(and flamenco in general)
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.
They just know the music, so they play it.
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).
Here’s what I recommend:
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.
You just reacted to the music.
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.
Listen to this playlist!
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.
Great article!!! Really enjoyed. I had a similar realization about jazz, salsa, timba, etc…sometimes our eagerness to learn/internalize something comes from a desire to show everyone how “authentic” we can be as stylists (especially a style that is very new to us that we are enjoying and want to dig deeper into). One day my teacher’s words about Cuban music came back to me “It’s just like rock and roll for them…” and it clicked, and u verbalized it very well, just listen to it, has to be in your very being, in a way that is not being over intellectualized etc as you point out. It totally changed the game for me, I originally grew up listening to heavy metal, then went deep into Cuban music (so much so that I perform it now!) but really in the last years because I’ve approached it this way, just listening, dancing to it etc has really brought my playing to another level, even when I do have to transcribe and do analysis, it comes from a much different space. The same has happened with jazz as well, in college I was deep into jazz as well but I realize it was because I was only into it in a superficial intellectual way. Like you say, just take it in like a kid would!!! Super awesome. Glad I read this, I think anyone who is learning any music would benefit from this article!!
Thanks Adan – I really do think the missing link for some players is just listening to more flamenco! And if you can sing and dance that’s even better!
Before July of 2019, I had never held a guitar. I have never taken a music class of any sort outside of chorus in grade school. I went on YouTube one day and searched “Spanish Guitar” and a Paco de Lucia por Bulerias video came up and I watched it. From that day forward I knew that I wanted to play just like him.
I bought a Flamenco guitar and started learning Bulerias compas through various YouTube videos, but I came to a realization that I was biting off more than I can chew a few weeks ago, while struggling with learning falsetas por bulerias, ligados, remates, cierres, etc. I speak Spanish so there is no language barrier, but the level of instruction that I needed, wasn’t being fulfilled by the videos I was watching (and I watched a bunch). I decided to take a step back and joined your site, once I saw your “How to trill” video on YouTube. I’ve been here for about a week and I feel like I have made so many more strides in these few days than the months I spent playing Bulerias compas over and over again. (This lock down has me practicing about 8 hours a day!)
Thanks Kai, you truly shed some light on this for me!
don’t explode your right forearm