there are plenty of tango festivals that all recorded music. I love the classics as much as the next dancer, but I also think that for Tango to be a living art form, it needs live music.
Tango is classical music you can dance to. The musicians generally play off of arrangements where each note is written down. One thing I hear a lot from fellow tango musicians is the difficulty of finding arrangments suitable for dancing. (I've written about this in an earlier blog post). There is a lot of tango concert music (i.e. Piazzolla) available, but this is not suitable for dancing. For this reason, most beginning Tango dance bands play "A la parrilla", which means they are playing off of lead sheets like jazz musicians. This is good, but it may not be "real tango" (whatever that is). The Argentine composer Martín Kutnowski once told me that if a Tango band is not using arrangements, it is just playing "World Music".
I'd like to share some of Mandrágora's arrangements with whomever wants them. These certainly aren't the best arrangements out there and I'm certainly not in the same class of arrangers as the cats in Buenos Aires, but I want to put my stuff out there in the hopes that other musicians with other charts will do the same (if you want, I can post them to this site and link back to you).
Stock Sextet Arrangements
Over the years, I've collected a number of "stock arrangements" of danceable tangos. A "stock arrangement" is a basic arrangement that can be used for dancing. In the "Tin Pan Alley" of American popular music, publishers would make arrangements of popular songs of the day for a minimal dance band combo. There would usually be parts for trumpets, saxes, guitar, bass and piano. The beauty of these charts is that you don't need all the parts for the music to sound decent. There are cue notes in most of the parts, so, for example, if the sax player couldn't make it to a gig, the trumpet player would have the sax solo in tiny notes on the trumpet part.
In golden era of Tango (1925-1940 or so), there were thousands of tango bands in Argentina. Most of them were small neighborhood groups analogous to "garage bands" of today. Not all of them had the skills or the time to make their own arrangements. Remember that this is before the xerox machine and music notation software. Each part had to be laboriously hand copied, which created a huge barrier to entry for a tango band. Publishers responded to this market by creating stock arrangements of popular tangos. Starting with Julio DeCaro, the standard small tango ensemble was the sextet: 2 bandos, 2 violins, piano and bass. Publishers sold these like 45rpm records: each part would be printed on both sides. Side 1 would be the more popular tango and side 2 would be "filler". These arrangements are not "high art". They are meant to be simple enough for a professional to be able to sight-read. They are also basic enough that if 1 or 2 players are missing, the chart will still sound pretty good.
Mandrágora has had a lot of luck with these charts. You may have noticed that we are a quartet and that we don't have a pianist. The piano part in these arrangements is mostly rhythm and fill. There are cues in the other parts that help us to make up for the piano melody. I put chords on the bass part and give a copy to the guitarist. He can follow the rhythm and do is own fills. When we have friends sitting in with us, we can add a piano or a second violin or second bando for a fuller sound. Your mileage may vary.
I'm relatively certain that all the charts on this page are out of copyright and are not currently available anywhere (except, perhaps, ebay). If you like these charts, I highly reccomend that you buy some charts from Edition Universelles in Paris. They were Piazzolla's publisher in the 1950s and they have the rights to a lot of great stuff. You can buy arrangments one at a time, or you can buy albums of 20. I highly recommend the Buenos-Aires Tangos collection and Astor Piazzola: 20 de ses plus grands tangos. They also have a lot of French Tango's from the 1950s that are danceable in a ballroom tango kind of way. Stick with the Argentine stuff.
Another great source for arrangements is Julian Hasse's Tango in a Box series. Each box contains 9 kick-ass arrangments for piano, bass, violin and bando. These arrangements rely heavily on piano and can not be easily faked by guitar. Norberto Vogel makes great custom arrangments. You can also buy a book of 10 quartet arrangments (including some by Vogel) from Accordionist.net
Some Arrangements in Finale, MIDI, and MusicXML Formats to suit your band's needs
I've made most of the arrangements that we play. For better or worse, I use Finale music notation software. Finale makes a free entry-level program called Finale Notepad that is powerful enough for most tango bands. The main limitation is that notepad will only let you have 8 staves. You can use Finale NotePad to edit these files to fit your band's instrumentation. I've also included MIDI and MusicXML files if you want to use a different editor (like Sibelius). If you use the MIDI file, none of the articulations will be preserved. Tango music is all about the details, so be sure to add your own articulations
If you have some transcriptions or arrangements that you'd like to share with the world, send me an email at email@example.com. I'm not posting any arrangements of Piazzolla, since they are all in copyright and I've heard that his estate is pretty vigilant about protecting them.
Tanda of DiSarli Transcriptions
Tanda of Canaro tunes as recorded by D'Arienzo
A Tanda of my arrangments of some Guardia vieja tangos
Some milongas, all in my arrangements
- Azabache (Stamponi)
- Campo afuera (Biagi)
- Con alma y vida (DiSarli)
- Silueta porteña (Canaro)
- Milonga sentimental (Piana)
- Taquito militar (Mores)