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.