Tango Argentino > Introducing the Giro to Beginners

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by UKDancer, Jul 8, 2012.

  1. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    I wish more dancers were musical enough to use syncopation to refer to displaced accents, but they usually refer to a rather simpler rhythmic device. My teaching sociaty actually defines syncopation (in 2011 edition of BR Technique - their first go at the topic!) as "Splitting a beat or beats during a figure", so any division of the basic musical pulse is considered to be syncopation.

    Thus when dancing a giro, departing from even, slow steps, into one or more quicks is a dancer's syncopation, but I think I'll stick with the musical usage: it is at least useful, and there is no other term that could be used to better effect.
  2. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Additionally the off-beat and other stuff.

    Also wiki suggests..

    Didn´t we had a thread on off-beat, syncopation, contra-tiempo, and traspié in cunitas, reboots, and sobre-pasos?
  3. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    I know lots of dancers use the term incorrectly. (As you can tell, it's one of my pet peeves). It's really sad when it gets officially defined incorrectly.

    I wonder why they can't just call them quick steps, which simply and accurately describes what they are. I wonder what they will call it when dancers actually do real syncopations.
  4. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    I've noticed that tango teachers (many of whom have no 'formal training' as dance teachers) seem not to have a vocabulary to talk, clearly, about timing issues when they teach. I vividly recall a vals workshop (given by a couple of International repute), where he was demonstrating a simple figure where three steps were taken over two bars on beats 13&1, while counting "One, two, THREE" repeatedly. Of course the accent was on one, so this couldn't be syncopation, so his emphasis was somewhat misplaced.

    I have a secret suspicion that many tango dancers won't describe timings, clearly, because they fear that their description is prescriptive (ie "do it like this", when what is wanted, initially, is "this is what I'm doing").
  5. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    This whole bit about syncopation is, I think... complicated.
    Consider this more lengthy/comphrehemsive definition from the National Symphony Orchestra web site.

    Syncopation is a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm. It's the placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur.
    Music is divided into beats, and beats are grouped together in measures based on patterns of strong beats and weak beats. These patterns make up what is called the meter of a piece of music; they are "metrical patterns." In regular metrical patterns, or the regular flow of rhythm, the first beat of a measure — the downbeat — is the strongest beat, where the most rhythmic emphasis, or weight, is felt. Syncopation shifts this emphasis, or, to put it another way, it places the accent on the wrong syllable.

    A syncopated rhythm is one that places stress on a weak beat, or that creates a strong impulse on a subdivision of a beat, an in-between beat.

    Weak beats and in-between beats are also known collectively as "offbeats," and syncopated rhythm may be thought of as "offbeat rhythm."

    -end quote-

    What I conclude from this, is that when a dancer steps on a weak beat, or steps on a subdivision of a beat, they are in effect 'syncopating.'

    And, just in case we continue with this, let me throw this out.
    "it's syncopation that provides the swing." (from the same site)
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 23, 2017
  6. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    Not to argue with the definition, but I will disagree with your highlighted extract. Almost all music has strong impulses on subdivided beats, (can't think of any that doesn't), but not all music is syncopated. Think of marches, that are square as can be. What makes music syncopated is the earlier part of the definition: "It's the placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur." Ragtime music, characterized by syncopation, was called so because it was "ragged". It didn't have that normal, expected rhythmic pattern. Swing music can be either syncopated or not. It's not the syncopation that makes it swing.
  7. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    Maybe the definition is more about what an emphasized beat is, than where it occurs.
  8. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

  9. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    The simplest example/comparison I can come up with is, if you replace one slow (i.e. Strong) beat with two quick beats, there is no syncopation because the strong beat is still being accented (even if a weak beat also is being accented).

    Now if you were to do only one quick beat (timed/done/started when you would normally do a slow beat), and then do a series a slow beats, you would then be doing syncopation on those slow beats, as you would then be stepping on the off (or weak) beats, while most everyone else would be stepping on the strong beats.

    Not sure if that made any sense, or not.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 23, 2017
  10. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

  11. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    "Syncopation often takes the form of accenting notes that occur just before of after the beat." It may be thought of as off-beat accenting or the occurance of stress where it is least expected. Yet, there is no exact musical notation for where this accent occurs. It is more of a feeling, which is known as the "swing feel."

    African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry By Kariamu Welsh-Asante p 150 (available now through google books preview)

    The term syncopation has too many meanings to be very useful as a term in dance. I don't think the current definition for dancers is incorrect, but picking out that one way to syncopate your steps means that dancers only get a limited understanding of the complexities involved, and the many ways to syncopate music. Tied vs untied syncopations anyone?

    (I very recently read a rather mind bending article on the ramifications of the fact that in African (some?) music and dance the raising of the arm for a drum beat, or the raising of the foot for a step, is considered to be the first count in the music. Whereas "our" first count is the actual sound. )
  12. LadyLeader

    LadyLeader Active Member

    Where was this? Reachable via a weblink?
  13. JohnEm

    JohnEm Well-Known Member

    Syncopating Syncopation

    I agree - the telling part is your last phrase. Syncopation is a musical
    term which even the musicians describe differently.

    Dancers, use it rather carelessly, including me occasionally.
    We aren't playing music but responding to it. Bringing it back to tango,
    perhaps the habanera rhythm could be regarded as syncopated but
    I've never yet seen it described as syncopated, probably because
    it is an accepted and familiar rhythmic pattern.
    Maybe we should take that example and relate it to dancing.

