Tango DJing – Tanda Composition
Building a Tanda

What is a Tanda? At the core a Tanda is just a group of 3-5 songs to be played and danced in succession. There are usually some basic principles that come into building a Tanda, which is usually best followed, but these are guidelines, not rules.  You don’t have to follow them, but not doing so can easily throw off the dancers and the flow of the evening, which as a DJ, you want to keep people dancing and in good spirits. I’ve been to places that don’t follow the standard tanda composition or milonga rules, and it makes myself as well as others not want to dance, or even start to avoid certain DJs. There is wiggle room, to be sure, especially with alternative, but going too far away does indeed take the tango out of your DJing.

The Basics

When it comes to Tanda Building, there are some things you need to keep in mind. Tanda length, music artists, instruments, singers, beat timing, volume levels, music quality, and also song length. Some of these can be more picky or more lenient depending on the community you’re in, but you should consider most if not all these points. Some of these are pretty straight forward, others are more advanced.

Tanda Length is one that changes depending on the type of Milonga or Practica you are creating. Since a Tanda is 3-4 Songs (should be consistent through the Milonga) you’ll find you’ll want to average your song length to around 3 minutes per song, sometimes up to 4. This puts you around 9 minutes minimum to about 16 minutes on the high end. Rarely there are Tandas that last longer 20 Minutes, but they do exist.  I personally wont dance a full 4 song Tanda of Alternative songs that are 5-6minutes per song. Keeping songs and the total length should be considered.

Music Artists should play a key role when it comes to traditional Tanda building. If you’re making a Tanda with the first song from Carlos DeSarli, the rest of that tanda should be Carlos DeSarli. When people dance a tanda, the first song should give an impression as to what the rest of the Tanda will be. Mixing Artists, really ruins the flow, sometimes you can get away with it if they have similar feeling in the songs, but as a guideline, stick to an artist for each Tanda.

Alternative Music is different to the above guideline. I still feel you should attempt to group similar artists and music together. Some alternative music have mashups or collaborations with their music to help transition. Pairing a country song, a hard metal, a three piece classical rendition, and dubstep all in one Tanda is not advised… it is possible, but chances are it wont have your dancers happy.

Instruments in your Tanda should also attempt to be consistent.  If you follow keeping with the same Artist through a Tanda, this becomes easier, but still needs consideration. If you pair an earlier DeSarli Song with a later recording, there will be different instruments that you can hear, and it can sound like a different orchestra is playing. It brings a different energy hearing a song with no Piano and classical strings, then the next can have a Piano, Bandoneon, Bass, Guitar, and little or no strings. The don’t sound like they belong. Adding or removing an instrument granted the feel is similar is fine in my opinion, but there are limits to making things feel together.

Vocals are a major part in Tango music and you can have the same song from the same artist, but could have multiple different versions with different vocalists. Mixing Rufino and Alberto when paired with DeSarli brings too much dissimilar in tone, even in the same song. The Tanda should keep the same vocal artist.  You can have an instrumental song paired with a vocal song, but keeping the vocals the same singer, should be followed when it comes to traditional Tandas.

Alternative Tandas I feel are different to this rule.  Getting the same singer is VERY difficult. My suggestion, is if there are vocals for an alternative tanda, keep the vocals in the same gender. If there is a female singer in song one, keep the next few songs with similar sounding female vocals. Mixing a male with a deep sound with a song with high female vocals, treat it like an instrument, ommiting it would be fine, but changing such a prominent part drastically will cause the tanda to feel wrong.

Beat timing is straight forward, you don’t mix the different tempos between a Vals, Milonga, or Tango beat. Tango is a standard 4/4 timing with 4 beats a measure. Milonga is 2/4, and Vals is 3/4. Most music if you’re listening you can find a pattern and hear the tempo.  Keeping tempos and styles of music is what makes a Tanda identifiable.

Advanced Topics

If you’ve gotten the idea around the basics, there are additional thoughts when it comes to building Tandas.

Volume levels are an interesting subject, but especially important if you dance while you DJ.  Some people do, others don’t, but sometimes to feel the room, being in the middle of it helps. If the volume of the songs in a Tanda aren’t similar, then going from something nice to overbearing or super silent without tweaking constantly just adds more work and can take you away from dancing or working on the flow. Having software that displays waveforms is SUPER handy as you can judge pretty easily how loud or soft a song is related to the next just by a quick glace at the wave pattern.

Music quality is similar to volume levels. If you have songs that are the same volume, but one has record scratches when it comes to traditional music, or has become overblown and starts to sound flat, pairing that with a different song that doesn’t have those qualities also will interupt the flow. Sometimes record scratches are desired, and have their own feel to them, so pairing all of the same type can work wonders. I’ve had the exact same song, but mastered differently or through different means, and some songs just sound horrible, while another is crystal clear. Just because you have a song already, always be on the look out for a different quality of that song.

