Oye Como Va – Santana

Oye Como Va appears on Santana’s 1970 album, Abraxas.


The song, written by Tito Puente, is constructed from various instrumental sections, and the single 8 bar chorus is used twice during the song’s duration.


0:00 – 0:15 – Intro – 8 bars

0:16 – 0:31 – Theme – 8 bars

0:31 – 0:38 – ‘Breakdown’ – 4 bars

0:38 – 0:52 – Chorus – 8 bars

0:53 – 0:57 – ‘Breakdown’ – 2 bars

0:57 – 1:34 – 1st guitar solo – 20 bars

1:34 – 1:44 – Interlude – 6 bars

1:45 – 1:52 – Intro riff – 4 bars

1:53 – 2:07 – ‘Montuno’ – 8 bars

2:07 – 2:55 – Organ solo – 26 bars

2:56 – 2:58 – ‘Breakdown’ – 2 bars

2:59 – 3:14 – Chorus – 8 bars

3:14 – 3:21 – Crescendo – 4 bars

3:21 – 4:05 – 2nd guitar solo – 24 bars

4:06 – 4:13 – ‘Breakdown’ – 4 bars


Oye Como Va is a modal tune in the A Dorian mode.

A Dorian mode

Two chords, Am7 and D9, – which form a i – IV progression in A Dorian – provide most of the tune’s harmonic colour.


The chords are generally performed as a two bar organ riff, although it is also played by the guitar.

2-bar riff

The riff is rhythmically modified for the ‘breakdowns’.


The collective note group of Am7 and D9 give all of the notes of the A Dorian mode, except for B (interestingly, during his guitar solos, Carlos Santana, tends to avoid this note – see below).

Chords using all notes except B

The theme, which enters at 0:16, is based around two 2-bar phrases which are repeated.


As is expected in an A Dorian tune, the theme is centred around A, but also follows the underlying progression by emphasising the notes D and C over the second D9 chord.

The chorus’s melody, beginning at 0:38, is essentially pentatonic, drawing its notes from the A minor pentatonic scale (As we will see, much of the guitar solo’s note choices are also based on pentatonic scales).

Pent Melody

Part of the chorus melody is harmonised in 3rds and 5ths using notes from the A Dorian mode.

Melody harmonised

At 0:57 begins the first guitar solo. As mentioned earlier, Carlos Santana generally avoids using the note B during his solos (a notable exception is at 1:11). He may have deliberately avoided this note as it doesn’t belong to the underlying progression or, because his scale choices are essentially pentatonically derived, he may have avoided the B as it doesn’t appear in either the A Dorian pentatonic scale, or the A minor pentatonic scale, his two most likely pentatonic scale choices.

Scale choices

Either way, except for 1:11, B is only used as a grace note at 1:23.


Santana also consistently uses F grace notes to approach the note F sharp, see above.

Beginning at 1:27 is an example of rhythmic displacement. Here, the minor third figure (C-A) is displaced by an eighth note beat. This lends rhythmic interest to a simple repeated idea.

Rhythmic Dis

After the first guitar solos is an interlude, beginning at 1:34. The interlude uses a repeated idea which essentially follows the underlying progression, but also includes a rising chromatic line.


This chromatic line preempts the use of the same notes during the ‘montuno’ section, beginning at 1:53. The ‘montuno’ section is constructed around repeated C and E notes with a descending and ascending lower chromatic line moving between the notes A and F sharp.


When combined with the bass riff the chromatic line produces the following chords


however, at 2:04, as the ‘montuno’ begins to crescendo towards the organ solo beginning at 2:07, the bass simply plays a repeated A note producing the following progression.


This crescendo is a good example of creating a slightly different chord progression by keeping the same notes in the ‘melody’ instruments and changing the bass line.

After the organ solo, a ‘breakdown’ leads to the chorus (2:59 – 3:14) which then leads through a crescendo using a D dominant seventh chord (3:14 – 3:21) to the second guitar solo, beginning at 3:21.

As with the first guitar solo, Santana avoids the note B during his second solo, only introducing it as a grace note. He also again, fairly consistently, approaches the note F sharp with an F grace note. At 3:51 he plays a series of dyads derived from the A Dorian pentatonic scale.


And at 3:55, he uses the same rhythmic displacement idea from his first solo. This time he continues the displacement so that a full cycle of three bars brings the eighth note group back to the beginning of the bar.

The tune ends with another ‘breakdown’ section, 4:06 – 4:13.


Techniques and concepts used in Oye Como Va:


  • Modal composition
  • Two chord riff
  • Pentatonic melody
  • Dorian pentatonic scale
  • Grace notes
  • Rhythmic displacement
  • Chromatic line with repeated notes
  • Altering a progression with a different bassline
  • Dyads


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