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Flamenco FAQ for Classical Guitarists

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Archive-Name: music/classical/guitar/flamenco-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly Flamenco FAQ for Classical Guitarists

RMGC-FlamencoFAQ Edition 1    14th November 1994

Edited by Joshua Weage (
Many thanks go to Bob Clifton
who has written the majority of this FAQ.

To find the answer to a listed question, search forward with the
search parameter '*.*' where *.* refers to the number of the

1.1   What is flamenco?
1.2   What makes a guitarist a "flamenco" guitarist?
1.3   How do I learn to accompany?
1.4   How can I get a taste of what flamenco accompaniment feels
      like before going to all this effort?
1.5   Who are some recommended flamenco guitarists to listen to?

1.1  What is flamenco?

 A particular kind of music/dance (and some would say lifestyle)  native to,
but no longer restricted to, a small region of Andalucia in Southern Spain.
 Like American "blues" it probably has ancient antecedents, but as a distinct
genre is only a couple centuries old.  Not all Andalucian folk music is
flamenco.  Not all flamenco artists have been Andalucians (eg Sabicas), or
even Spanish (eg Greco).  
 Some classical guitarists (understandably, if they haven't studied flamenco)
view flamenco as a "style" of guitar playing emphasizing certain techniques
above others and having a distinct sound.  Thus (oversimplified) if you play
rhythmic rasqueados and fool around with Phyrygian scales and a lot of
Ami>G>F>E, it's flamenco.  Not so.  At most, flamenco-ish.
 Flamencos themselves (ie guitarists, dancers, singers, aficionados),
whatever their own specialty, and for both formal and historical reasons,
usually agree that what is fundamental to flamenco is *cante* (song), i.e. a
body of several dozen forms (*palos*) with specific rhythms, melodies, and in
some cases themes, sung in a certain way.  
 Flamenco guitar started as accompaniment for cante, and in Spain has largely
remained that, no matter how technically refined it has become.  Probably the
same is true of flamenco dance -- that it started as an embellishment through
movement of what the singer was doing.  Even the virtuosos like Paco de Lucia
and the late Sabicas who are famous for solo work (and who play other music
 besides flamenco) would probably define flamenco in terms of cante rather
than of guitar technique.  Both started within the tradition as accompanists
of cante, and were superb ones.  To anyone familiar with cante, even their
solos imply the cante from which they came.  
 Spaniards know this already.  You say "flamenco" and they think "Camaron"
 (a popular singer who died in 1992) or "solea" (a song form) -- whether they
like the stuff or not.  Non-Spaniards rarely hear cante, and understandably
have different associations -- for instance, the guitar played in a
particular way.   So it's important to emphasize for them that cante is
central to flamenco in a way that a particular rasqueado isn't.

1.2  What makes a guitarist a "flamenco" guitarist?

 For non-flamencos, I can't say -- maybe it is having an incredible
rasqueado, or being able to play Entre Dos Aguas, or Luna del Fuego, or a
tremolo from granainas.  
 For flamencos, it is the ability (at whatever level of skill) to accompany a
knowledgeable singer (and knowledgeable dancer) who is performing one of the
standard forms in a more or less standard way.  You don't have to be very
*good* as guitarist to qualify.  Many singers in Spain, for instance, knowing
only two or three chords, and playing execrably by anyone's standards, can
crudely accompany themselves or someone else.  Most wouldn't claim to be
guitarists at all.  But they would claim that whatever they're doing on the
guitar is flamenco, not something else.  They know the song, and they know
what the guitar needs to sound like to go with that, even if they don't know
the guitar itself well enough to pull it off very well.
 So, whatever else you are able to add to that -- machine-gun rasqueado,
blinding picado, etc etc -- it starts there: you know how solea goes (as song
or dance), for instance, and what will fit it on the guitar.  It doesn't mean
you have to sing or dance yourself (though that can be an eye-opener) anymore
than a sportscaster has to be able to pitch.  The sportscaster *does* have to
know the game, however.  (Or fans complain.)
 This may sound like an eccentric definition to musicians who admire many
other things about flamenco, and may not give two hoots about cante or baile
(dance).  All I can say is get yourself into a group of flamencos and check
it out.  The guitar will invariably wind up, by subtle or not-so-subtle
consensus, in the hands of the guy who can accompany the singers and dancers,
not those who can't, no matter how superb the others variously are as
musicians and guitarists.  It's not that superb musicians are not recognized
and valued; only that for flamenco to happen, the group needs a guitarist who
knows how to support the singers and dancers.

