When most people speak about tango music, it is usually talking about music from the Golden-Age of Tango. For me Tango music is any music you can dance Tango to, which personally I fell you can dance Tango to anything. That depends on your partners and such, but not always a common idea among Tango communities. So instead of going over the different types of tango music, I’m going to give you the basics of the different styles of tango music. Aren’t these the same thing? Well depends on your own definitions, but you’ll see what I mean.
The styles of Tango music can really be broken down into 3 styles with ~3 classifications. These styles are: Tango, Milonga, and Vals. The different classifications are: Tradtional (usually ommited), Nuevo, and Alternative. Each of these usually include specific criteria, but everyone will have their own definitions, here I’ll outline my thoughts on the matter.
Tango – In 4/4 timing, with a steady rhythm that you can hear repeating every 4 measures/beats. This is the majority of tango music played in social dance settings.
Milonga – In 2/4 timing, thus twice as fast, usually including strong accented beats and rhythms. Smaller, simpler steps with less pausing.
Vals – In 3/4 timing, a encourages fluid movements on beats with minimal pauses and very circular. Otherwise called a Waltz.
Traditional – Music from the early to mid 20th century. Usually not including drums or something with more of a bass beat. 1900-1950’s.
Nuevo – Nuevo music is usually described as music with a similar styles as the above traditional music, but usually including more drums or a bass beat into the music.
Alternative – Music that may have the correct timing (not always) but doesn’t sound anything like tango.
There are even more classificiations, some people have Neo-Tango, Electro-Tango, and many more. I personally stick to the above. Trying to keep things simple and more basic.
These next set of terms you’ll hear a lot when it comes to tango music, social dances, and likewise.
Tanda – A grouping of 3-4 songs to be played together. Should follow a specific feeling, usually same composers, orchestras, bands, vocals, rhythm, something. You’re usually expected if you’re dancing with someone to dance a full tanda with your partner in a social scene.
Cortina – The usually non-dance-able/different music to separate the tandas. Usually around 25-45 seconds long.
Milonga – Other than the music style, Milonga also is a term used for a Social Dance, a place you dance tango socially. This is not an environment for practicing/critiquing.
Practica – This is similar to a Milonga (Social Dance), but the emphasis is practicing and working on your tango. Can be solo, may have tandas/cortinas, many rules aren’t on a normal dance floor doesn’t always apply here, but most do.