Archives for March 2017

How to Play Fandangos

I have a YouTube video that looks at how we can play two different kinds of arpeggio for the introduction to Fandangos.

The first arpeggio system is not so frequently known when we first start to play flamenco guitar.

Usually we expect an arpeggio to start with a bass string plucked by the thumb and then for the fingers to play over the treble strings, back, forward or both to produce the arpeggio as such.

In my first arpeggio exactly the opposite happens. The fingers first play an arpeggio pattern both ways down and up across the treble strings and then the bass note is heard last. Effectively the treble notes are embellishing the bass melody throughout this ‘falseta’.

There  is one point I really do want to clarify. When we guitarists play techniques such  as arpeggio or tremolo we have a tendency to think of that technique as being played by the fingers and that the thumb in just a separate accompanying note.

I think this thinking leads to problems in the timing of the falseta and in the execution of the technique and is finally detrimental to the music.

We must understand that the note played by the thumb is an essential integral part of the faleseta. When we count the number of notes in an arpeggio we must include the thumb or we lose the rhythm.

Likewise I think it is wrong to say that the flamenco tremolo is a four note tremolo; it is in fact a five note tremolo played as: thumb, first , third, second, first giving a total of five notes.

Returning to my video on Fandangos the second arpeggio falseta does indeed start with the thumb first and then follow through with the fingers.

Except that it is a little more complex than that. The thumb plays a ligado falseta over the bass stings while the fingers keep the arpeggio going in the treble strings. I find it a little difficult to explain here but I hope that the video is clear enough to provide some help with this technique.

General Comments on Fandangos

In my video I am playing Fandangos in  a very typical key which uses the sequence E Major, A minor, G7th, F Major and E Major to play the part that is not sung and then to accompany the flamenco singing the sequence G7th, C Major: C Major, F Major: G7th ,C Major: C Major, G7th: G7th, C Major: F Major, E Major.

Even using this same sequence there are countless variations of Fandangos and different moods. For example the light hearted Fandanguillos and Fandangos de Huelva or the serious Fandango Cante Grande. Then Fandango can also be played and sung in the por medio key as a cante grande or as a Fandango de Alosno.

Furthermore Malagueñas and Verdiales are derivations or cousins of Fandangos and Granaína and the mining laments such as Tarantas and Mineras, Taranto, Fandango Minero, Cartagenera and Levantica are all forms of Fandango.

 

How to play Remate, Llamada, Subida, Cierre and Ida

Spanish version

I have a very detailed YouTube video which looks at how to play Remate, Llamada, Subida, Cierre etc with special reference to Tientos and Tangos, Bulerias, Soleares (Solea) and Alegrias.

These terms refer primarily to moments or sections in the flamenco dance yet they are always of interest to guitar soloists as well because we use these rhythmical structures in our solo playing. And this does not apply only to traditional or old school style flamenco guitarists; we can hear the modern or “flamenco nuevo” players use these elements as well.

Here I explain what each term means.

Remate

This word derives from the word “matar” or to kill, so remate actually means to finish something off but nothing negative is implied.

If we are playing a Malagueña for example we may want to “rematar” or finish off with Verdiales which is a faster more celebratory flamenco form that is, shall we say, a cousin of Malagueña.

If we are playing Soleares, especially when accompanying a flamenco dancer we may typically find that he or she moves to Bulerias at the end as a way of finishing off.

Llamada

This term means a call. Effectively it is used at the end of a section to bring that section to a close. As you will hear on the YouTube video the llamada usually involves playing the compas in a particularly strong and emphatic manner.

Subida

This means to go up and in flamenco it refers to the situation in which the performance gets faster and faster and more exciting. So for example an Alegrias may have a subida which is still in the compás of Alegrias  and which leads naturally into Bulerias for the remate.

Cierre

This means to close. It is quite typical to dance a cierre after a llamada. The cierre can be described as having a different rhythmical pattern and the aim is that it feels more final. In this case the dancer will finish the dance on stage.

Ida

Ida means to leave or to go away. In flamenco performances we sometimes see the dancer leave the stage dancing or put another way they dance off stage. The guitar, palmas and singing with palmas (flamenco hand clapping)  all continue until the dancer has left and only then perform a llamada and cierre.

As I mention above my YouTube video goes into this in some detail with practical applications.

 

How to play Alegrias

Spanish version

Alegrias or Alegrías as we spell it in Spanish is a lovely sensitive and yet passionate flamenco form (palo flamenco) which is associated with the area of Cadiz (Cádiz).

Alegrias is part of a group of cantes which include Cantiñas, Mirabrás, Romeras and Alegrías de Córdoba. In my opinion we can also include Caracoles because although its development is associated with Madrid and especially end of 19th Century it sounds very much like it is derived from a Cantiña.

