The Basics of Spain’s Most Popular Folk Music
There are few types of folk music and dance as exciting as the Flamenco. From its beginnings in the 18th century to today, where it is popular all over the world, this form of dance and music has captivated scores of people. In this brief article, we will review the basics of Flamenco, and the guitar’s important role.
The Basics of Flamenco
Flamenco got its start in the region of Andalusia in southern Spain. It uses the elements of singing, dancing, guitar playing, and handclaps, although some styles do not incorporate all four. Its early performers were of Andalusian and Romani descent.
There are over 50 styles or palos of Flamenco, classified by criteria such as rhythmic pattern, mode, chord progression, stanzaic form, and geographic origin. Only about a dozen of these styles are used on a regular basis. They traditionally fall into three categories: Heavy, light, and intermediate. The heavy palas expressed deep love and other serious subjects, the light palas tend to be of a more carefree nature, and the intermediate ones were those that did not fit into the other two categories. Although there have been flamenco dances traditionally performed by only men or women, those distinctions are breaking down.
Musical Structure of Flamenco
A typical flamenco recital with voice and guitar accompaniment comprises a series of pieces (not exactly “songs”) in different palos. Each song of a set of verses (called copla, tercio, or letras), which are punctuated by guitar interludes called falsetas. The guitarist also provides a short introduction which sets the tonality, meter and tempo of the singing. In some palos, these falsetas are also played with certain structure too; for example, the typical sevillanas is played in an AAB pattern, where A and B are the same falseta with only a slight difference in the ending.
The Guitar’s Role
Flamenco guitars are similar to standard classical guitars, but with thinner tops and less internal bracing. The style of playing is slightly different, too. Players use different posture, strumming patterns, and techniques. Flamenco players tend to play the guitar between the sound hole and the bridge, but as closely as possible to the bridge, to produce a harsher, rasping sound quality.
Flamenco guitar employs a vast array of percussive and rhythmic techniques that give the music its characteristic feel.
Flamenco is commonly played using a capo which raises the pitch and causes the guitar to sound sharper and more percussive. However, the main purpose in using a capo is to change the key of the guitar to match the singer’s vocal range. Because Flamenco is an improvisational musical form that uses common structures and chord sequences, the capo makes it easier for players who have never played together before to do so.
There are many flamenco recordings available, as well as multiple videos exploring the alluring form of flamenco. Take the time to explore this life-affirming art form, you will not regret it.