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Musical Interpretation – Parts 1 & 2

Musical Interpretation (parts 1 & 2)

Musical Interpretation. When most people hear the phrase ‘Musical Interpretation’ they usually end up looking at you with a blank stare, blinking their eyes at you now and again, until you use the word that makes sense to them: “Musicality”. And then they’re like, “Weeeeellll! Why didn’t you say so in the first place…..”, and then it’s like you’re best buddies again! 

First and foremost, let’s get something out of the way. “Musicality” doesn’t mean what you think it does, as you’ll soon see. Secondly and most importantly the word itself means ‘to BE music’! Hmm, you can write the music, you can listen to the music, you can dance to the music, but you can not…if I am not mistaken, BE music. It is impossible. However, you can INTERPRET the Music! 

The Workshop Problem. A class or workshop tutorial on ‘Musicality” doesn’t actually teach you about music, nor does it teach to dance to the music as a whole. A 1hr (or 1.5 hr) workshop or even a 6 week series is not going to teach you to dance to the music. The topic is wide and vast, and seemingly overwhelming. Further still, the very idea that you can ‘interpret’ the music is so far beyond most people’s understanding (or so they believe) that it overwhelms them when they begin to see the complexity of the topic at hand. 

Usually most people’s experience with ‘musicality’ workshops that they’ve had in the past is as follows: 1.) you are first shown/taught a step, a pattern, or a figure. 2.) You go through several rotations of partners learning the step/pattern/figure. 3.) The last 15 minutes to half hour of class is showing you the same example of the figure you’ve spent 45 minutes learning only now somehow, magically, it goes with a piece of music or a style of music or an aspect that is specific to that piece of music that may sometimes occur here and there. 4.) You’re shown a few variations on a theme of the figure, and somewhere about the 3rd or 4th your eyes start to glaze over. 5.) The idea of Counting Beats is reinforced: On the 2nd beat you step here, on the 3rd beat the Follower is supposed to step there, on the 4th….and so on.

Is this dancing ? No.
It’s a game of Twister, only to music. 🙁

Ask yourself the following questions: Are you any wiser as to where the beat is at, or were you stomping behind someone else, copying them ? Has the class or workshop taught you about the orchestral style ? Probably not. Has it informed you about why this orchestra was important or any history about that orchestra or in fact the primary singers of that orchestra ? It may, but the topic is so wide and vast that it quite literally hurts your head to consider all the permutations that it’s impossible to put it all into one 1.5 hr session or into a weekend workshop. (note: This is what Tango Topics has broken out into the Tango Del Dia section of the process so that you can learn this stuff independently, and learn why it’s important to the process. You can see the ‘lite’ version of it here).  Has it taught you what you’re supposed to be listening for, and more importantly why ? And beyond that has it taught you how to do that ? More than likely it’s taught you a figure, but that figure only applies to that specific piece of music, and types like it. And further, the figure only applies in bits and pieces, or sections of the music. So what are you supposed to do with the rest of the time ? Walk ? Ha! At the same time said workshop has most certainly thrown this word around “Phrase”, but do you have any idea, more so now, than you did 45 minutes ago what a ‘phrase’ is and how it applies everywhere else ? Are you any clearer on the idea of ‘Musicality’ than you were 45 minutes ago ? Probably not. But what you have done is spent the better portion of an hour or so, learning a figure that you’ll probably never use, and very little time on the ‘musical’ part that you absolutely need to learn. 

This comprises most people’s experience of a ‘musicality’ class. It’s not all of them, nor is this to disparage anyone’s work on this topic. This section is here to point out the disparity of the problem, and why teaching and learning this stuff takes time, patience, and lots of practice! And more importantly why you do actually have to study with someone for a long while to get this stuff. It’s not going to happen in 5 minutes, or 5 weeks, or 5 sessions, or 5 months. Get that thought right out of your head. That’s a fallacy! 

What is ‘Musical Interpretation’ ? Musical Interpretation is a term that brings together two very different skillsets that should not be confused or co-mingled together. And they usually are, sadly. Both have to be accessed at the same time in order for Musical Interpretation to work properly, however these are two very different skills that must be pursued with all due diligence.  

