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.
This month we’re looking at one of my favorite elements of tango language: fills. In Spanish, tango musicians call them pasajes de enlace or ‘links.’ These fills are short pieces of melodic information that fit into the gaps between the primary melody and in some cases connect larger sections. For a great example of fills, listen to the first 30 seconds of ‘El pollo Ricardo’ by the Federico/Grela quartet:
In this excerpt the bandoneón plays the melody and the lead guitar inserts fills in between almost every melodic phrase.
How are fills used?
An important part of playing tango without set arrangements (parrilla style) is to have fills ready and know how and when to use them. This is one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of playing tango. A good player knows how to insert fills without overusing them or stepping on the melody. Another use of fills is in written arrangements. Once you understand what fills are and have a sense for where and how they work, you can start including them in arrangements that you write.
Start your own fill library
There are standard fills, and it’s worth learning as many of them as possible. At a certain point you may decide to create your own fills, or your own versions of standard ones. I recommend learning fills from recordings: listen to guitarists (Roberto Grela, as usual, is an excellent source) and listen to non-guitarists.
Practice in many keys
In the previous lesson I mentioned the importance of learning to play in multiple key signatures. Here’s how that applies to fills: every time you learn a new fill, practice playing it in the 6 or 7 most common tango keys. As long as you’re at it, make sure you can play it on different areas of the guitar (bass strings, treble strings, etc).
Have questions about fills? Wondering about those 6 or 7 keys I mentioned? Contact me…