I’m a long time student and teacher of tango guitar. This series of articles is for tango guitar students and guitarists interested in pursuing tango. Contact me for more information on lessons and workshops.
We’ve already discussed some melodic concepts for tango guitar, so let’s take a look at rhythm. (In fact, it’s logical to look at rhythm first but it’s easy for guitarists to neglect melody, so I switched the order).
How does rhythm work in tango? First of all, we’re talking about the rhythmic basis of accompaniment. Tango has distant African roots and creating the right rhythmic feel is essential to playing well. One peculiarity of tango is that unlike many other genres of Latin music, there are no percussion instruments. Instead, the percussive roles are handled by all instruments, and in a large part by those that are handling accompanying duties at any given time.
*A note to the reader* The below is a general discussion of the rhythmic concepts in tango, vals, and milonga. I don’t get into details of technique. In order to really incorporate these concepts into your playing you’ll want to get with a teacher.
Of the three ‘genres’ or song forms (see article 2) tango is the most complex in terms of rhythmic accompaniment, so we’ll start there.
In all three examples assume we are talking about playing chords, unless we specifically mention bass notes or arpeggios.
The rhythm of tango accompaniment can be broken down in to several general patterns. The most important are marcato and síncopa. There are many variations on each type of pattern, but in general terms marcato is made up of four staccato quarter notes, with accents on beats 1 and 3.
In traditional tango you’ll hear marcato most of the time, say 80 percent. The síncopa pattern is used as a way of breaking up the monotony. As the name suggests it’s a syncopated figure, in its most basic form two eighth notes on beat 1 and a half note on beat 3.