The first part is ’Musical’. Which can be, but is not limited to – Either role hears the music in a very specific way, whereby they’re collectively, and/or separately, able to hear the beat, pause, and phrase (not phrasing – that’s entirely different idea) within the overall structure of a piece of music. This is about hearing the music, and its individual components. Not acting on them, but instead hearing them, keeping track of them, and understanding what’s going on. That last part is insanely difficult to do, and takes some time to get. Sometimes, ok – a lot of the time, most people get too wrapped up in their own excitement of the next part of this stuff and never focus on the one thing that they absolutely must… AND/OR they focus on one aspect (the beat, usually) alone and believe that this will be ‘enough’. It’s not by the way. This idea is, and this is not to disparage your ideas, can be almost pedestrian in nature. We do want to aspire to something more that accentuates the nuance and spirit of the music, not just it’s beat alone. 

The second part is ‘Interpretation’, which is what you do with that beat, pause, and phrase (the ‘phrasing’, that’s the doing part of phrases) of the overall piece of music so that you see the movement or dancing part in the music. Ideally this is the desired result. However, and this where Interpretation takes on its real meaning. While you can vary that idea to express a point, a counterpoint of the music, but in the end, one is always working towards creating a larger vision of the music. Not to just visually represent the song note for note or phrase to phrase, but to show its nuances as well as its overall presence in the physical world. This is the beginning of ‘Interpretation’. 


A Few ‘Musical’ Problems. There are some problems with the Musical part above that must be addressed first and foremost. One problem that comes up a lot of people is that they’re beat challenged and don’t know it. 1.) They run too fast (ahead of the beat and actually think it’s one thing when it’s another). 2.) They run too slow (same problem as too fast, only in reverse). And/or 3.) They are slightly ahead, or slightly behind the beat, and/or running across the beat all at the same time.

Compounding the beat problem is that most of you reading this from a Leading perspective have been taught to Count Beats which is about as useful as a small kitchen appliance that’s been unplugged. From a Following perspective you’ve been taught to “do your thing as long as it doesn’t interrupt the lead (small ‘l’, the action, and not the person ‘L’) without actually ‘hearing’ what it is that you’re ‘not interrupting’.

Next we have the Musical Pause or ‘Rest’ issue that is frequently misread, misunderstood, or ignored completely by design or as is more likely the case, ignorant that a Musical Pause actually exists and is not arbitrary, but in fact built into the music and must be respected. But a question comes up in this, which is one reason why it’s highly misunderstood, “How do you hear something that isn’t there ?”.

Still another issue that compounds the Musical problem is purely psychological. Some people have been told from a very early age that they can’t find a beat to save their lives. This message is so ingrained that they buy into this fallacy without question over time. Still another is that some are so wrapped up in the fear of not getting the beat, or not understanding it, that their anxiety over their inadequacy that they anticipate the beat in the wrong places, and at a the wrong times. The common solution for a lot of Leads to these problems is to learn lots of steps, patterns, and figures to mask the overall problem.

The Performance Problem! Let’s remove a component from the table that needs to be addressed. This is not about a performance. Social Musical Interpretation is not about replicating someone’s performance that you saw on youtube. No. That is an artistic expression from that couple, and their idea of what can happen under certain ideal conditions. However there are a few problems with this expression. 1.) First and foremost, 9 times out of 10, what you see in a performance can not, and will not work in the line of dance! Mostly because there is no space for 90% of that stuff. If you take out all the volcadas, sacadas, boleos, ganchos, what’s left are turns, ochos, walking, crosses, and variations of them in open and close embrace, which forms the basis of Social Tango! 2.) What you’re looking at is generally selling that couple’s idea of tango to you. It is, again, a performance to sell you on them. However, this isn’t about selling you anything, this is about dancing with your partner, to accentuate the music and to create a pleasant dancing experience that you’ll have lovely memories about! 3.) No one gives a rat’s damn if you know 356 Sacadas, or can Boleo over your head! The only thing that most people care about is whether or not the dance was pleasant, enjoyable, and most of all ‘musical’. That’s all that people care about. And that’s the basis of SOCIAL TANGO or in this case, Social Musical Interpretation.

