Right-Hand Techniques

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Flamenco Downstroke
The first step in training the right hand is an easy one. The index finger strikes down to sound a chord with the back of the nail, like this:

The flamenco downstroke

In notation this is often shown with a downward arrow:

Play this now, trying to make make as close to a single sound as pos-sible. There is no scrape involved in the downstroke, which is used to Key Thought establish the fundamental beat.

Notice the typical flamenco fingering of the A chord. The first finger covers both the fourth and third strings, leaving two other fingers available for added notes and for damping.

The downstroke may be allowed to ring, but sometimes the sound is cut off to accentuate the rhythm. The sound is deadened, or damped, in various ways. With the right hand, the fingers may simply be replaced on the strings after playing a chord. If the chord was played with the thumb, the side of the hand may be easily used to stop the sound. If the chord was played fingerstyle,i.e., with thumb and fingers, then it is sufficient simply to put them back on the strings as if preparing another chord.

Flamenco Damping
As already explained, the A chord is fingered using the just the first and second fingers. This leaves the little finger free, which is frequently used to cut the sound of a chord. Try playing the example again, and after each chord let the little finger touch the strings to stop the sound. The finger is straight so as to reach across all the strings.

Skilled flamenco performers can play fast successions of chords, each of which is clearly and crisply defined by this method.

The Upstroke
An upstroke with the index finger is frequently added to the downstroke when a faster tempo is desired. Like the downstroke,it should not drag across the strings, the aim being for clear-sounding chords. In notation this would be shown with an upward arrow. The notation is simplified with a chord symbol because many repeated chords tend to look unnecessarily compli-cated. Do the upstrokes and downstrokes as indicated by the arrows.

The flamenco upstroke

Try this example with an even count of one-and two-and three-and. You will find it helps to rest the thumb on the bottom string to stabilize the hand.

Now try mixing the two types of stroke in this pattern:

The Rhythmic Tap (Golpe)
The dances of Spain and Latin American make frequent use of percussive sounds to accentu-ate the rhythm. The flamenco guitar is protected with a tap plate for this purpose, either white or transparent, glued to the face of the guitar. Often the downstroke is accentuated with a simultaneous golpe. As the index finger moves across the strings the ring finger moves sharply down onto the tap plate.

A number of flamenco forms have rhythmic groups of 12 beats, as shown above. This pattern is known as the rhythm of bulerias. Unlike conventional Western music that would stress the first of each group of three, the flamenco stresses are commonly on 3, 6, 8, and 10, with 11 and 12 being weak beats.

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Introducing Flamenco

Thursday, May 1, 2008

When many people think of the guitar, they think of the dramatic folk music of southern Spain known as flamenco. This passionate music is closest to the heart and soul of the Spanish guitar, and every guitarist will be tempted to learn at least one flamenco piece. Flamenco is the music of the gypsies of Andalusia, with origins that draw on the musical tradition of the Moors and Sephardic Jews as well as that of the gypsies themselves. In the early part of the nineteenth century, this music found popularity with a wider audience through its presentation in the cafe cantante, a place for enthusiasts to gather and hear what was previously the music of the campfire.

Like the blues in America, flamenco acquired a following among privileged groups of people far removed from the suffering and deprivation that gave birth to many of the songs. These songs that cry from the heart are the essence of flamenco, and the guitar, now as then, is the favored instrument of accompaniment.

The Flamenco Forms

There are more than 30 different groups of flamenco songs, relating to different regions and occupations, from the martinete of Triana per-formed to the sound of a blacksmith’s hammer striking an anvil to the tarantas and mineras of the mining communities of the southeast. The songs are broadly divided into two categories: cante jondo, the serious forms, and cante chico, the more lighthearted type.

For the student, the most popular forms to study are the alegrias, played in A to accompany the dance and in E as a solo; the soleares, inspiration for many great falsetas; and the seguiryas with its fascinating rhythm which alternates measures of 3/4 and 6/8.

Popular also are the various local forms of the fandango, known in Malaga as Malaguenas or in Granada as Granainas, and from the Atlantic coast the ever popular and lively fandangos de Huelva. Also well known is the dramatic dance known as the farruca, a feature of Jose Greco’s worldwide tours.

Development of the Solo Art

As an outgrowth of early flamenco, in which the guitar was confined strictly to an accompaniment role, a solo guitar art developed, pio-neered by the legendary Ramon Montoya. In accompanying the songs, the guitarist usually plays plain chords during the verses. However, at the end of the verse, giving the singer time to draw breath, the guitarist plays a variation which shows his skill and adds to the mood. These interludes were known as falsetas, and the solo repertoire grew from the piecing together of a number of falsetas with lengthier and more fanciful elaborations.

In this century, flamenco has grown and flourished with innovations of style and harmony and guitarists of phenomenal technique. The wizardry of Paco de Lucia, Habichuela, and Tomatito has to be heard to be believed. Paco Pena has, in addition to his own innovations, reproduced the classic performances of Nino Ricardo and Ramon Montoya.


Usually flamenco is not written down, being passed by listening and memorization from player to player. However, it is possible to learn some of the basics of flamenco technique provided that this is backed up with much listening to good players and singers. Flamenco technique is broadly divided into two categories—rasgueado (literally, scraped) and picado (picked). The rasgueado is used to establish rhythms with percussive strokes and strums of the right hand. This is particularly important when accompanying dancers, where the guitar needs to be audible above the sound of song and stamping feet.

The picado (plucked) technique is similar to normal fingerstyle playing, and is used for the falsetas. In flamenco, there is emphasis on the clean playing of scales and arpeggios, and in fact a high level of right-hand skill is expected. The tremolo (see Chapter 21) is also used, though purists tend to discourage excessive use of this technique.

Flamenco players frequently use a capo, in fact it is rare to see the guitar used without one. The most commonly used postion is at the second fret, but higher postions are sometimes used. The raised pitch adds brightness to the sound, which helps audibility when singers and dancers are involved.

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