I have a YouTube video on How to Play Alegrias in which I illustrate the various chord sequences.

Alegrias can be played in a number of keys and traditionally these keys are always Major. The Alegrias de Cadiz is very traditionally played by guitarists in A Major. The great maestro flamenco guitarist Ramón Montoya is credited with recording an Alegria in E Major and giving it the name “Rosa”. It is generally thought that when guitarists wanted to play an Alegria in the E Major style they would often say that they were playing Alegrias in the style of Rosas and hence the term Alegrias por Rosas came into being.

The Alegrias de Cordoba when sung uses a mixture of Major and minor chords and has its own very specific personality and typical lyrics such as the words about the silver smith putting the initials on the earrings. As a solo flamenco guitar composition it is usually played in E minor.

In my video I use the E Major or por Rosas style.

Essentially you could play this flamenco form with just two chords: E Major and B7th. You might imagine that this would be boring but it really does not have to be. There are endless ways to sound the chords and techniques to use and variations within those techniques.

Typically if playing for a dancer one choreography that she or he might (but not necessarily) follow goes like this:

One: Guitarist introduction

You are pretty free here to do what you want but I always give the same advice: when we are working with dancers and singers we want to keep them happy and inspire then so it is a good idea to choose falsetas that they like.

Two: Paseillo: Dancer enters making a walk round the available space and this walk is called paseillo.

You can follow this by providing as many compases as necessary and using simply E Major and B7th. You could in theory use these chords in any order provided you are sure to end in the right place. Personally, I would play E Major for the first two beats and then change to B7th for beats 3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9 and then change back to E Major for beats 10,11,12.

As you know in any 12 beat compás you can stop on beat 10 and make 11 and 12 silent and that is  a good idea if it helps the dancer or singer. If you are going to play several compas one after the other it might be an idea to play all the beats and not stop on beat 10 until the end of a section. It is a personal choice.

Three: Llamada

Rather difficult to explain a llamada here but I do hope that it is explained sufficiently well on my video above at about 18 seconds from the start.

Four: Letra

This can also be quite simple depending on singer and dance requirements. You can use the same sequence explained above for the paseillo.

Five: Silencio, also sometimes called Campanas

This is not as common as it traditionally was. Flamenco is evolving and changing and flamenco performers whether singers, dancers or guitarists do not necessarily follow all of the traditions.

If the dancer you are working with would like a silencio or campanas this is usually played in the minor key, so if you are playing in E Major then the minor would be E minor. It is played much slower with a deliberate sense of pace and begins to remind us a little of Soleares in its mood. Sometimes guitarist prefer to play this section in the key of G sharp and to a certain extent inspired by the Minera of Paco de Lucía on his record Almoraíma.

Six: Taconeo

This is a section when the dancer will produce very impressive footwork unaccompanied by guitar or song, although as it grows sometimes the dancers like the guitarists to accompany their rhythm using guitarra tapada.

Seven: Escobilla

The escobilla feels like the 12 beat compas is being played in either 2 groups of 6 or 4 groups of 3.

It is typical to accompany using slow careful arpeggios at first and then gradually  building up into rajeo.

We have to be very careful not to push the dancer faster than they want to go. Their footwork will get increasingly complex and contain more, sometimes referred to as redoble but that does not mean that they are going any faster. In fact it might be safer to think of playing a bit slower as a way to make sure we do not get carried away.

Eight: Subida

This usually develops into Bulerias and ending either with an exit from the stage called ida or ending on stage perhaps with a llamada and cierre.

If we know each other well and feel safe with taking risks this is a situation in which we might get carried away in a manner of speaking.

There is nothing wrong with loosing ourselves in flamenco provided that we are all in it together and agree with what is happening.

 

 

How to play Solea to accompany flamenco song and dance

Spanish version

 

It is a matter of huge joy to me that increasingly my flamenco guitar students are asking me for guidance on how to accompany flamenco singing and dancing.

It has not always been like this. Some years back guitarists seemed to be mainly keen to focus on solo guitar playing and of course there was never anything wrong with that.

I am a guitarist and I absolutely love playing solo flamenco guitar.

I hope you will find it helpful to read this article in conjunction with my YouTube video in which I explain how to play Solea for baile

Although it focuses on playing for the flamenco dancer it uses the chords that are typical for the flamenco singing of Soleá.

There is also a short Solea video on YouTube as a promotion example in which I accompany dancer Nuria and I hope this helps to give an idea of the mood for this flamenco style or palo. Please be aware that the accompaniment in this video does not follow exactly the same structure that I explain.