How to Clean Up The Musical Problem ? In order to clean up the problems above, five things must happen in sequence:

1.) (Beat Course) Clarify what the beat is, and is not, and then develop a regime to teach how to hear a beat within its proper tempo (speed) consistently. What are the markers for a beat, and what to listen for. 
2.) (Beat Course with Exercises) Recalibrate someone’s innate (and quite natural) ordering and sorting skills, as it relates to hearing the ‘pattern’ of the music out of the chaos of the music, with the goal to hearing and retraining someone to hear ‘Musical Time’.
3.) (Pauses Course) Introduce the Dancer to the 5 Common Types of Musical Pauses that occur everywhere in Tango Music, and then practice hearing those pauses every day for 44 days with examples of Tango, Vals, and finally Milonga music of where a pause is, and then type those pauses, consistently through daily Tango del Dia quizzes. 😉 Starting with the 14 Days of Tango Music.
4.) (Accents Course) Introduce the dancer to Musical Accents, Off Notes, La Variacion, and The Singer, and employ Tango Del Dia Level 2.
5.) (Structure Course) Introduce the dancer to the overall structure of the music and the 6 (sometimes 8) parts of a song.

How to Start to Interpret The Music ? It is important to recognize that the process of Interpretation is not an easy pathway. It is going to take some time. Note the language that’s used here in the opening question, “how to START…?”, “Start” being the operative word. Interpretation doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just magically start to interpret the music. No. You must first be trained in what to listen for. However, that training above this is only one half of the equation. The other half of the equation is the vocabulary component, it is an important stepping stone (no pun intended). In short, you have to know what to do with that music. And that’s the vocabulary portion of the process.

The belief is that Musical Interpretation can only happen with lots of intricate and complex patterns, and figures. Not true. And quite honestly those patterns and figures are based on very, very simple, easy to digest, concepts and ideas –  Ochos, Turns, and Crosses.

A really good way to start the process of Musical Interpretation is with very simple ideas that can be built upon and then expanded, and that’s where we introduce an important, but foundational structure that must be clear in the dancer’s mind regardless of role: The 6 Ways of Walking! Without this key component present in the dancer’s bag of skills, there’s quite literally no point in doing anything else until this skill has been introduced, practiced religiously, and then thoroughly and completely mastered from a Leading AND Following perspective. As this idea is the cornerstone of everything else that comes after it.

What’s Next ? It’s not a ‘next’ but a ‘while’. All the while that the above is going on, 3 things must absolutely occur at the same time:

1.) The dancer must have mastered the 6 Ways of Walking from a Leading perspective as well as from a Following perspective.  These are literally the ‘keys’ to the city of Tango. Without them, there’s no point in cleaning up the ‘Musical’ problem, or trying to Interpret the Music. Because the tools for what you will do with that interpretation do not exist. The 6 Ways of Walking is the First tool. And if this sounds like a sales pitch. It’s not. It’s what has to be present in order for everything else to take place. Everything that is in this course contains this most basic element. Sections 1 and 2 of this course begins this process by walking you through and marrying beat and pauses with the 6 ways of walking.

2.) The dancer must begin their mastery in 3 types of Tango vocabulary. In specific: Ochos, Turns, and Crosses.

a.) 2 of the 8 types of Ochos. – Milonguero (“Lazy”) Ochos and Traveling Ochos.
b.) The 8 types of Turns, and in specific the Follower’s Molinete, the Milonguero Turn, and the Argentine Calecita.
c.) 2 of the 256 types of Argentine Cross, and Back and Forward Floating and Rotating Crosses.

3.) The dancer must be introduced to 2 foundational concepts that take us to the next level of Musical Interpretation: Alternation, and Symmetry.

Next month, sections 3 and 4 of Musical Interpretation will display Alternation, and Symmetry!

dancing in a small space ? watch these videos!


About The Video. This video package comes in at 52m:32s in length in 6 Sections, and 8 Subsections.

