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Introduction to Tango Music

Tango was born around the 18th century out of the fusion of the cultures in the Río de la Plata region that connects Argentina and Uruguay. Musical stylings from the indigenous people of the region combined with that from the enslaved and impoverished populations grew into the genre we know today. This multidimensional art form includes dance, poetry, and of course, music. Join UMS teaching artist Teagan Faran to explore the world of tango music, the tradition of aural music sharing, and the basics of improvisation. Get out your instrument or warm-up your voice and get ready to make some music!

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Recommended for

Grades 6-12 (Ages 11-17); Appropriate for students with a basic knowledge of music theory.

Meet the Artist

Teagan FaranTeagan Faran, a native of Buffalo, NY, is a multidisciplinary musician focused on enacting social change through the arts. She has recorded with the Buffalo Tango Orkestra, La Martino Orquesta Típica, and the Ann Arbor Camerata. Faran has recently served as concertmaster of the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra and spent 2019 living in Buenos Aires, Argentina on a Fulbright to study tango and national music. In Fall 2020, she will begin her Masters in Contemporary Performance at the Manhattan School of Music.

Lesson 1

Discover the genre of tango music and the instrumental voices of a tango orchestra.

Optional Tool: Online Keyboard


Lesson 2

Build it! What’s in a chord?
Learn the basic building blocks of major and minor chords and the standard milonga form.

Optional Tool: Online Keyboard


Lesson 3

Sing It! What is the Melody?
Discover how to learn a melody without sheet music, and the connection between aural tradition and tango music.

Optional Tool: Online Keyboard


Lesson 4

Play it! What is Improvisation?
Practice the skill of improvising by adding your creative touch to the milonga form.

Optional Tool: Online Keyboard


Lesson 5

Put It All Together! Reviewing the Milonga
Put the finishing touches on the milonga we’ve been learning together with special effects and tango yeites (tricks)!

Optional Tool: Online Keyboard


Helpful Terms to Know

Music Terminology

Accompaniment: Music that supports or partners a solo instrument, voice or group.

Aural Tradition: Music and songs are preserved and passed from person to person by example and imitation instead of by musical notation.

Chords: Multiple notes heard simultaneously.

Chromatic Scale: All twelve notes in ascending or descending order.

Conductor: Someone who leads an orchestra or ensemble in musical performance.

Harmony: The sound of two or more notes heard simultaneously. Harmony is one of the three fundamental elements of music along with Melody and Rhythm.

Interval: An interval is the distance of one note to another note. In Western music there are twelve tones (notes). The smallest interval between notes used is the half step.

Lead Sheet: a shorthand of musical notation that conveys the main elements of a composition without including every note. A lead sheet usually includes melody, basic harmony and lyrics.

Major Scale: The major scale is the foundation from which all other scales are formed. The pattern for the major scale is as follows: whole step—whole step—half step—whole step—whole step—whole step—half step. There are twelve major scales, one in each key.

Major Triad: A triad comprised of a bottom note (root), a major third, and a perfect fifth, or the first, third and fifth notes of a major scale.

Melody: The main tune or “song” of the music – a collection of notes of varying intervals. Along with Rhythm and Harmony, Melody is one of the three fundamental elements of music.

Minor Triad: A triad comprised of a bottom note (root), a minor third and a perfect fifth, or the first, third and fifth notes of a minor scale.

Music Clefs: In music notation, music clefs indicate the pitch of the notes on a staff. Common clefs are Treble and Bass.

Rhythm: The organization or placement of sounds in time. Along with Melody and Harmony, Rhythm is one of the three fundamental elements of music.

Solfege: A system in which every note of the scale receives its own unique syllable: “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do”.

Scale: Scales refer to a series of notes that go in an ascending and descending manner.

Transpose: changing the music so that it can be heard in a higher or lower register – changing the key.

Triad: Three notes played simultaneously.

Terminology Specific to Tango Music

A la parilla: “Off the/from the grill”; freely playing over a standard tango tune, features improvisation and ornamentation around the melody.

Chapita: “Little piece of metal”; refers to the metal on the frog (bottom) of the violin bow which is used to strike against the strings to create an accent.

Chicharra: “Cricket/cicada”; effect created when a string player rubs their bow against the thread of the string behind the bridge.

Ruidos: “Noises”; special effects and techniques used by tango musicians to create dramatic, percussive sounds.