The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

Tango DJing 3.3: The Art of Tanda Construction


Let´s look at a typical Milonga. I am personally a quite nasty leader, because I am a bit picky, which dance to dance with which lady. As a gentleman, I typically try to dance with a lot of followers, but it is actually the music, I use as a selection criteria. In terms of tango style, I try to be liberal. I really like the intimacy of close embrace tango (which I only can share with very special dance partners), but I also want occasionally to dance a more open style of tango just for fun. So I am pretty much embarrassed, if music starts with a romantic style and develops into something completely different. I personally want the music to be predictable for a certain time, I can use to have fun with a very special dance partner. This is why the system of Tanda and Cortina has been developed long ago. As a DJ, I stick to this system no matter what the format of the milonga is. Tandas are “packages” of 3-5 Songs which are homogeneous inside, Cortinas are just the signal for the dancers that the Tanda is over and a new Tanda is imminent. Let´s discuss this system a bit deeper:

  1. Cortina

In a traditional Milonga, it is expected for the couples to leave the dance floor and to prepare for a new Tanda in terms of being ready for the good old Cabeceo game. Because in old Buenos Aires Milongas, Cabeceos were typically given across the dance floor, all remaining persons on the dance floor were actually in the way of this wireless visual communication system. So a music, which is not danceable is played to indicate this. Cortinas in BsAs can be quite long to allow for that cleaning of the dance floor, typically up to 1.5 minutes. Interestingly, there is a movement in Europe now to return to this strict system. A modern DJ has to stick to the rules at the venue, but he/she has to play at least a short Cortina to get the dance floor cleared, which depends on the size of the dance floor. I have Cortinas between 20 and 60 seconds ready to adjust to this situation. DJs should play a short Cortina. In a Milonga with 6 Tanda cycles (36 Tandas) people would spend more than 30 minutes to listen to Cortinas, which is way too much, unless absolutely necessary. So please stick to shorter Cortinas. In terms of milonga etiquette, it is a real bad habit to dance a Cortina, but typically some folks don´t know. So as a DJ it is your job to pick music which is definitively not danceable. There are no other rules, so it is up to your taste to play a jazzy swing or the soundtrack of “game of thrones”. In technical terms, I have my Cortinas cut at home to the desired length and ready to go on my computer. I personally like to use only one Cortina for the whole Milonga, because the crowd needs some time to adjust to a new Cortina. Having 30 different Cortinas for the evening would make me crazy. It may be OK to change the Cortina once or twice or after a full Tanda cycle.

Should a Cortina be played at all? Some Tango-DJs don´t do and they might have their reason for that. I do not play Cortinas for Practicas and Neolongas, but I always stick to the Tanda system.


  1. Tandas

A Tanda is a homogeneous set of 3-5 songs. As a general rule, please use 4 songs for Tango and Vals and 3 songs for Milonga. I only change this for very short Milongas (less than 3h), to allow for more diversity in the musical styles. In this case I play 3 Tangos and Valses and 2 Milongas. In some situations I play less than that, f.e. some modern Neotangos can be longer than 6 minutes and in this case, 2 songs may be sufficient for a 10-15 min. Tanda.

Apart from the homogeneity condition, there are no other rules and they may be broken for any reason.

For a DJ it is always good to remember, the reason of his existence is to get people onto the dance floor. The usual strategy is to play a strong and powerful song first, to lure people to dance no matter how tired they may be. Another stronger song should be the end of the Tanda to release dancers with a good and satisfied feeling. This means that songs number 2 and 3 can be weaker songs (with number 3 the weakest). This is common wisdom but it can be changed. I personally like to adjust my Tandas according to my milonga strategy and the energy on the dance floor. For example if I want to reduce the energy, I might start with a strong song and gradually change to slower/less energetic songs (always provided that the overall flavour of the Tanda stays homogeneous).

For the construction of Tandas, keep homogeneous in terms of flavour. The best way to do that is to use one orchestra with the same singer and recordings from the same year. Some fellow DJs even want to stay in the same recording session, which seems to me pretty much difficult (but it is still a nice topic to have lengthy discussions). Let us look at an example. Early DiSarli recordings from Sexteto DiSarli (1928-1932) have beautiful simple rhythms and very nice contrecanti. I want to create a Tanda with Ernesto Fama as a singer and I have picked those songs:

Chau Pinela, Flora, La Baguala and La Estancia

I notice, that Flora and Chau Pinela have a very rhythmical start so these are my strongest songs (given, that they are played in a rhythm focused part of my Milonga) and that means, they will frame my tanda. The other two are also rhythmical songs, but they begin with a slightly romantic flavour. Looking at the speed of the songs, I also notice that La Baguala is the slowest song, so I put that at the weakest spot (as third). So my constructed Tanda would be:

Chau Pinela (1930)          Carlos Di Sarli(Sexteto)-Ernesto Fama                   124 BpM              Gbm

La Estancia (1930)            Carlos Di Sarli(Sexteto)-Ernesto Fama                   128 BpM              Bb

La Baguala (1931)            Carlos Di Sarli(Sexteto)-Ernesto Fama                   117 BpM              D

