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.


Admin said...

I think Flamenco is great but very hard to play. I prefer to learn more on rock guitar.