Working into a Playlist

The above guidelines are really for looking at a Tanda individually and not as part of a playlist, and if you just throw Tandas together and expect it to turn into a wonderful night of dancing, you have a lot more to think about. DJing for Tango sometimes gets looked down on as it’s a lot of making playlists of already done songs. Club DJs sometimes song mix, record scratch, and the likes in real time to make something unique for themselves and try to make everything flow into each other non-stop. This takes a particular set of skills and working a crowd, but with tango, with the rules, it’s a different type of skill and rules which takes a different set of skills. Some things you need to think about to become better at Tango DJing are:

Strong vs weak/new songs is definitely something that is in traditional Tango Tandas. There are hundreds of songs for an artist, but there are definitely some which are well known and considered strong songs. These are you A-List songs, your go to songs. You should lead a Tanda with these songs, which will drive those to the dance floor. The last song should usually also be something familiar or strong, maybe another A-List, maybe a B-List. As you dance more, you’ll start to identify those A-List songs and you’ll find yourself usually loving them.  This doesn’t mean you can’t add your own flair, this is where the middle songs or last song lets you branch out. Keeping to the usual rules, and keeping the energy of that first song, you can add that other, maybe not so well song, more dynamic song, maybe something that others may not have in their collection. SOme places hear the same music all the time, and branching out is wonderful, it’s why I DJ, but there are those golden songs a majority of people love, and help bring combinations those don’t expect.

Starting a Tanda with something that is unfamiliar will lead to fewer people getting on the dance floor.  Even if people are tired, if the first song is strong, they may sit out that one song and jump in on the next. Having something strong set the tone, and something that ends strong, will lead to happier dancers.

Starting strong does not mean starting fast, loud, high energy super popular A-List 100% of the time, which brings us to the next point.

Milonga Flow is really where the bread and butter is between the DJ quality. I usually eplain this by talking about movies, you have the different points to a good movie, usually starts with introduction, building energy, resolving and planning, more building, sometimes more resolving down or planning, then moving the energy to a climax, a peak, then slowly resolving, maybe throwing a twist of added energy, then slowing down to the credits. You need to lets the energy flow properly between each step, and the songs in the Tanda should have that same flow in a direction.

For example, don’t start the night with a fast high energy Milonga Tanda. Especially if there is a beginner class before the Milonga starts, it will drive new dancers and people who are settling in and arriving away from dancing as that just doesn’t flow with where the dancers are.  Starting with a softer song and more mellow or something that the teacher was using in the class is a great way to have people start on the dance floor. The hardest thing as a DJ, is getting those first few people on that floor, but once they are on, more will follow.

Lets say you are the second, or third DJ for a Tango Marathon? The above may not be good advice. If things are moving, energy is high in the room already, going into a slow DeSarli may not be advisable, especially if the previous DJ didn’t slow things down towards the end of their set. At this point I wouldn’t start with a Milonga Tanda still, but maybe start with some D’Arienzo or some later dated golden age with better recordings that are more beats per minute.

That’s just starting with where you begin, but where do you go from that first song? The question is where do you want to go? Are you going to go Vals first or Milonga first for the first rotation of TTVTTM Tanda pattern? If you’re going with Vals first, if you start semi slow, you want to keep that energy through that first Tanda and maybe the second will maybe increase the tempo and energy a tiny bit. That way with the Flowing feeling of a Vals has a nice transition into it, there are higher energy Vals, but I personally save them for later when the energy is high near the climax of the evening. After the Vals, I usually start the next Tanda slower wit the first song, and usually at this point bring in vocals for my Tandas as they have more energy behind them. Adding some songs with a more defined beat and more staccato brings the energy up more to a Milonga Tanda next. Then usually afterwards I like to slow it down just slightly trying to keep the energy there for a tanda, then going vocal with more energy still before moving to a more energetic Vals. Where you go depends on what you wish and how people are dancing.  Some nights there may be more Milongas, or more Vals, maybe not alternating each time. Maybe add in some Alternative music or Nuevo Music if the Milonga is advertised as such.

This is where making the music flow between each Tanda, where it feels natural keeps people dancing, which is the goal.  You want the Milonga it just happen, you don’t want to have something stand out more than a song was a nice addition to the Tanda, or the feeling that something is unique. Last thing you want is people to think “Why was that tanda there?” or “That felt out of place,” or evening “That Tanda/Song totally didn’t work.”

How you accomplish this takes experience, but something that the great DJs do, is they have appropriate Cortinas between the songs. Having a heavy rock Cortina after a Vals will stand out and have people question and break the immersion. Likewise having a super quiet/slow/melodic Cortina before a Milonga Tanda, will send the wrong vibe.  The Cortina should preview the energy of the next Tanda, while also flow out of the Tanda that was just playing. Good luck!