    So if we mark the quick parts of the habanera rhythm with traspies
    that wouldn't be syncopation. But most milongas do not adhere strictly
    to a habanera rhythm, there are are many where three more notes
    are played continually within the basic tempo we dance.
    Like so:
    1 a b c 2 d e f 3 g h i 4 and so on

    If I traspie on notes 1a, 2d, 3g I might regard that as syncopation
    only because it is unexpected (and uneven).

    The expected quicker dance rhythm would be to dance 1b, 2e, 3h
    which would result in the timing of a triple step in other dance genres
    like West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop and I've heard that described
    rather carelessly as a syncopation or, worse, a syncopated triple step.
    Note of caution: this repeated even pattern would not be recognised
    as triple steps unless the groups of three steps are isolated like so:
    1 2 3h4 1 2 3h4 which is the 8 beat pattern of both WCS and Lindy.

    And another note of caution and another example of careless terminology.
    Many people in dancing call this triple step dance tempo double time
    which is odd and slightly confusing to newcomers. It isn't really dancing
    double time but dancing steps in half the time or at double speed.
    My milonga example is effectively dancing groups of two steps
    in quarter of the time or at quadruple speed.

    I'm no musician and don't hear music as a musician does but have had
    to decode some of the confusing terminology of teachers. As usual, the
    best answer to all this is to listen to the music, dance what you hear,
    dance what is possible and never mind the technicalities.
  14. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Try this url to get a look at the title, etc, of the above mentioned article


    It is through the JSTOR database. I am able to access it through public library services here in the states. I just discovered that I can also get there as an alumnus of my university. (I'll also be able to use the ProQuest newspaper archive, which should be a help for my investigations into West Coast Swing.)

    I haven't looked for the Hornbostel book/article yet. If you find it you might want to pass along the location.

    (This Upbeat is African thing is pertinent to where an emphasized backbeat came from in Rock 'n Roll. It was common in country western in the late 40s, early 50s. Listen to Hank Williams, Kitty Wells... etc, so I don't think it came from R&B, as is often written. Slight digression, but that's how I found the cited article.)
  15. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    I know this is off-topic, but you get the same sort of feel in Samba, when you use the bounce action - you have to have an upbeat to come down again: and One. Whether the is any real African influence behind it is an interesting question.
  16. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    And what about a continental origin (polka)?
  17. Normaly at least in my experience, when musicians speak about habanera, the habanera rhythm contans syncopation; [At least in the most common hananera rhythm in tango] the first note in the rhythm is not syncopated, but the last three are syncopated because they each fall a 16th note too late (so accent is on the wrong side of a 1/16 subdivision). Since most trespies are done on one of these "late notes," technically a trespie would be considered a syncopation by a musician.
  18. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    Syncopation can occur in the music or in the dance, independently of each other. It can be very interesting to dance square to a syncopated rhythm, or to syncopate the dance step where the musical rhythm is square.

    The habanera rhythm can be described as 1-&3-4-1. Musically, the & count "leads into" the 3 count, but it is not an emphasized beat. The 3 count is the strong one. If the 3 count was omitted and the & count was strong, then that would be a syncopation.

    An important aspect of syncopation is the unexpectedness of the rhythm. A beat that is not on a 1/4 note count doesn't create syncopation. That little surprise in the rhythm is what causes syncopation. A syncopated measure that was repeated constantly through out a tune might be a strange rhythm, but it wouldn't be syncopated.

    I know some people define swing rhythm as syncopated, but since the syncopation is so regular throughout a given tune, I have a hard time thinking of it as syncopation.
  19. jfm

    jfm Active Member

    Haha! All us followers who aren't professionals with 180 degree dissociation! I'm sorry we mess up your choreography with our having to take those quick steps to make up for our non-flexible bodies! LOL

    Oh for the good old days when Dotty McDotdot would have chimed in with "well what do you expect from these people who've taken LESSONS from QQSS mongering CONartists."

    but seriously, instead of moaning about how less amazingly talented and incredibly gifted (i.e, 20 year old ex-ballerina) social dancers who can't do a perfectly executed giro, maintaining exactly the right angle and degree of twist... why not just not do things that involve kicking between her legs as she goes round? Just a thought? Dance 'down' for the sake of kindness to your partner. And if QQSS or SQQS or whatever combination she does fits the music, why not just enjoy the moment and let her have her way? And also if she's short... she might not be ABLE to take a big back step, and if you are dragging her round, faster than her short legs can keep up with, of course there will be moments where she's scrambling to keep up. Be nice and considerate guys!!!!!!!! She's not a puppet! Accept that different bodies have physical limitations!
    rant over
    honestly though reading this whole thread just made me laugh.
  20. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Absolutely. The habanera (dotted eighth - sixteenth - (eight - eighth)) is syncopation. And it is is the rhythmic basis for almost all milonga music, and it's derivative (sixteenth-eighth-sixteenth (eighth - eighth)) is the rhythmic basis for most tango music. Not that it is the dominant characteristic at all times. But is almost always there in almost every piece of music, sometimes dominant, sometimes subordinate to the melody. But even then often present in the accompaniment. The habanera rhythm, and the many ingenious variations of it, is perhaps the single most important rhythmic feature that makes Argentine tango/milonga music what it is. (To me, not necessarily to anyone else. It is how I hear and feel the music.)

    Troilo's La Trampera is textbook syncopation - very creative and mutli-layered between melody and accompaniment. The syncopation jumps off the page...and onto the dance floor :) What I've called Habanera 1 and Habanera 2 (elsewhere) are in almost every bar. Interesting (to me) is how Troilo stops the syncopation for two bars at the end of sections/phrases, then throws it back at us. A fantastic way to mark the end and start of new themes and harmonies.


    (The recording on todotango is OK but far inferior to Troilo himself. There are many YouTube clips of his playing...sorry, I'm too lazy right now to link one...:) )

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