Sunday, July 27, 2014

The musical "trigger" that does NOT mean "go!" (musicality lesson with audio example)

In Saturday's post, "The magical 7th beat - and the real reason you rush!" I revealed that in a normal 8-count phrase of tango, the 7th beat is often the last beat of rhythm that the bassist plays in the phrase

When he then takes his hand off the strings, he creates a pause!  That is, he gives the orchestra and YOU, the dancer, the counts of "and-EIGHT-and" to rest.

But many of you don't realize that the phrase hasn't yet ended, and that there's a whole 1.5 beats left after "SEVEN", the last rhythmic note! 

If you don't realize it, it's because the "and-EIGHT-and", while empty of rhythmic sound, is not silent.  It's usually loaded with something else that's melodic and interesting.  

And that "something else" is what so many of you are responding to.  

When you hear something new starting, you feel the urge to move! (Very many of you are doing this, tangueros and tangueras alike.)  

This is exactly where we find the "trigger" that makes you rush!  

Whenever the bassist gives the orchestra a pause, one or more of the melodic instruments usually take the opportunity to do one of three things:

1) They may embellish - like when the violins do a flourish, or the piano plays a melodic "plink-plink-plink". Melodic embellishments decorate the end of the phrase, and sometimes the middle of the phrase, adding artistry and expression to the tango being played. 

2) They may play an accent - just a single strike or two of a piano key.

3) And they may use the pause to introduce the next phrase!!

BINGO!!  Number 3 is your trigger!  

It's a melodic introduction to the next phrase, but it happens at the end of the current phrase.  The phrase you've been in hasn't ended, yet you hear a new musical theme beginning. And that makes many of you want to "GO!"  

In fact, that trigger to "go!" gives many of you anxiety, because you're afraid you'll miss the beginning of the new phrase . . . and look like you don't know what you're doing!  Well after this lesson, you WILL know what you are doing.

So when you hear the trigger of the melodic instruments introducing a new phrase during the pause at the end of the phrase you're in, what should you do? 

Your job as interpreter of the music is to stay where you are and complete the phrase with your axis still, enjoying your possibilities within the pause.  (In my next post, I'll talk about those possibilities.)

The bottom line for your dancing is that by learning to recognize and respect those 1.5 second pauses, staying calmly in your axis with your free leg relaxed, and being present with your partner, you start to become a dream to dance with.

* * * * *

Now I'll show you some examples of the melodic introduction of a new phrase during the rhythm-less 1.5 seconds after the 7th beat.  We'll look at a tango that everyone knows well, "Al Compas del Corazon", by Miguel Caló with Raul Beron. 

"The trigger" - that is, melodically introducing a new phrase in the pause after "SEVEN" of the previous phrase - happens in 9 phrases of this tango!  The introductions are sometimes played by the violins, sometimes by the piano, sometimes by the whole orchestra and sometimes by the singer. 

So there are 9 points at which you might otherwise rush, by anticipating the new phrase!  I'll show you two of them right now.

Please play this Youtube recording of "Al Compas .  . ." so you can follow along with my description below:

Preliminary note:  At the end of the first phrase, at around 0:8 seconds, violins introduce the next phrase, but the bass plays rhythm all the way through "EIGHT-and", so you'd be driven to keep walking or stepping. And you'd be accurate and correct.

Now for the two example triggers: 

Example AThe second phrase starts at 0:9. Here the bassist plays "ONE-and" through "SEVEN".  At 0:15 there's a deep piano accent on the " 'and'-after-the-'SEVEN' ", followed by the whole orchestra's introducing the next phrase on "EIGHT-and". The new phrase begins at 0:17, when it's time for you to "go".

That means that for 1.5 seconds, from about mid-0:15 (deep piano accent) through 0:16, you are still!  STILL!  You're not traveling in any step, until the "ONE" of the next phrase, which you'll hear at 0:17 seconds.

Will you take a moment now and go through the second phrase of this tango, from 0:9 - 0:16 seconds, and make sure my description makes sense to you?  If this is new for you, you may have to listen to the phrase and review my notes a few times.

About that moment of stillness at 0:15 - 0:16, during which you make no steps on the "and-EIGHT-and":  Saturday I said that you don't have to "stand there like an idiot" while there's music going on.  

Do you have any ideas about what you could be doing instead, during the 1.5 second pause? Make a note of your ideas. I'll make some suggestions in my next post. 

Here's Example B - It's a solo violin introducing the next phrase, and it's the only one in this tango using the entire "and-EIGHT-and".

This passage occurs at about 2:08 in the recording, in the first phrase the orchestra plays when Beron stops singing. For the next seven counts the bassist rhythmically accompanies the orchestra as it repeats the main theme, but in a new key. 

Then, at 2:16 (on "SEVEN"), the bassist plays his last beat of the phrase, then disappears, as a single violin enters to melodically introduce the next phrase during the "and-EIGHT-and" pause!  This is really a classic formula that you'll find in many tangos.  (The violin solo continues for the whole next phrase, but you can dance on that because there's bass rhythm accompanying the violin through "SEVEN". We're just concerned right now with the pause at the end of the preceding phrase.)

