Music for Dancers New to Argentine Tango

Post date: Jul 24, 2014 12:25:18 AM

Many of my beginner students have been asking me about what music they should practice to. 

To answer this question I have reproduced here an excellent article by tango teachers Stephen and Susan Brown of  Tejas Tango. Their article is a good guide for building a basic collection of tango music for dancing and focuses on music from the "Golden Age" of Tango (1935 - 55). Music from this era continues to be the most popular music for tango dancing, because no contemporary musicians have yet equaled them.

The article is used as a starting point for a discussion on tango music for those new to tango and concluded with my own comments on points raised and recordings recommended.

Music for Dancers New to Argentine Tango:

A guide to the recordings best-suited for dancers first learning to hear the rhythm of Argentine tango music

by Stephen and Susan Brown

Original article:


Outside of Argentina, most people do not grow up hearing tango music. Consequently, many beginning dancers face the challenge of finding music that is useful for learning to hear and move to the beat of tango. Many instructors recommend beginning with the music of the Carlos Di Sarli orchestra, and we consider that a good recommendation.

Francisco Canaro

We think, however, that the beginning dancer will do better by listening and moving to the tangos on Francisco Canaro's La Melodia de Nuestro Adios and Miguel Caló's Yo Soy el Tango before moving onto Di Sarli. 

The tangos on these two CDs are among the very best for learning the walking rhythm of tango because they have a clear and simple beat that is stronger and closer to a walking tempo than that found on Di Sarli recordings. We recommend working with the tangos on the Canaro CD first because they are somewhat slower in tempo than those on the Caló CD.

Carlos di Sarli

After learning to move to the tangos on the two Canaro and Caló CDs, many beginning dancers are ready to listen and move to the instrumental tangos of Carlos Di Sarli. The best available Di Sarli CD is Solo Tango: Instrumental Vol. 1. The tangos on this CD have a clear and simple walking beat for dancing. The release RCA Victor 100 Años is nearly as good. The Tango Argentino release Instrumental is a decent third choice. For those wishing to add a vocal dimension to Di Sarli's music, the CDs Sus Primeros Exitos, vol. 1 with singer Roberto Rufino or Porteño y Bailarin (Tango Argentino) with vocalist Jorge Duran are outstanding choices.

Juan D'Arienzo

After learning to move to Di Sarli, the beginning dancer is ready to move onto the rhythm king, Juan D'Arienzo. To learn to hear and move to the 2x4 rhythms of Juan D'Arienzo, El Esquinazo 1937-1938, or Instrumental, vol. 1 are the best choices. For D'Arienzo, El Esquinazo has the best set of tracks in the best-sounding collection of D' Arienzo's classics. Instrumental, vol. 1 has more of D' Arienzo's classic instrumentals than any other CD and very good sound quality. Other choices are Sus Primeros Exitos vol. 1, Sus Primeros Exitos vol. 2, or El Rey del Compas.

Anibal Troilo

After D'Arienzo comes the more subtle Anibal Troilo and Ricardo Tanturi with Alberto Castillo. The CDs Yo Soy El Tango (Troilo en RCA) and Instrumental (Tango Argentino) are the best choices for Troilo's early instrumentals. The CD Troilo/Fiorentino (Solo Tango) captures Troilo with the vocalist Francisco Fiorentino. Much of the best material from these three CDs can be found on the more widely available El Inmortal Pichuco (El Bandoneon) but at much lower fidelity. For the Ricardo Tanturi orchestra with vocalist Alberto Castillo, the Solo Tango release,Tanturi/Castillo is a great choice. The Tanturi/Castillo CDs, Tangos de mi Ciudad and El Tango es el Tango are also quite good.

Alfredo De Angelis

The next challenge is to move onto the music of De Angelis, Pugliese and Biagi. The music of Alfredo De Angelis provides a good bridge from Di Sarli to Pugliese because the De Angelis orchestra played solid dance music that has a feel between the smoothness of Di Sarli and the drama of Pugliese. For Alfredo De Angelis, either From Argentina to the World or Instrumentales Inolvidables would be a good choice.

Osvaldo Pugliese

For a dancer moving onto the more challenging rhythms of Pugliese, the CD Ausencia captures dance classics from both early and later in his career, showing his transition from more solid dance rhythms to the more challenging, but wonderfully compelling La Yumba beat. The CD Instrumentales Inolvidables is a good second choice.

Rodolfo Biagi

Rodolfo Biagi—who was a pianist in the first Juan D'Arienzo Orchestra—took D'Arienzo's direction of playing in a 2x4 rhythm but added striking rhythmic elements of his own. Dancers who are comfortable with D'Arienzo's music are ready to tackle Biagi’s music. For those first listening and moving to Biagi, good choices are Sus Exitos con Falgas y Ibanez (EMI Reliquias) and the somewhat lower fidelity Campo Afuera (El Bandoneon).