Flora (1930)                        Carlos Di Sarli(Sexteto)-Ernesto Fama                   127 BpM              Ab


This Tanda is quite homogenous in terms of orchestra, time and singer. It is way more difficult to mix songs with a singer and instrumentals. Generally it is very difficult to mix different singers, so if you have for example not enough songs with the same singer it is typically better to mix with instrumentals. As an example. I like the Sexteto DiSarli Tanda, but I would like to stick more to the flavour of Flora and Chau Pinela. From the album (Carlos Di Sarli – Las primeras grabaciones) I pick two instrumentals which I think appropriate. I have noticed from the last Milonga, that Chau pinela is a good song to start with, so I do not want to change that. The new Tanda looks like:

Chau Pinela (1930)          Carlos Di Sarli(Sexteto)-Ernesto Fama                   124 BpM              Gbm

Flora (1930)                        Carlos Di Sarli(Sexteto)-Ernesto Fama                   127 BpM              Ab

No cantes Victoria (1930) Carlos Di Sarli(Sexteto)                                            128 BpM              Ab

Anorandote (1930)         Carlos Di Sarli(Sexteto)                                                 130 BpM              Em


This is an example for a mixed Tanda, which was used to keep the flavour more stable. Other problems may be more common, which are restrictions of your collection. As an example I would like to create a Valse Tanda with Biagi and Teofilo Ibanez. Unfortunately, I only have 3 Valses of Biagi/Ibanez in my collection. These are:

Lejos de ti (1938), Viejo Porton (1938) and Loca de Amor (1938)

Looking for a song which is close to that flavour and time, I decide to use Dichas que vivi from Biagi with Andres Falgas (1939), which I identify as the second strong song, so my Tanda looks like:

Loca de Amor (1938)                     Rodolfo Biagi/Teofilo Ibanez                     110 BpM              Db

Lejos de ti (1939)                            Rodolfo Biagi/Teofilo Ibanez                     113 BpM              G

Viejo porton (1938)                       Rodolfo Biagi/Teofilo Ibanez                     109 BpM              Ab

Dichas que vivi (1939)                   Rodolfo Biagi/Andres Falgas                      108 BpM              Bm


In Vals it is much easier to create mixed Tandas.


  1. Where to get your Tandas ?

Today there are many resources for Tandas on the Internet. The most important one for all beginner DJs is the annotated Tanda list of Stephen Brown [1]. This is an incredible source of knowledge and even experienced DJs can learn a lot from Stephens wisdom, especially because he has organized his Tandas into flavour groups, spanning between old guard up to Nuevo music. Another incredibly important source is the blog “Tanda of the week” by DJ Antti Suniala. There you can find Tandas from him and fellow DJs [2] as well as an in depth description how to create Tandas [3]. Other Tandas can be easily found on Youtube, especially those of DJ Yüksel [4].

All these experienced DJs share their Tandas among the community as a resource to learn about better Tango music and to improve the quality of music at Milongas. It would be very easy for learning DJs to simply copy these examples and to include them into your playlists. I personally admit, that I also have some very good Tandas from fellow DJs in my database, but it is always a mixed feeling for me to play Tandas not designed by me. First, there is some amount of intellectual property behind a well-designed Tanda, even if they are dedicated to the community. Second, they are made for a certain situation and a certain crowd and this may not fit to your Milonga. I personally think that it is a better way to listen carefully to those Tandas and try to understand the idea behind it. With that knowledge scan your collection to build your own Tandas. This will strongly help you to create your own DJ-personality and also help to give you the ability to create a Tanda “on the fly” during the Milonga. Anyway, I have talked to some of my fellow DJ-friends and we have compared our Tandas. It is very interesting that they occasionally are made out of the same songs.


  1. Evergreens and Hidden Treasures

You may have noticed on the internet, that on some blogs it is very common to bash Poema for being the most popular Tango, nobody can hear because we are all tired of that song. As a DJ I agree, I can´t hear it anymore, but I still play it at my Milongas.

Anyway Poema is the favourite song for estimated more than 90% of our dancers and there are more songs like this. I call them “Evergreens”, because they are played and asked for on every Milonga. The 10 top songs listed by the 2014 Report on attributes and preferences in Tango by TangoTecnia [5] are:

1 Poema

2 Bahia Blanca

3 Desde el Alma

4 Paciencia

5 Sonar y nada mas

6 Recuerdo

7 Milonga de mis amores

8 Remembranzas

9 Nada

10 La Mariposa


I am quite sure you all know much more of these. As a DJ it is always good to play well known Tangos, because that gives people security on the dance floor and it also makes them emotionally comfortable.

As a Dj you are always looking for new music and I am sure you have found some rare orchestras and songs as well (I call them hidden treasures), you might find intriguing and suited to the dance floor. There is no problem to play them if they are danceable. But – as always you have to keep a good balance of hidden treasures versus evergreens. I would estimate, that a good DJ plays at least 60% evergreens, 30% other known orchestras and 10% hidden treasures. DJ Atti Suniala estimates that most of the DJs worldwide pick most of their songs from a pool of just 200-300 tangos [3].


Next Blog will deal with the overall strategy of a Milonga.




-Richard (DJ Ricardo)













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