Compás Apps & Loops – Using a Metronome Part 2
Learn how to use compás apps and loops for effective flamenco guitar practice to improve your compás and play more confidently.
In Part 1 I wrote about a few tips for getting the most out of using a metronome. They’re simple concepts, but I consider them essential for using your metronome effectively. And all of those concepts basically apply when playing with compás apps and loops as well, only with some added complications. As you might imagine, understanding – hearing and feeling – the compás is essential for using these apps effectively. The important part is that you now have two different aspects of compás to pay attention to – the external and the internal. The external is the app itself – an outside source of compás that you can trust is going to be constant and true. The internal is you and your mastery of the compás of the material you’re working on.
Understanding and Mistakes
I think the number one mistake people make with compás apps/loops is using them before they understand the feedback that the compás is giving them. Because in the same way that a metronome tells you exactly where the beat is, a compás app is telling you exactly where you are in the compás. Before you can really benefit from that feedback, you need to understand that information.
This step of learning how to hear the compás is one of the most fundamental building blocks you need as a flamenco player, so don’t take it lightly.
If you’re at the stage where the compás is not yet transparent when you hear it, I recommend starting out by listening for beats 3 and 10. Not only do I consider them the anchors of the compás, but it’s extremely unlikely that any compás loop or app will syncopate those beats. They will (or certainly should) be strong and clear.
Whether or not you realize it, what’s alerting you to those accents is the lead-up to them. So the trick is to feel the 1-2-3, or the 12-1-2-3, and then the 6,7.8,9,10 or the 7,8,9,10. There’s no way that I know of to tell you how to actually hear this, other than to say what I say so often – Just listen. A lot. One way to do that is what we call passive listening. This just means that you have the loops on without trying too hard (or at all) to understand what’s happening.
Maybe you play them as you do whatever chores need doing, and that can be done with music on. Just have them on during your commute, or while out on a walk. In the same way that we all learn the pop music we listen to without ever thinking about it, or the way we know the lyrics to songs we don’t even like, the patterns sort of worm their way into you.
After enough passive listening you’re likely to hear the patterns and recognize the stuff that repeats – like the accents. Now you can pay closer attention and try to feel those accents and try to identify them. In time, it becomes second nature – you hear that move to the 3 coming, or that resolution to the 10. You can also start with something easier, like Tangos, just to get acclimated to hearing beats and accents if that’s a bit of a challenge for you.
As I’ve said many times – the Flamenco Explained loops, and the Compás App are by no means the most interesting loops out there, mainly because we created them for students to learn to hear the compás as much as for practicing with. Our loops are literally loops of a single compás – no variety at all – which we did on purpose to train you to hear what’s happening. On the website we also have our loops with a click – a metronome running in the back that accents the accents to make it easier for you to hear and recognize them.
(Check out an older post about the Flamenco Explained Compás Loops, which were created specifically to help you learn to hear the compás.)
Once you’re hearing the loops in a way that makes the compás clear to you, I recommend starting with some easy compás. Play stuff you’re really comfortable with and try to hear and feel how good it feels to land on the right beat – to move to the Three at the right time and resolve back to the Ten with the compás. If this is easy for you that’s great. If it’s not easy yet then stay with simple compás until you really feel that connection. If you’re just not certain, then share a recording with your teacher or on a group (like our Discord server – email us if you want to join that) where you can get some feedback.
If there’s any part of you that feels a little lost when the compás is playing, then remember that this, too, is a skill you want to learn. Don’t play your hardest stuff with the compás if you’re not feeling supported by the compás. If the compás feels more like a complication than like support, then stay with the simplest stuff you play until you really feel it.
Count and Feel
Playing your falsetas – or anything really syncopated – is a slightly different story but only in that you need to be really clear on where things start and end. For example, in Bulerias most falsetas will start on beat 12, but some will start with a pickup to beat 12 (a few notes before that downbeat), so you have to be clear where the 12 is and what it feels like to start in the right place so that you hit that right note on beat 12. You can do the math to figure it out – count how many beats of music there are before the 12 and start accordingly, or you can try to just feel it. Neither way is right or wrong, and in fact I recommend a combination of the two methods to cover all bases. And then some falsetas in Bulerias start on beat 1, or even later with something more like pickups to beat 3, so again, you want to both understand and feel that about the fasleta.
Also in Bulerias, it’s very common to end on beat 6 and then play a short figure to get you to beat 10. But some falsetas actually end on beat 10, in which case you don’t play that little figure and instead go straight to hitting beats 11-12 (or more commonly you wait on 11 and start the next compás on beat 12). The important thing here is to be aware where the falseta starts and where it ends. Whether you’re counting it or feeling it at first, you need to eventually feel what it’s like to play it correctly with the compás.
It’s a Lot
What I describe above sounds like a lot of thinking to just play with a backing track. The good news is that every time you go through that process you’re learning a lot more than just how to play that particular falseta. You’re learning how that type of specific phrasing works (and whatever it is, it will pop up again somewhere), and you’re learning more generally about the ways that Bulerias can feel (or whatever Palo you happen to be working on). Each time you learn to really feel how a falseta or a remate or a given compás figure connects to the underlying compás, you’re internalizing more about how this Palo, and time, and flamenco in general, all work. You’re becoming a better player and a better musician.
Fun or The Other Thing
So depending on where you’re at, playing with compás loops or apps can be either super fun or a bit frustrating. But I promise that the work you put in to understand and feel those compás patterns gets to the heart of learning flamenco. You’re learning how what you play really fits in to flamenco. At a certain point the loops even become a crutch – as they tell you where the compás is in a way where you don’t necessarily have to feel it for yourself. But that’s another story.