Guitarist - Composer - Arranger

(7) Variations

July 20, 2017


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 variations, one of the classic elements of traditional instrumental tango arrangements. Variations, usually made up of 16th notes, are a staple of the tango orchestra sound and are principally played by the bandoneon, (although they can be played by other instruments), and often come at the end of an arrangement. Variations are based on the melody (see ‘theme and variations’ in classical music). Tango guitarists play 16th note variations and there are many examples of guitar ensembles where variations are played by more than one guitar in harmony or in octaves. We play them over tangos and valses. Milongas, because of their tempo and feel, don’t really use variations – in most cases the melodies are already made up of rapid 16th notes.​


Three suggestions about variations: 1) learn the classic ones because it’s good to know them. 2) use them as exercises for building technique and speed and 3) eventually, create your own.


Step One – Listen to a few classic variations:


Quejas de bandoneón – The variation is based on the B-section melody and appears at 1:45.


La cumparsita – The variation is based on the A-section melody and appears at 2:40.

Canaro en París – The variation is based on the A-section melody and appears at 1:41. Listen how the variation gets passed around the quintet!

 Now let’s hear what a variation sounds like in a guitar ensemble:




The variation is on the B-section melody starts at 17:57.


And (a superhuman) variation on solo guitar: 




The variation is on the second half of the B-section melody and starts at 3:45.