1.3  How do I learn to accompany?

I wish the news were better.  It's not quite as extreme as "go to Spain (with
a lot of money)", because you'll quickly encounter that anyway, but it can't
be done by ordering a book or tape.  You've got to go find some flamencos.

1.  Find another guitarist who accompanies and take lessons, or watch,
listen, spy, whatever  :-)  

2.  Start building a collection of recordings (including videos if you can
get them), and listen, listen, listen.  If you're just starting, the older
anthologies are usually better for picking out basic ideas.  Contemporary
flamenco is pretty jazzy, and while the bones are there, they can be pretty
obscure.  It helps to go shopping with a knowledgeable flamenco to find the
nuggets (if any) at your local stores.  Obviously solo guitar recordings
aren't going to be too helpful.  Neither are the Gypsy Kings for anything but
rumbas.  Camaron and Paco (or Tomatito) are great models, but pretty hi-tech.

3.  *After you can sustain compas* (regardless of some mistakes in notes, and
rough technique), find willing singers (!) and dancers, and practice with
them, the better the better.  Therein is a dilemma.  It is much easier (and
educational) for a student guitarist to follow a very good singer or dancer
than a fellow student (the blind leading the blind).  But of course it's the
beginning singers and dancers who are willing to spend time with you.  

If you're in a major metropolitan area, where live flamenco happens, this is
probably more feasible than you might think, because most performers in the
US teach (economic necessity).  Here's what I'd do, assuming I found a group
(guitarist, singer, dancers) who seem to know what they're doing:  Approach
the guitarist about lessons.  If too busy or expensive, ask for competent
teachers s/he might know.  If you can't afford the maestro, it may be that
one of their better students teaches too.  You can get fundamentals from the
student and then "graduate".   At the same time, inquire about the lead
dancer's classes, and make contact with some of the dance students.  Student
dancers rarely have the chance to work on their own with guitarists, so
they're often eager to find ANYONE who plays.  It can really help to pair up
with a compatible "buddy" and pool resources.  One way around the "blind
leading blind" syndrome is for you and your buddy (student singer/dancer) to
arrange for a private for both of you with *both* pros just before or after a
rehearsal, when they'd both be there anyway.  Probably worth it, even if
expensive.  The flamencos I'm talking about will at least know you're serious
if you propose such a thing, and unless they're on ego trips, may well do
their best to accomodate you.  Some guitar teachers accompany the classes of
the dancers with whom they work (or their students do), and of these some
will allow or encourage you to sit in.  Invaluable.  Recognize that dance
teachers have an interest in competent student guitarists, even if the
regular accompanist doesn't.  If you are by hook or crook able to attend your
buddy's dance or cante class, you'll have a common frame of reference.  After
you understand basic accompaniment, you'll be able to expand your knowledge
by just listening to a lot of people, and won't be so dependent on

All of this presupposes that you're *meanwhile* mastering the guitar itself,
classical and flamenco technique, etc.  I don't have much to add to the
wealth of recommendations on that to be found in this group.  My point is
that even if you take them all, and wind up with dazzling technique and a fat
repertoire of solos, you're not a flamenco guitarist by flamenco standards if
you can't accompany singers and dancers.  To paraphrase the departed master
(Sabicas), who advised guitarists who wanted to become soloists:  Spend 20
years accompanying cante; spend 20 years accompanying baile; now you're ready
to think about solos.  He did his time concurrently, but now and then
apologized for having started soloing "too early." 

The three rules of accompaniment:

 1) Stay in compas.
 2) Stay in compas.
 3) Stay in compas.

