Learning Bulerias Through Cante
Pretty much as soon as anyone decides they love flamenco guitar, they decide they want to learn Bulerias. It’s just how it is. And as teachers, a lot of us find ourselves explaining that yes, it’s super fun and we get why you want to play it, but also there’s just a lot to it, and maybe you want to spend some time with Soleá first, and a million other reasons why we should probably wait before diving into Bulerias. (Also, it’s fast, so you do need to have your technique in a good place!).
And while I don’t want to mislead you and say that Bulerias is super easy after all, I’ve also started to come around to the idea that maybe there’s no need to wait forever to dive in to Bulerias. The trick, I think, is to not approach it as learning music in the sense that we usually think – teaching about what the hands do and what the chords are and how time is organized – but rather to approach it at first as listening to songs in the same way that we listen to non-flamenco songs we love.
I’ve said it a million times, but no kid picks up a guitar and analyzes the syncopation in the Smoke On The Water riff before playing that. They just know the music, so they play it. And every non-musician can sing the pop songs they grew up with (to some degree!) and probably tell you if someone else is singing it wrong.
So why not approach Bulerias in the same way? Most Spaniards born into flamenco have heard a gazillion Bulerias before they ever pick up a guitar or put on dance shoes. They’re probably singing along and doing palmas before they ever stop to think about what compás is or how it works. Just like little rockers know Smoke On The Water. (Why that tune endures sort of eludes me, but there it is).
So if you’re intent on learning Bulerias here’s what I recommend: Choose a singer you love and listen to their Bulerias. Don’t even think about it. Just enjoy the music. Listen to it the way you listen to whatever you listened to as a kid growing up. Tap your foot wherever you feel a pulse or an accent. Just take it in without thinking about understanding it. I bet you never stopped to think about what The Stones or Beyoncé were doing with rhythm.
I suspect that if you approach Bulerias (or any other Palo, really) this way you’ll start to know it in a way that’s much more visceral than the way we learn things we study. You’ll start to know it the way you know all other music you love, and suddenly you won’t be thinking about compás in the same way. You’ll just feel it. Like Smoke On The Water.
If you need suggestions for where to start listening we have a Bulerias Playlist on Spotify which includes all of a CD called Fiesta For Bulerias. This is a fantastic CD for hearing many of the most popular letra styles sung in a really fun, simple way – just Cante, guitar and palmas. Make this your new favorite CD and you’ll be on your way! And if you’re interested in the lyrics, you can find them all here.