Tango Argentino > Milonga Syncopation

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by AndaBien, Nov 8, 2012.

  1. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    Can't really rise to that challenge, but I'd say that the distinctive rhythmic devices are lots of 332 groupings (based on the habanera) but the melodic idea that opens the song is like a bandoneon 'sniffing' between each beat - it's just a repeated offbeat accent 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Of course, we don't worry about the counting*, because the numbers are just where nothing is happening. We just step as we sniff (much as I did the other day - I have a cold).

    *If the numbers bother you, say humbug instead. Never mind that that word has two syllables and doesn't fit. Since when did that matter?
  2. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    that's exactly what I hear, but i am tempted to step (but some ladies are mightily resistant) on the accents or lift my leg higher
  3. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    Heh, the more I learn about syncopation, the less I know about it.

    Many styles of music have a strong back beat (or up beat) through out. Is that syncopation? Not as I think about it. What if that back beat is not through out, but just sometimes? Is it then? I don't know.

    It would be fun to try to hit those back beats on the dance floor..
  4. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    As I posted earlier, condombeadas are to treat differently. And up to 0:33 this piece heavily flirts with rhythmic candombe patterns.
  5. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    That YouTube clip is my favourite!

    A self-quote...I wrote this last summer, during one of our many talks about syncopation, and linked to the the La Trampera sheet music. Lot to say about the syncopation here; there is so much and so varied. When I get some time I'll take a closer look/listen and write something up.....

    tangomonkey said:
    ...Troilo's La Trampera is textbook syncopation - very creative and mutli-layered between melody and accompaniment. The syncopation jumps off the page...and onto the dance floor :) What I've called Habanera 1 and Habanera 2 (elsewhere) are in almost every bar. Interesting (to me) is how Troilo stops the syncopation for two bars at the end of sections/phrases, then throws it back at us. A fantastic way to mark the end and start of new themes and harmonies.​

    (The recording on todotango is OK but far inferior to Troilo himself. There are many YouTube clips of his playing...sorry, I'm too lazy right now to link one...:) )​
  6. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    I guess I'm confused about what is "unexpected". In ragtime and certain tango music I think I am clear about what is or is not syncopated. But if a habanera rhythm is played through out a tune, is that still unexpected? Doesn't it become expected? Some definitions mention a "disruption" of the rhythm. If a habanera rhythm is trucking along and then omitted for a measure, isn't that a disruption?
  7. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    It's hard to define. Maybe another way of saying it (maybe) is that it's not on the most common, or dominant rhythm. If you play an instrument (or possibly sing enough), you just "know it", after a while.

  8. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    I had been thinking about a comment on the same issue, but you beat me to it. I think there is a danger of making the word syncopation mean quite different things. My understanding of it as a musical term is that it is the process of accenting a note that would normally be unaccented. The resulting rhythms go against a regular pattern of strong & weak beats determined by the time signature. If the syncopated pattern itself is being repeated, then it doesn't alter the underlying stress pattern, so the syncopation becomes predictable, but is still syncopated. In the opening bars of La Trampera, the offbeat stresses only represent syncopation because they don't last long enough to superimpose a new pattern of stress, offset by one beat, relative to the first one. So strong, weak, strong, weak becomes weak, strong, weak, strong etc., but only for as long as the ear still expects the pattern to be the other way around.

    What is wonderful about Troilo's piece is that it is so rich in its rhythmic patterns, but in a way that delights (whereas, for comparison, Biagi's Belgica is a nightmare.
    bordertangoman and tangomonkey like this.
  9. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Yes! Very nicely explained.
  10. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    Okay, that seems clear enough to me.

    It brings up the idea of a dancer's rhythm versus a musician's rhythm. How can you explain syncopation to a dancer who may have no clue what a time signature is?