That is one of the great joys of flamenco: the freedom to improvise and create.

Ideally I would like to find a software that I can use to provide diagrammatic images of the guitar chords that I will use in this example. In the meantime I will refer to them by their names and I am sure you can find these chords on the Internet and of course you can see then being used in practice in the video example named above.

So here are the typical sequences of chords used for accompanying Solea.

First stage: Guitarist introduction

O.K. so you are the guitarist and this is your opportunity to open by playing a selection of your own falsetas to create the mood. It is worth bearing in mind that we guitarists do love to look for unexpected and original new ideas and to push the boundaries. That is fine but we should also be aware of how our introductory passages are being received by the singer and dancer we are working with. We don’t really want to play something that does not inspire them. We want to play in a way that will make them feel that they want to start singing and dancing.

Once we have set the mood we need to bring our music to a conclusion in a way that is clear and obvious and finishing with a llamada is one way of doing this.

Second stage: Singer introduction

This is the introduction for the singer. In this the singer is getting into the mood and will not usually start with words but rather with the vocalised “aye” sound that is heard so much in flamenco singing.

This will usually be sung over two chords which are E Major and F Major. The sequence will begin on E Major for the first two beats of the 12 beat compás. On the third beat the chord will change to F Major.

Now, singers like to take their time and feel free to sing as the mood feels right. Because of this we may not know how long the singer may stay with F Major before returning to E Major. It is possible that the singer may like to keep on F Major the whole time from beat 3 to beat 9 and then change to E major for beats 10,11 and 12.

The singer may well want to repeat all of this again and may vary the amount of time given to each chord. Hence it is possible that the sequence will use E Major for beats 1 and 2, F Major for beats 3,4 and 5, then E Major for beat 6, F7th for beat 7, E Major for beat 8, F7th for beat 9 and finally E Major for beats 10,11 and 12.

The guitarist will follow the singer in this and choose from techniques of arpeggio and rajeo to suitably support the singer.

Third stage: Letra

The letra is the verse. It is the part of the dance por Solea when the singer sings a verse and the dancer uses minimum footwork, usually just the occasional golpe to emphasize the key points of the compás.

The dancer will usually dance expressively using braceo and other non percussive movements.

There is  a typical sequence of chords which I will now go through in groups of 12 beat compás:

First compás: This uses E Major or E Major 7th to A minor. The first 9 beats are played on E Major and the 10,11 and 12 on A minor.

Second compás: 1 beat on A minor, 1 beat on G7th, beats 3,4 and 5 on F Major, beat 6 on E Major, beat 7 on F7th, beat 8 on E Major, beat 9 on F7th, beats 10,11 and 12 on E Major.

These first two compases of 12 beats each will now normally be repeated exactly the same as above.

We now have a new sequence. This involves starting on E Major again for the first 2 beats. The next beats 3,4,5 and 6 will be played on a version of A minor that I will explain as thus: in the normal A minor we hold the 2nd string at 1st fret and the 3rd and 4th strings at the 2nd fret and we allow the 5th and 1st strings to sound as well. In this new version we will hold the A minor but change just one note. The finger that is holding the 4th string at the 2nd fret will abandon that position and move to the 6th string second fret. This produces quite a lovely warm sound that works well for the singer at this point.

For beats 7,8 and 9 we will use G 7th and for beats 10,11 and 12 we will use C Major.

So with all this we have played one compás.

Our next compás will be exactly the same as the  Second compás explained above so I will not repeat it here.

This section has thus provided the chord sequences necesary for accompanying the letra.

We now have a choice. Some dancers like to finish this section with a llamada, whilst others prefer to move directly into the escobilla.

Fourth stage option one: Llamada

A llamada in Solea for dance can be quite simple in structure although that does not mean that it is quite so simple to execute to the dancer’s satisfaction.

The most traditional and straightforward way is to hold the E Major chord and strike 10 beats emphatically, while maintaining the 3,6,8,10,12 stress. Beats 11 and 12 are usually silent. Although sometimes 11 is silent and 12 is played staccato, especially if the dancer is going to then dance a second llamada.

Fourth stage option two: Escobilla

As you probably know escobilla means little broom and the word is used to describe some of the foot movements that the dancer uses.

Escobilla is in fact almost always a time when the dancer builds up an absolutely, impressive powerful section of flamenco footwork using an array of combinations of planta, golpe, tacón, and punta.

The dancer does not abandon the compás as such but we hear the footwork in groups of 6 beats or groups of 3 beats, thus the 12 beats feel like they have been divided into two groups of 6 beats or 4 groups of 3 beats.