 Compas is Spanish for 1) rhythm, generally, 2) measure -- a coherent unit of
rhythm, 3) the characteristic rhythm of a particular form.  Thus, "he has
good compas" means he has a good sense of rhythm.  "The introduction is 4
compas long" means something like (but not exactly) "it's four measures
long."  "I play this in the compas of tientos" means I play it with the same
rhythm you'd hear in tientos.
 The backbone of all forms in flamenco that have compas at all (some of the
lyrical songs don't) is the compas.  Hopefully, you will play the right notes
or chords at the right time, but mistakes of that kind are quickly history.
 Singers and dancers will forgive you many many sour notes, and terrible
tone.  Unfortunately, they can't work with you at all if you provide them a
hesitant, uneven, or false rhythmic basis.  For accompaniment, compas is
King.  It's also the Achilles heel of many classical guitarists coming into
flamenco, unless they do lots of ensemble work, or are blessed at birth with
excellent compas.  Classical guitar practice is typically solitary, and
tempts one to always go back and fix things.  You can't do that when
 It's easy to show that you can provide minimal accompaniment without pitch
at all (much less fine tone), but not without good compas: simply damp all
the strings with the left hand, and play accurate percussive rhythm with the
right hand for a singer doing bulerias.  S/he'll do just fine.  On the other
hand, if you play all the chords perfectly but add or drop just one beat
every 48, the song (or dance) will falter towards chaos (unless the other guy
is very quick at covering), and s/he'll be ready to strangle you.
 Compas, compas, compas.

1.4  How can I get a taste of what flamenco accompaniment feels like 
     before going to all this effort?

 If you play ensemble stuff, or jazz, or accompany another musician, you
know, and can stop here.  If you play mostly alone, it's harder to convey.  I
hit on an idea which I wish someone would try and give me feedback on.  I
play some classical pieces, and I know that that experience is qualitatively
different from what I do in flamenco.  How to convey it?

 Take a classical piece that you know cold by heart, and not one that
technically taxes you in any way, one that you can hear in your head without
playing it.  Say Sor's first Study.  Set a metronome if necessary (you'll
soon see if it's necessary) at a comfortable setting.  Start the piece, and
then, when the impulse strikes you, just stop physically playing for a few
beats, but let the music go on in your head, in perfect time; when the
impulse strikes you, resume -- not where you left off, but wherever the music
is now.  Continue this process, sometimes letting several measures go by,
until you've finished the piece.  You may find this very easy, or extremely
difficult, depending on how you work.  If you try it several times, pick
different places to suspend and resume your playing.  In all cases, keep the
music going in your head

 This exercise illustrates several things: a)  that the music keeps going
even when you don't; b) that the piece is still whatever it is (e.g. Sor's
first study) even if the exact notes you leave out are different each time,
and that in a sense the notes are still there whether you play them or not;
c) that there isn't that much mystery about how people "stay together" --
they're all internally hearing the same thing.  It also sidesteps the
misconception that accompaniment = "just playing chords in rhythm".
 Accompanying in flamenco is somewhere between this exercise and following a
chord chart.

1.5  Who are some recommended flamenco guitarists to listen to? 

Here is a list of flamenco music available. It came initially from a
letter to the group by one Michael P. Burns. Thanks Michael!

                        Flamenco Records

Most of the popular "flamenco" guitarists are not really playing
flamenco but rather "flamenco inspired" music.  The Gypsy Kings
are real Gypsies but all their recordings focus only on one form,
the Rhumba, one of the least important flamenco forms.  I have
posted a short list of flamenco recordings and am reposting it now
for those of you who are interested:

Here's a revised version of the Flamenco recordings list with
some additional notes and comments.

TITLE                   ARTIST(S)               LABEL & No.

Azahara                 Paco Pen~a              Nimbus  NI5116
   Guitar solos and duets (with Tito Losada) by one of the three
   virtuoso Pacos

Music of R Montoya      Paco Pen~a              Nimbus  NI5093
      & N Ricardo
   Guitar solos of transcriptions of music by Ramon Montoya and
   Nin~o Ricardo, two of the most influential guitarists of the
   middle third of the 20th century. (Ramon was Carlos Montoya's
   uncle and teacher)

Cante Gitano            Various artists         Nimbus  NI5168
   Recorded live at private Flamenco juerga in Moron de la Frontera
   Singers: Maria Solea, Maria la Burra, Jose de la Tomasa
   Guitars: Paco del Gastor, Juan del Gastor
   Paco del Gastor is the third of the three virtuoso Pacos
   (i.e, Paco Pen~a, Paco de Lucia and Paco del Gastor).

