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September 22, 2008

Tango Band Starter Kit

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 one 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).

Much, much more after the jump...

Stock Sextet Arrangements

Stock ArrangementsMP3PDF
A Don Agustin Bardi (Salgan)
A Media Luz (Lomuto)
C.T.V (Bardi)
Julian (Bardi)
La Yumba (Pugliese, but this chart is not the famous version.)
Lorenzo (Bardi)
Mal de amores (Laurenz)
Maria (Troilo)
Milonga de mis amores (Laurenz)
Pa que bailan los muchachos (Troilo)
Que Noche! (Bardi)
Sur (Troilo)
Toda mi vida (Troilo)
Tres y Dos (Troilo)
13MB file of all of the above 

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 info@mandragoratango.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.

Good Luck!


Tanda of DiSarli Transcriptions

  • Comme il faut (Arolas)
  • El recodo (Junnissi)
  • Bahia Blanca (DiSarli)

Tanda of Canaro tunes as recorded by D'Arienzo

  • La tablada (Canaro)
  • El pollito (Canaro)  
  • El triunfo (Canaro)  

A Tanda of my arrangments of some Guardia vieja tangos

  • El amanacer (Firpo)  
  • La cachila (Arolas)  
  • Quejas de bandoneon (De Dios Filiberto)  

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)  

Some vals, all in my arrangements (except Desde el alma, which is a transcription of the famous Pugliese version and Ilusión de mi vida which is based on a Color Tango recording)

  • Desde el alma (Melo)  
  • Gota de lluvia (Piana)  
  • Illusion de mi vida (Brunelli)  
  • Palomita blanca (Aieta)
  • Romance de barrio (Troilo)

Posted by bbarnes at September 22, 2008 12:12 PM