Sunday, August 21, 2011

Musicality Workshop: Triplets

These triplets belong together
just like triplets in music.
In this "workshop" on triplets, I have two video-clip examples of couples who dance the triplets in the music, Buscandote played by Osvaldo Fresedo's orchestra, composed by Lalo Scalise.  This tango has a nice little example of triplets at three points in the song that changes the way the dancers dance. Most dancers at a milonga continue dancing on the pulse, which is entirely okay, but since triplets are fairly rare, I am suggesting that it is nice when a couple pays attention to them if they know the song well.  You will see how these very musical couples dance triplets with the musicians during our moment together.

This blog is a workshop.  I do not expect it to be an easy theme.  I am assuming that you just love the music and hear the pulse.  That is all you need, along with a little patience to understand this concept.  If you did not read my blog, "The Pulse vs. the Music Itself,"  I suggest you read that first.  Today's blog is explicitly about dancing to what the musicians are playing in the form of quarter-note triplets.

You may enjoy the many wonderful things each couple does, but let's focus simply on the triplets -- just one little, dainty and delicious aspect of the song, okay?  There will be no guess work of where these triplets are.  I will show you.  I give you exactly where they are musically and the approximation where they appear as far as time goes in the video clip.  Of course if you wish to watch the whole video of each, that is even better.

Here is the road map:
Assumptions:  First let's agree on how to count the phrases:  When counting 1-2 (not 1-2-3-4), each phrase is normally 8 measures of these two-count measures in Buscandote.

Intro:  The intro is 8 measures.  The last measure of the phrase has the first set of triplets (at around the 14-second mark of the song).  I suggest you watch all the couples and see how each responds to the triplets. [Watch at least a few of the videos below and you can hear the triplets at the very end of the intro; then return here.]

Now you know what I mean by triplets.  After the intro, there are three more phrases without triplets (listen carefully for the start of each phrase rather than just counting because some phrases have an odd count).

The Bridge:  This is a middle part and the triplets are about at the one-minute mark.  Most of the dancers do their most explicit interpretation of the triplets here because the triplets go one for longer (7 beats together (trip-a-let / trip-a-let / one), rather than 4 beats together (trip-a-let / one).

One more phrase of 8 measures sets up the vocals.

The Vocals:  The first phrase of 8 measures ends with triplets at about the 1:37 mark from the start of the song.

The last four phrases of the song have no triplets.   For the few of you who get into counting the phrases, you will notice some unusual phrases of 7 measures.  These have no large significance for a dancer who is simply listening and improvising to the music.  Choreographers know exactly how long each phrase is, but for most of us, this is not important.

A side note for musicality:
You might notice the power of the strings, because Fresedo had a large string section.  He also uses a percussionist, playing the vibraphone and other percussion.  But the one instrument I want you to listen for is the harp.  How many tangos have a harp? What do some of the dancers do with the beautiful sweep of the harp especially after the second set of triplets?  If you watch YouTube videos of Buscandote, only a few of the couples play with this magical moment.

Couple Number One
Let's start out with one of my favorite couples is Sebastián and Mariana.  Soon there will videos of them from the Tango Element Baltimore Tango Festival, which you must see.  They were mind-expanding inspiring.   Of the three videos here, they are the only couple who together nails each of of the sets of quarter-note triplets as steps together.  The intro triplets are at the 4-second mark. The second set is at the 55-second mark.  During the last set of triplets at the 1:26 mark and right after the first verse of vocals, they walk through the triplets together.

Looking at only the triplets from these wonderful dancers, clearly Fabian and Lorena (below) both interpret the intro triplets in the most sophisticated way.   I have saved the best for last!

The Intro
In the intro both "recognize" the triplets with adornos, dropping the first and doing the last three beats.  I think they have the best start of all the couples I could find on YouTube. [Play the entire intro and return here. The triplets are at the 14-second mark.]

The Bridge
At the bridge, Fabian walks backwards and she forwards on the triplets.  I will avoid being too technical about this; so just watch what they do first, and see what you can see! This is the longer set of triplets, counted "trip-a-let, trip-a-let, one."  The steps are like this: 1 2 3/ 1 2 3/ 1**.  What they do is dance 1 * 3/ 1 2 3/ 1.  Also note what he does with the harp at the end of this middle group of triplets.  This is in my opinion the best use of the harp of all the couples presented here. [Play the video about at the 50-second mark and return here.]

Triplets at the Vocals
At the vocals they both do the most amazing displays of triplets with teamwork:  She is walking the triplets in a very strong female role during his extended planeo.  They get applause -- but too soon -- which masks the triplets somewhat.  The most amazing part is how Lorena steps through the triplets and he responds with some nice triplet toe touches, using the same rhythm they did in the intro.  They end this last set of triplets very exactly and with a sacada too!  Wonderful.

Extra Credit:
ONLY those interested in how triplets are shown musically.  Line one is the "pulse."

An Obscure Footnote (don't read this if you already feel over-loaded):
In reality tango has an undercurrent of quarter-note triplets nearly all the time.  Some people do not feel this and even deny that it is there.   This tango feel is also in kizomba, some Middle Eastern music and even much of hip hop.  Musicians know it ias the 3+3+2 feel of tango.  Many tangos are very subtle and some deny the 3/3/2 feel. For me that is like denying the existence of God.  I really don't want to argue what people cannot sense (with tango or God), but in my opinion tango is not tango without this sometimes explicit, sometimes subtle undercurrent of quarter-note triplets.  It is certainly always is explicit in milonga and candombe.  In di Sarli, Fresedo and Pugliese -- just to mention a few, this undercurrent is on the "2" of each of the 3/3/2 feel; so it looks like this:  *2*/*2*/*2.  Also, in the Vals Cruzado (tango waltz) there is an undercurrent of three's present.  If you think in six or twelve beat phrases (rather than just little chunks of 3 beats) you will hear this undercurrent in the tango waltz.  If you feel the vals in 6-beat phrases you will notice an undercurrent (the "cruzado") that is three-against-six.  Many dancers dance this undercurrent at times and feel this but have no idea what this undercurrent is.  And that is good to mention:   It is not important that anyone intellectually understand anything I have mentioned here.  If you feel it; that is enough.  The problem is that many people do no feel these things, and once they are pointed out, they may be on their way to enjoying tango a bit more.  Consider this "exposure."  This article may be too intellectual, but one day it might all dawn on you, as it did me.  I did not hear these things at first but now they are the driving force of how I dance and enjoy this wonderful music.  With my music background, I started after the fact of feeling the music trying to understand what was happening.

Photo credit:
Baby triplets
Music graphic of triplets


  1. This looks like a fun workshop. I wish I could take it.

    You might want to look also at a related topic: 3/3/2 rhythms in tango. You can find these most markedly and clearly in "Libertango", but they are also common in earlier tangos, though usually only as small moments in the dance. My favourite use of 3/3/2 is in Troilo's version of "Toda mi Vida". It really marks an excellent leader for me when he can walk on the 3/3/2 beat when it comes (it's during the chorus, the first example comes when the singer sings "No se por que te perdi, tampoco se cuando fue, pero a tu lado deje..."

    PS I don't know about triplets, but I personally have always found it strange that you can't get pregnant from dancing tango. Not even dancing with the partner of your dreams to a beautiful Troilo-Fiorentino tanda! Weird, isn't it?


  2. PS Thank you for this. I enjoy these interpretations of Buscandote even more now.


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