There have never been more resources available to someone wanting to learn flamenco guitar – millions of videos, method books, books of transcriptions, and many good books on flamenco technique. So why write another book about flamenco guitar? The short answer is that there is so much more to flamenco than solo guitar pieces, and to my knowledge no one has tackled the language of flamenco in its totality. This aspect is too often treated as an “unteachable” mystery. This survival guide method book is our way of providing a light.
I believe that the fundamentals of flamenco guitar playing can be taught
I believe that the fundamentals of flamenco guitar playing can be taught. This includes both solo playing and accompaniment.Flamenco is a folk music. As a guitarist, it is too easy to focus on the virtuosity and overlook those elements that make flamenco what it is. As in any other style of music, technique is a means to an end, and is meaningless without an understanding and appreciation of flamenco’s roots and traditions.
Understanding compás (this word is all over this book, so now might be a good time to see the Glossary) and having good technique is the first step. Many students come equipped with a technical foundation, but without a clear idea of what to do when confronted with cante (song) or baile (dance). From the outside, it is often a mystery how flamenco dancers communicate with the musicians, without a single word spoken, as well as how the musicians communicate amongst themselves. In fact flamenco is simply another language, and the good news is that it can be learned.
Just like any other style of music, not everything can be communicated in flamenco without some rehearsal. When you see a professional performance, while there may be elements of improvisation, most often what you are seeing is a well choreographed performance. In a tablao, as in a jazz club, musicians and dancers who may have never worked or rehearsed together, use the language of flamenco to communicate and perform as if they had been working together all their lives.
One of the other benefits of really understanding this language is that it allows you to “improvise” in flamenco – that is, to use all of the material you have at your disposal to construct a solo on the fly, in much the same way that a jazz player might use licks to construct a solo. You need a solid foundation in time and structure, and you need to understand where the music comes from (usually in terms of the cante). As you’ll see, this will give you the freedom to express yourself in a style that from the outside can seem rigid and constrained, but that like jazz or the blues is simply another form of expression with its own history and traditions.
For those who grow up surrounded by flamenco there is no mystery – the musical language of flamenco is as simple and clear to them as their native tongue. Not having this advantage myself, I learned by embracing all the elements of flamenco: the dance, the cante, the palmas, and the guitar. Additionally, I listened to every recording I could get my hands on. Working in the tablao environment, I found fluency among these elements. This is the flamenco that I try to impart to my students, and now to you in this book.
A few years ago I started working with a new student, Dr. Scott Wolf (DMA), who was surprised that we were covering many of the elements of flamenco he had been told were not teachable. He convinced me that there was a need for a book like this and offered to help translate some of the concepts with some novel (and, I believe, extremely helpful) ideas about notation. We hope this helps you to better understand the language of flamenco.