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.