The chords that we use are F7th for the first 3 beats, C Major for beats 4,5 and 6, F7th for beats 7, 8 and 9 and finally E Major for beats 10, 11 and 12.

Usually an escobilla may start quite slowly and this allows us to decorate these chords using arpeggios but as the escobilla builds in intensity and speed it feels natural for us to change to using rajeo.

Fifth stage: Por Bulerías, subida y cierre or ida

Really what happens quite simply here is that the rhythm grows in such intensity that dancers often then change to the compás of bulerías and this usually involves using chords F Major and E Major although it is also possible to alternate this with more of a feeling of Soleá por Bulerías and that can be played using the sequence described above for escobilla.

The dancers then chose from two typical ways to end the dance. They can dance a cierre which means to close and stop on stage or they can dance off stage which is called ida which means to depart.

Apart from the videos mentioned above I also have a YouTube video called Flamenco Guitar Lesson: Remate, llamada, subida, cierre

It makes specific reference to these aspects of flamenco guitar playing and includes examples of Soleá, Alegrías, Bulerías, Tientos and Tangos.

I hope that this article has been helpful to you. It is not the only way to accompany Soleá and in fact I have made the explanation especially simple so as to help guitarists to get a first idea of the basic structure and to progress towards accompanying the flamenco dance of Soleá.

 

 

 

How to play rajeo with great effect

Spanish version

There is a simple straightforward rajeo that sometimes is in my opinion somewhat wrongly overlooked.

This rajeo can give the most fantastic expressive flamenco playing. It can be used in so many different ways.

Certainly, it can be strong, direct and obvious and the sort of sound that people associate with accompanying flamenco dance classes but there is so much more to this technique.

Many, indeed perhaps all good flamenco guitarists use this technique in a way that is emotionally expressive. Paco de Lucía and Vicente Amigo are two golden examples of truly great guitarists who use this technique to wonderful effect.

Essentially, we are using the four fingers of the right hand (if you are right handed) to strum down across the strings.

There are no wrong and right ways to do this; it will all depend on what sound you want to achieve.

In my explanation I am going to think about making sure that each finger works independently. That is to say I will not be trying to blend all the fingers together. I want a percussive, strong separated  sound. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a mushy blended in sound and there will be times when that is exactly what you want.

To produce my separated sound I will be aiming to play each finger independently and to have strength and control over that finger.

Sometimes I hear people talking about flicking the finger out from the palm. I think that they mean that they try to catch the finger on the flesh of the palm of the hand and flick from there as a way of producing an impulse for the movement.

I have to respect all ideas but frankly I do not understand this at all. Perhaps it is possible to do this once as an excercise but I cannot see how we could play rapidly in succession using this method and in fact I cannot see why we would want to. It seems to be adding unnecessary work.

In my case I am keeping the fingers free and working for strength and control for each finger.

I explain and demonstrate this technique in my YouTube video on How to Play Rajeo going forward

The first few seconds of that clip contain the ending of a class on rajeo abanico which I also explain in a separate article.

How to play Alzapua

Spanish version

The alzapua or in Spanish alzapúa is a very exciting and quintessentially flamenco technique.

It is very particular to flamenco guitar playing and I am not aware of it being used in other guitar styles.

The Spanish word is the joining of two words: alzar which means to move something upwards and púa which is the casual name for a plectrum.

Thus, in this technique the thumb nail is going to be used a little like the plectrum.

There are several different rhythmical patterns for playing alzapua so I will start with a simple example.

Hold any chord but maybe E Major for this example.

First simply pluck the lowest bass or E string. Make that a nice sharp pluck, sometimes referred to as staccato.

Then we need to strike down from the next sting which will be the 5th string or A string. At this stage it is not too important how many strings you strike against. It is typical to catch the 5th, 4th or D and 3rd or G. The important thing is to make sure that we play a crisp downwards strike rather than stroking slowly over the strings.

Our next movement is to strike back upwards from treble to bass with our thumb nail. If we played down as far as the 3rd string from that point we can snap back up to our starting point.

So we have played three movements: bass pluck and up and down.

This will provide us with one alzapua.

Alzapua can become much more complex than this and indeed it almost always is. For example, the single bass note will usually change several times thus producing a melody to accompany the percussive down and up movement. Furthermore, that bass note can become two bass notes but we will be careful to ensure that they are played faster to fit into the timing or compás.

In my explanation above I started with the open bass but you can start with the down stroke which will affect slightly the stress in the rhythm.

I explain these alzapua patterns as well as others in my YouTube lesson on How to Play Alzapua

There are a few seconds at the beginning of the video clip from the end of a lesson on rajeo. I hope this is not off putting and I explain that rajeo in another article.