The Recordings 

 1. Francisco Canaro

La Melodia de Nuestro Adios (El Bandoneon)

Las Grandes Orquestas del Tango (Blue Moon)


2. Miguel Caló

Yo Soy el Tango (El Bandoneon) 

3. Carlos Di Sarli

Instrumental Vol. 1 (Solo Tango)

RCA Victor 100 Años

Instrumental (Tango Argentino) 

4. Carlos Di Sarli with vocalists

Sus Primeros Exitos, vol.1 - with vocalist Roberto Rufino (Tango Argentino)

Porteño y Bailarin - with vocalist Jorge Duran (Tango Argentino) 

5. Juan D'Arienzo

El Esquinazo 1937-1938 (RCA 70 Años)

Instrumental Vol. 1 (Solo Tango)

Sus Primeros Exitos, vol. 1 (Tango Argentino)

Sus Primeros Exitos, vol. 2 (Tango Argentino BMG-RCA)

El Rey del Compas (El Bandoneon)

6. Anibal Troilo

Yo Soy El Tango (Troilo en RCA Victor)

Instrumental (Tango Argentino)

Troilo/Fiorentino (Solo Tango)

El Inmortal Pichuco (El Bandoneon EBCD 1)

7. Ricardo Tanturi con Alberto Castillo

Tanturi/Castillo (Solo Tango)

Tangos de mi Ciudad (Tango Argentino)

El Tango es el Tango (Tango Argentino) 

8. Alfredo De Angelis

From Argentina to the World (EMI)

Instrumentales Inolvidables (EMI Reliquias) 

9. Osvaldo Pugliese

Ausencia (EMI Odeon # 8 35886 2)

Instrumentales Inolvidables (EMI Reliquias) 

10. Rodolfo Biagi

Sus Exitos con Falgas y Ibanez (EMI Reliquias)

Campo Afuera (El Bandoneon 40)


If you are new to tango music I would strongly recommend that you focus on the albums recommended in this post. Frankly, there's a lot of rubbish out there! You'll find a plethora of tango albums offered on music sites; some with bargain prices, but they're usually not worth the money you paid for them. 

Starting Off

Although the writers recommend beginning with music by Canaro I see no problem with di Sarli and D'Arienzo as a starting point. I also prefer instrumentals, as opposed to vocals. The latter add an extra layer of complexity that can be confusing to beginner tango dancers.  

Recordings: Additions / Recommendations

From the above list I would highly recommend RCA Victor 100 Años , as does the tango music expert Michael Lavocah, quoted here: "The transfers on this CD are taken not from 78s or LP reissues but from the original masters in the RCA vaults. They are immaculate - this CD sounds as though it was recorded last week."

I would also add to the list the following albums:

Di Sarli: Collection 78 R.P.M 1940 - 43

Di Sarli: Dos Maestros Dos Stylos

D'Arienzo:  Collection 78 R.P.M (1940 - 1943)

Dos Maestros Dos Stylos is my current favourite album for classes. It's a great selection of Di Sarli and D'Arienzo instrumental songs.


Once you have familiarised yourself with tango it will be time to learn the milonga and Argentine vals. These genres are taught in our Intermediate level courses, and you can find an explanation of their differences here:

De Pura Cepa

For Vals and Milonga I would highly recommend D'Arienzo's De Pura Cepa (1935-1936). Produced by BMG, it's a brilliant album with 9 waltzes, and two milongas amongst its twenty tracks.

What NOT to Practice to...

Astor Piazzolla

I would advise against practicing to music by Astor Piazolla. I'm huge fan of his music but it doesn't have a regular beat, and is never played at milongas (tango dance halls) in Buenos Aires, and rarely at milongas in Sydney.  Due to it's complexity and drama Piazzolla is frequently used for tango shows. For the same reason I would similarly advise against practicing to popular contemporary tango-style music such as that of  Gotan Project, Orquesta Tipico Fernandez Fierro or  Bajo Fundo. They are wonderful for listening, but not for dancing.

Practicing to ballroom tango music is also not recommended. Although it has a strong and regular rhythm it is not designed for dancing Argentine tango and it is never played at milongas. 

That said, it is possible to dance tango to music other than tango music, providing it has a regular beat. Many people around the world do so, and sometimes I use slow alternative music in my classes for exercises where music is not the focus. It's advisable, however, to practice with, and familiarise yourself to, Golden Age tango music; a music uniquely suited to the dance of Argentine tango. 

Where to find Tango music

Golden Age tango CDs and MP3 downloads can be purchased on Amazon. The problem with Amazon is that it doesn't give much description of the songs, usually just showing the song titles. is better in this regard, providing more information about their albums on offer.

My favourite music site, however, is the ubiquitous Itunes because it's the only music site (of which I'm aware) that enables you to hear the songs before buying. This is a big plus... not to mention the instant gratification of MP3 downloads!

The other cheaper option for finding tango music are streaming sites, such as Pandora or Spotify. Just search for the Orchestra leaders mentioned in this post.

Enjoy your journey into Golden Age of Tango!