Section 1 – Opening – 00:02:48 (this video is above)
Section 2 – The ‘What’ Part – 00:10:59
Section 3 – The ‘What’ Example – 00:05:40
Section 4 – The ‘How’ Part – 00:03:02
Section 5 – Level 1 – 00:12:32
   – part 1 – walking on every beat – parallel system. (metronome)
   – part 2 – walking on every other beat – parallel system. (metronome)
   – part 3 – walking on every beat to the pauses – parallel system. (metronome/music)
   – part 4 – walking on every other beat to the pauses – parallel system. (metronome/music)
Section 6 – Level 2 – 00:17:37
   – part 5 – walking on every beat to the pauses – 6 ways of walking. (metronome)
      a.) parallel. b.) 3 track cross. c.) milonguero ochos. d.) inside ‘snake’ walk. e.) outside ‘snake’ walk. f.) alternate walk ‘a’.
   – part 6 – example dance – walking on every beat to the pauses – 6 ways of walking. (music)
   – part 7 – walking on every other beat to the pauses – 6 ways of walking. (metronome)
      a.) parallel. b.) 3 track cross. c.) milonguero ochos. d.) inside ‘snake’ walk. e.) outside ‘snake’ walk. f.) alternate walk ‘a’.
   – part 8 – example dance – walking on every beat to the pauses – 6 ways of walking. (music)

One More Thing.

It’s important to recognize that while you’re going through this process above, and it is a long process that will take you about 6 to 9 months to ferment in your mind and body, that you must also be practicing every single day (solo practice), you must be going out social dancing as much as possible. You must be dancing with as many people as possible, in every kind of condition, and in every space. The reason is that the dancer must be trained to be able to exist under all possible conditions with every type of dancer, every style, in every opportunity. This is conditioning in it’s simplest form. It forms the basis of The Neurology of Leading (and Following).

Learning this stuff in a studio or at home is ok, but you need real world experience and practice. That real world practice must be concurrently used with all of the above. Without it, there’s quite literally no point in doing any of this stuff. You will falter in your goal to be able to dance in a ‘musical’ way. The reason is that while dancing in a studio space with just one partner, or practicing with just one partner, in an antiseptic environment without other couples in the line of dance, while being good ‘practice’, does not prepare you for actual social dancing. The line of dance, at an actual milonga or practica, is the only place where you can get that experience.

So while sitting here and tapping out a beat, and/or watching a video on what you need to do, to give you ideas of what has to happen is all fine and good…this point can’t be stressed enough, you actually have to go out social dancing as often as is humanly possible. Read that as EVERY WAKING MOMENT! No excuses. None. Family, job, relationships, bills, money, etc…all of that stuff must take a back seat, temporarily, until you start this process. Make it part of your weekly regime, set yourself an easily attainable goal: 2 to 3 Milongas a week where you can play with the stuff below, or 2 Practicas and a Milonga every week, and once a month head off to a larger tango environment in a larger city, like Boston, Portland (OR), New York, Berlin, Dallas, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Frankfurt, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa, Miami, Tokyo, Taipei, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Perth, Brisbane, Houston, Melbourne, London, Paris just to name a few.

Can You Download This Video Series ? Sadly, no. 🙁 Due to legal and financial music issues, this video series is only available to paid subscribers.

Watch It On Youtube ? Why should you subscribe to this website when stuff like this is available on Youtube ? Because this stuff doesn’t exist anywhere on Youtube. That’s why! This content has been sitting in the back of my mind for the better portion of 8+ years. I have spent most of that time refining it through teaching intensives, clarifying the ideas, cleaning up the inconsistencies that existed with the theories, and practices, and ended up developing this course as a result. It has been tested, and tried through hundreds of dancers that have gone through the intensive process.

The Last Word. Tango Topics is little reminders and snippets of information that your teachers would have told you about but didn’t have time to or didn’t care to remind you for the umpteenth millionth time. Do you need videos like these ? Yes. Why ? Simple…you need as many reminders as possible in as many forms as you can get. In today’s Tango world it does take a village to raise a dancer. And that means having as many voices, reminders, ideas, concepts, perspectives as possible. This video and the rest of the ones that are sitting behind the Tango Topics paywall are that. While what you’re seeing above is only the smallest hint of what’s contained in the actual video. It should be enough for you to make a reasoned and intelligent choice that perhaps there’s something of value in this site and the videos that are here. Considering becoming a Gold, Gold Plus, or Diamond level subscriber today.

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