Cante Flamenco          Various artists         Nimbus  NI5251
   Recorded live at private Flamenco juerga in Moron dela Frontera
   Singers: Gaspar de Utrera, Chano Lobato, Manuel de Paola,Miguel
            Funi, El Cabrero
   Guitars: Paco del Gastor, Juan del Gastor

Flamenco                Paco Pen~a              Phillips 826 904-2
   Guitar solos, very good introduction to the main Flamenco styles

Cante Gitana                                    OCORA  C558642
   Recorded live in concert in Paris and in studio. 2 CDs
   Singers: Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera
   Guitar: Paco del Gastor
   Fernanda and Bernarda are sisters of Gaspar (see above)

Los Malaguen~os                              Harmonia Mundi HMA 190965
   Singers: Conchita and Nena Cano
   Guitars: El Malaguen~o, Marino Cano
   Several guitar solos and duets, three cuts with singers. Includes
   a great rumba Flamenca and features some innovative harmonies
   This would be a good sampler of Flamenco for a beginning

Music of R Montoya      Manuel Cano             Hispavox   (no. ?)
   Guitar solos.  Most of the same pieces as on Paco Pen~a's CD with
   a more restrained performance.

Guitarra Gitana         Melchor de Marchena     Hispavox  7304032584
   Another of the greats of the previous generation in a rare solo
   performance.  Melchor was of the school that believed that the
   role of the Flamenco guitar was an accompanist to the singer
   and he did it better than anybody.

Flamenco Highlights from Spain                  Laserlight  79036
   Contains some good examples of Sevillianas interspersed with
   guitar solos by Sabicas, one of the greatest Flamenco
   guitarists ever.

Zyryab                  Paco de Lucia     Verve World 314 510 805-2

Sirocco             Paco de Lucia         Mercury  (no. ?)
  The two recordings by Paco de Lucia are a good taste of the
  most avant garde Flamenco.  Paco de Lucia is arguably the
  greatest living virtuoso of Flamenco guitar.  In these
  recordings, especially "Zyryab", he admittedly goes beyond
  the bounds of Flamenco into jazz, "world music" or call it
  what you will.  Anyway it's great music.

Le Chant du Monde: Grandes Figures du Flamenco Series
        distributed by Harmonia Mundi
  The "Grandes Figures du Flamenco" series is a treasure
  trove of Flamenco tradition.  These are re-masters of old
  recordings on which the engineers have worked their magic to
  increase the fidelity and remove hiss, pops, etc.  I have nos.
  6, 9 and 10 and the quality is very good, both technically and

        1)   Pepe de la Matrona         LDX 274 829
        2)   El Nin~o de Almaden        LDX 274 830
        3)   La Nin~a de los Peines     LDX 274 859
        4)   Terremoto de Jerez         LDX 274 860
        5)   Ramon Montoya                  LDX 274 879
        6)   Carmen Amaya                   LDX 274 880
                Flamenco song and dance, some selections feature Sabicas
                as accompanist. Fantastic!
        7)   Manolo Caracol                 LDX 274 899
        8)   Manuel el Agujeta          LDX 274 900
        9)   Antonio Mairena            LDX 274 911
                with Melchor de Marchena accompanying.  It doesn't get any
                better than this.
        10)  Pepe Marchena                  LDX 274 912
                A singer in a style that was popular in the 1920's,
                softer and more subtle.  Paquito Simon and Ramon Montoya
Michael P. Burns

Four Fine Artists You May Not Have Heard Of

 This is obviously not exhaustive.  I'm not all that current, anyway.  My
purpose is to balance American guitarists' view of "who's  big in flamenco"
by giving them names of a few guitarists who are highly respected in
Spain(for good reason) but little known here because they stick mainly to
accompanying and don't do a lot of international solo concerts.

 Tomatito: Became Camaron's guitarist when Paco de Lucia got busy with other
music outside of Spain.  Like Paco, an extraordinary technician, and
sophisticated musician, deeply influenced by jazz.  Listen to his
accompaniment to the Lorca piece on Leyenda del Tiempo.  He has a solo CD
available in US, but it's less flamenco than his accompaniment.

 Paco Cepero:   Certainly belongs on the list of major Pacos.  Guitarist of
choice for many top singers in 70's and early 80's.  Wrote or arranged stuff
for singers, and "raised" them, and contributed in ways to "pop flamenco."
  I know of no solo recordings.  Do you?