    I would say just play music and indicate where it is syncopated or straight.
  11. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    I just go with how I feel at that moment. Sometimes I will use the syncopated beat, and sometimes I don't, although I suppose it's easier to use the syncopated beat if you know the song well (and thus know it's coming).
  12. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Example: Hear that strong beat? Instead of stepping there, you are NOT going to step there. Instead, you are going to tap behind, or to the side. Or, you will lead your partner to do a boleo there. Or, you will kick between her legs as she steps.
    Those are all syncopations that dancers can do.
    This of course means that you buy the definitions that someone like dance educator Skippy Blair has been using since the 1930s.
  13. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    The whole idea of syncopation seems so inclusive that it is pretty hard to pin down, at least for me, and apparently for most of us. Here is the link to that broader definition of syncopation that I posted pages ago.


    This is about where I am in my understanding, but without the maybe.

    Except that, upbeats can be backbeats.
    Sorry for the rock n roll example, but, although Tamlyn (in his PhD dissertation) writes that Blue Suede Shoes is in 2/2 cut time, when you buy the sheet music, the time signature is 4/4. And Tamlyn identifies an "emphatic snare beat" in the song.

    I'm thinking the time signature itself is not that reliable?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 22, 2017
  14. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    It could be explained fairly easily face-to-face, with a piano, a recording or two, and a whiteboard in the room. Explaining/describing syncopation requires more teaching aids than the forum software permits.

    Listen from 2-6 seconds, full of syncopation, and 6-9, barely any.
  15. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    Yes, that's what I'm thinking.

    A zen monk is teaching a seminar at a university, and he asks, "What is light?" One student starts explaining particles, another talks about waves. Finally the monk points to the light in the ceiling and says, "That's light".
  16. LKSO

    LKSO Active Member

    I'm often not intellectually aware that there is syncopation going on in the music but my feet respond to it by tapping. This was never taught, I just do it, and I only became aware of it when I noticed people looking at my feet as I did it.

    I step on the downbeat then tap with the other foot on the stressed upbeat. It feels wrong not to do it if the music begins a syncopated section.
  17. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Exactly, this is the reason why I once (at the beginning of this thread or the preceding one) mentioned that syncopa is a musical term only and that the dancer´s equivalent is traspie - stumbling.
  18. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    I would say that it isn't an academic construct that requires training to understand, but that the time signature reflects the basic musical stress pattern that anyone can hear. The two major groupings of tango music have the basic stress pattern in two: strong, weak, or four: strongest, weak, less strong, weak. It doesn't matter how the basic pulse or heartbeat of the music is notated (it does to the performers, but they are trained to play virtually anything) it could be 2/4 or 4/4 (the /4 denoting quarter notes in both cases) or (more commonly for tango) 2/4 or 4/8 (ie 4 eighth notes). The thing that marks the difference is that the primary stress comes around every four beats of the music's heart, not every two. Which unit you notate the score in just doesn't matter, (and the preferred basic unit of beat has changed, a lot, throughout musical history). It's what you hear, and how the composer/arranger has organised the music that determines the time signature, and not the other way around.

    So, simply put, syncopation just means that the stress falls on some beats (by no means all) where you wouldn't expect stress. There's no magic involved, and your ears can tell you everything you need to know. Unless its Belgica, of course.

    PS Your ears don't deceive you in Beligica, actually, it's just that it's too late.
  19. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    I think you're right, but do they hear it, and do they understand it? Be careful - you're getting suspiciously close to teaching rhythm to dancers.
  20. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    A simple example: In 4/4 time (4 beats per measure, where a single 1/4 note is a beat), we "normally" emphasize the 1st and 3rd beats of a measure (1 & 3 are the strong beats, 2 & 4 are the weak beats)

    Normal (Not syncopated) - Beats 1 & 3 Emphasized
    | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 |
    | S w S w | S w S w |

    Syncopated - Beats 2 & 4 Emphasized
    | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 |
    | w S w S | w S w S |

    S = Strong beat
    w = weak beat

    Now there are many other (more complicated) examples of syncopation. This is just one scenario.

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