Tango Instruments: Changes, Evolution and Influences

The Tango instruments Are those that are used to play this musical genre that has been changing during the early stages of its development.

In this sense, the history of tango is divided into several stages: origins of the tango (1895), the old guard (1895-1925), the new guard (1925-1955) and the vanguard, which covers modernization (1955 -1970), the contemporary period (1970-2000) and the present (2000 onwards).

Tango instruments

It is noteworthy that before the Argentinean tango arose, blacks already gathered to perform a dance that can be considered a prototype of tango in Argentina. In fact, it is considered that the word tango is an African word that means"circle","stump"or"closed place".

Negroes brought from Africa in different African countries called tango to their meeting place. Therefore the term already existed in the imaginary of colonial Latin America.

The first groups of tango were duos, trios or small orchestras whose musicians usually played flutes and harps. Shortly afterwards the violin was added as well as African percussion instruments or different instruments such as Mandolin , The trumpet, the harmonica, the accordion, the horn and even a comb.

During the origins of tango, the comb was used as a wind instrument to set the rhythm. For its part, in the stage of the old guard, the main instruments used were pianos and guitars.

Nevertheless, the traditional guitar, violin and flute during the origins of the tango would disappear. Especially the flute, which stopped playing to give way to the piano and then to the bandoneon. These instruments, together with the violin, form what is called the"typical tango orchestra".

At present, among the instruments used are the barrel organ Or organito, as it is called in South America, and which is touched with the feet, in particular turning the manubrio. This instrument has a cylinder with which move a few macillos, which reverberate in the drawer of the instrument making it sound.

Changes in the history of tango instruments

The introduction of new instruments in the Tango is related to migratory waves from Europe to South America. In 1870, Buenos Aires was a small town with only 200,000 inhabitants. By contrast, in 1914 it became one of the most populated cities in South America with 1,500. 000 inhabitants.

The migratory waves of the time, related to the First World War in Europe, brought along European trends and musical instruments.

With the case of the Italians who immigrated to Buenos Aires, everything changed. The Italians added a tone of lyricism with the violin and this gave tragic and passionate flavor to the tango.

Shortly after, with the arrival of the Germans to Buenos Aires the tango underwent one of its great transformations: the introduction of the bandoneón. This one became one of the main instruments of the tangeras orchestras in spite of being very difficult to touch by its keyboards and which produces a unique and unforgettable sound, that complements the piano and the violin.

The Bandoneon

Tango Instruments: Changes, Evolution and Influences

The scholar of the bandoneón Oscar Zucchi, author of"The history of Tango 5: The bandoneon", maintains that this instrument was integrated to the tango orchestra near 1910.

Although there is evidence of the presence of the bandoneon previous to this date in the Rio de la Plata, it was in the first decade of the twentieth century that this instrument became the main tango. It should be noted that the principal tango artists of the time resisted introducing an instrument so difficult to study as it required a rhythmic and musical adaptation.

According to Zucchi, the bandoneon is a German instrument, invented by Heinrich Band in 1846. The company Alfred Arnold Bandonion made the instrument and the series of the famous bandoneones"AA"("double A") was the favorite of the Rioplatense musicians.

After the introduction of the bandoneón the tango trio was defined: bandoneón, piano and violin. In this line, it is considered that the tango Vicente Greco defined the typical tango orchestra.

Since then the typical tango orchestra consists of a piano, two bandoneones, two violins and double bass. Large orchestras usually add violas and violoncellos to the string group.

On the other hand, the contrabass, that also was introduced at the same time, is an instrument with four strings of serious tessitura. Nevertheless, it is not known for sure that musical tendencies influenced the tango and allowed the introduction of the contrabass although usually attributed to the Italian influence.

Broadly speaking, the entrance of the bandoneon and the piano to the tango radically altered the musical composition composed on the basis of the flute, the violin and the guitar. The sound of the tango adopted a jumping style and vivacious very different to the one of the tango marked by flute. Among the precursors of the bandoneon are the violinist Carlos Posadas, Antonio Chiappe and the"Pardo"Sebastián Ramos Mejía.

In turn, the introduction of the bandoneon led to the second stage of the history of Tango: the New Guard. In this line, the so-called 1910 generation was characterized by diversifying Tango styles. Later, in 1912 Juan Maglio (Pacho) recorded the first solo of bandoneon performing the tango"La somámbula".

In general, the age of the old guard was marked by the influence of other genres such as the habanera, the milonga, the tango andaluz and the zarzuela, while the new guard was a time marked by the instrumental revolution of tango.

In this sense we can highlight the orchestra of Julio de Caro, which included two bandoneoneros, a pianist, a violinist, a bass and a flute.

Currently, the duo of Pedro Laurenz and Pedro Maffia are considered the best duo of bandondeón in the history of Tango.


  1. Ferrer, Horacio. The Book of Tango: Popular Art of Buenos Aires. 1980 Editorial Antonio Tersol.
  2. The history of tango. Volume 2: First epoch. Buenos Aires, 1993 (second edition); Ediciones Corregidor.
  3. The history of tango. Volume 3: The Old Guard. Buenos Aires, 2011 (second edition); Ediciones Corregidor.
  4. The history of tango. Volume 5: The Old Guard. Buenos Aires, 1977 (first edition); Ediciones Corregidor.

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