 Pedro Bacan:  Favorite guitarist of families from Lebrija.  He's probably
done some solo recording, but is at heart a powerful accompanist.  Hates
contemporary baile (dance), so refuses to accompany dancers.

 Raimundo Amador:   Manuela Carrasco's husband and accompanist.  Widely seen
in US in *Flamenco Puro*.  Leading accompanist of baile.

 A figure like Manitas de Plata, on the other hand, who through ingenious PR
managed in the 60's to cook up notoriety for himself in France and the US,
was never respected at all within the flamenco world.  He is a French gypsy
who plays chaotic "impressions" of flamenco (and not very well), not flamenco
itself, which his touted hands regularly butcher.  No crime; the flamenco
world pretty much ignores him.   However if you're reading this at all it's
likelier that you've heard of him (as a flamenco guitarist) than of the four
people above (who are flamenco guitarists, and fine musicians as well) --
which is too bad.  The Gypsy Kings come from a similar context (the French
gypsy community) but are far better musicians; they have taken a relatively
minor form within flamenco (rumbas -- itself borrowed from Latin America) and
written engaging arrangements for it which have become internationally
popular -- fair enough.  They are not basically flamenco musicians, since
they do little besides rumbas; but they've made good use of a flamenco form
to create something interesting of their own.

A Video Resource:  Carlos Saura's *Sevillanas*

 The best single video I know that succinctly illustrates the key points of
this FAQ is a fine short Spanish video called *Sevillanas* which circulates
widely in American flamenco circles, particularly among dancers.  It was
directed by Carlos Saura, the same guy who did the popular Carmen and El Amor
Brujo films featuring Antonio Gades and Cristina Hoyos.  And for purposes of
illustrating this FAQ it's better.  Hard-core purists may balk, since the
form to which it is devoted (*sevillanas*) is a popular Andalucian folk
song/dance now incorporated into flamenco rather than part of the original
flamenco canon.  Don't take that fine point too seriously.  The video
consists of 7 or 8 renditions of the sevillanas form in quite different
contexts, with different guitarists, singers, dancers.  The range is broad
indeed: you get genuine folk stuff, academic stuff out of the equivalent of a
Spanish ballet school, sentimental stuff, the inner gypsy cabal (Camaron
(just before he died), Tomatito, Manuela Carrasco), and, for guitar nerds, a
guitar duet of Paco de Lucia and Manolo Sanlucar, without cante or dance. 
 The unifying (and musically educational) thread is that the whole video is
devoted to just one form -- the literary equivalent would be an anthology of
sonnets.  (If you're musically astute, you can probably figure out the basics
of that form, and its rich variety, from the video.)  You will see that the
form is quite independent of the guitar or of any particular technique or
level of skill.  The wonderful geriatric sevillanas that starts the film
doesn't even have melody; it's just a rhythmic chant (but still recognizable
to anyone who knows sevillanas); it illustrates the point that compas is
what's indispensable.  You may note that the guitar doesn't even show up for
awhile.  When Paco and Sanlucar do their duet, you will see (in proper
context) how sophisticated solo pieces originate, and the influence other
music has had on contemporary flamenco.  In Tomatito's accompaniment of
Camaron you will see a superb technician using just two chords and the
simplest right-hand technique to support a singer (keep in mind that Tomatito
can sound like Paco when he wants to); and you'll also hear (if you can get
past all the hair and beards -- it looks like the 60's) the particularly
gypsy sound (not Gypsy Kings, they're French) so prized by flamencos.  Most
important, if you happen to have learned a sevillanas as a solo, and haven't
a clue how to accompany, it will be an eye-opener: most of the guitar work is
accompaniment, some very simple, some quite sophisticated.   You'll also see
how the baile meshes intricately with the cante (dancers have to know the
cante, too -- a strange notion to many non-Spanish dance students, who tend
to think of music as providing simply a beat and/or mood for movement).
 I recommend this video here for what it illustrates about the role of the
guitar within flamenco, not as exemplary of my taste (or anyone's).
    Saura's point was to show the variety of sub-worlds that use the
sevillanas form in various ways.   Many of the performers you see would not
be comfortable with each other, or in each other's worlds, so you too can
relax if you find some of the stuff simply silly.  Imagine the escuela bolera
girls in their ballet slippers going through their figures with Camaron and
Tomatito instead of the orchestra of mandolins!

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