So for the second half-second of 2:16 ("and-"), and all of 2:17 ("EIGHT-and"), be still and don't go anywhere!  

If you're traveling on those first notes of the violin solo, before the bassist comes back in on 2:18, you are rushing!

When that solo violin starts playing, you're still in the same phrase!  There's a rhythmic silence, so stay where you are. No steps, no figures for that 1.5 seconds.  

But that doesn't mean "stop dancing".  On the contrary.  These silences in your dancing can be the key to your greatest moments of connection, communication, and even seduction in your tango!  

And that will be the subject of my next post.  I'll also have another audio example for you.

* * * * 
Did you jot down some thoughts about what you could be doing in the 1.5-second pause when the bass disappears after the 7th beat?  Please leave your ideas, or tell us what you already do, in the comment section below!


  1. Thanks again for a brilliant analysis.
    At these times of "and-8-and" I pause and give the follower the time for embelishment.

    1. Glad you're already aware of this non-rhythmic "space", Shlomo. Thanks for sharing how you use it!

  2. Let follower decorate with her free leg
    Pivot follower
    Take a breath
    Lead a wrap or volcada
    Play footsie

    1. Oh, I wish you'd left your name! Thank you for listing your ideas.

      I agree with Robert below that some of these are figures, or parts of figures, rather than silent activities.
      I'd vote:
      - for letting your partner decorate,
      - pivoting her, as long as your feet are still,
      - taking a breath,
      - playing footsies.
      - possibly a parada, possibly a boleo, depending on how you execute them and what's happening in the music. These may work because in both your partner stays in axis as she pivots.

      However, I think that to lead a volcada and maybe a leg wrap (two movements I don't use or teach for stylistic reasons) you probably need to do some adjustments in your position as you lead, and therefore change weight. Could work . . .

      Thanks again for posting!

  3. It's only 1.5 seconds, which is a relatively short period of time. One could simply enjoy the stillness for that brief moment, breathe deeply, harmonize your breathing with your partner's, wait for her to do a little embellishment with her free leg, or even use it as a long, quiet build-up to the next step. I don't consider volcadas or boleos or even paradas to be pauses; I consider them quite active; they're steps that are led.

    1. Robert, I love your response. I'll bet that NY women are getting more and more interested in dancing with you because of just this attitude in your dancing. I want everyone to notice Robert's idea about "a long, quiet build-up to the next step". This is a really important one. I should do a video about how to do it, because it usually takes tangueros a long time to discover it. Thanks again, Robert!

  4. Adjust the embrace. Reconnect.

    1. (Sorry if you didn't see this, David. I had posted in the wrong spot!)
      . . . though I wouldn't advise doing this for all the phrases of a tango that end with a pause. That could seem contrived. I used to dance often with someone in Buenos Aires who did beautifully what you describe, but then he overdid it, and it became theatrical. The magic died fast. I'm sure you do it in a natural and organic way, David!

  5. Just to clarify with the volcada - you wouldn't agree with starting a slow weight change (for the leader) on the 7 and finishing it on the 1 ? Say for simplicity the follower has her feet in a back cross position throughout.

    (same Anon as before :o) )

    1. Slow weight change starting on the 7 and finishing on the 1 sounds good to me! If your partner's feet are crossed, than it sounds more like a puente than a volcada to me. Thanks, Anon!

  6. Ah great, glad to have that clear :o)

    Something I've noticed is that the trigger can also affect followers. So If I'm still and breathing but she feels the music is saying "go" there can be a disconnect. But with a slow weight change, she feels that we're moving, so we're both happy.

    With a follower who feels the pause, breathing is wonderful.

    1. Absolutely! It's come up in my private coaching intensives with women, when we weave musicality training into our "drills". Unless she understands that what she's hearing is a transition, she's probably feeling anxious to "go" when she's heard a change. The anxiety is from feeling she has to do something, but not knowing what to do. It sounds like when you take control accompany the musical transition with a physical transition (slow weight change) to , it feels really good to both of you both because it fits!

      And yes, when you're both "on the same page" musically, it's wonderful.

  7. There is something very similar to the "trigger" in the world of Drumming. It is called "Drum fills", every drumer plays.

    1. I know nothing about drumming, Shlomo. Do you happen to have a recording you can share that demonstrates this?

    2. The Tango structure of several parts each composed of 8 beats phrases is the same for Rock and other styles. Towords the end of the last phrase of a part, the drummer plays a "fill". There are endless possibilities for fills. See on UTube: "4/4 Drum Fills For Rock and Funk".

    3. See on UTube:
      Tommy Igoe's groove essentials #2 slow.

  8. BTW, drummers reffer to a phrase as 2 bars of 4 beats.
    And yes, drumming is my new hobby :-)