-direct from the method book “Flamenco Explained – The Guitarist’s Survival Guide” which can be ordered here.
We have gone out of our way in this book to use as few “technical,” or simply untranslatable, terms as possible. There is a very specific reason for this: flamenco guitarists, singers, and dancers too often use different words to mean the same thing. Since a large part of this book is about successfully communicating in the flamenco environment, we encourage you not to get hung up on terms. The most important thing is to understand, and to be understood, in the most efficient way we can. As soon as you are on the same page with the rest of the group (singers, dancers, percussionists, other guitarists, bass players, keyboard players, flautists, we could go on…), you’ve won! Here is a list of generally agreed upon terms that will appear frequently in this book.
There is also a video glossary pocket guide, if you’d rather watch short snippets of flamenco glossary terms, they are to the right. – >
The most important thing in flamenco is to understand, and be understood. Guitarists, singers and dancers often use different words to mean the same thing. We encourage you not to get hung up on the terms, but to help, we’ve provided this handy video glossary of terms you can quickly access. This list includes generally agreed upon terms that will appear frequently in your flamenco journey.
A technique unique to flamenco in which the thumb is used like a guitar pick to alternately strum and play single notes, usually with melodies in the bass.
A guitar technique using the fingers of the right hand to play the notes of a chord in sequence rather than simultaneously.
Cante means song or singing. A Cantaor/a is a flamenco singer.
This word has many meanings: See our intro video on compás.
A chorus as sung by the cantaor or played by musicians.
A self-contained melodic idea, usually written by the guitarist, that can be as many compáses long as the player desires.
A percussive strike on the body of the guitar.
A verse of flamenco cante, often self-contained and not necessarily related to the other letras in a song.
Literally, the word “llamada” means call in Spanish. Llamadas are a little tricky to define, as they fall under the old adage “I know them when I hear/see them.” They are a short (one or two compás) declaration of the essense of the compás (of whichever palo -see below- is being played). Dancers and musicians use them to open and close sections, to call the attention of the other artists on stage, or to otherwise punctuate musical ideas. Each palo has its traditional llamadas, and artists will often create their own variations of these. You will find various examples of llamadas for each of the palos explored in this book.
You are also going to need to learn to recognize dancers’ llamadas which are used to call your attention. The best way to learn to recognize them is by playing for dance class and accompanying as much as possible. It’s interesting to note that singers do not sing llamadas, instead they respond to them.
Occassionally at the end of a piece (solo guitar, cante, or dance), the artist will transition to a faster version of the current palo (see below). Sometimes this means a change in the groove, or even a change to the parallel major key. For example, tientos will have tangos as its macho, tangos will have rumba as its macho. Similarly, twelve-beat palos will have bulerías as their macho.
The rhythmic handclaps that accompany flamenco, and the earliest form of flamenco percussion. Don’t underestimate the importance of palmas (and don’t assume you can do them without practice!).
Literally meaning ‘branch’, the palos are the forms in flamenco, like Soleá, Buleria, etc… and are seen as the branches of the tree of flamenco.
Synonym for “tapado.”
a short little flourish of footwork. Patadas are often valued for their creativity as much as, or more, than for their technical prowess.
Rest-stroke scales in flamenco.
This is loosely translated as “at a party,” and is a looser, less structured way of dancing and playing. Bulerías, Tangos, and Rumbas are the palos most often danced por fiesta, and dancers take turns dancing to one letra of cante often followed by a patada. You’ll often see non-dancers (i.e. musicians and non-professionals) dance por fiesta.
Flamenco strumming – any time you use the back of the nails of your fingers (not your thumb) to play a note. It’s easiest to grasp through a video, watch Kai’s “Introduction to Rasgueado” video. In the meantime, and if you are new to rasgueado technique, there are a couple quick suggestions we can make here to get you started.
Flick out each finger as if you are flicking a bug off your knee. We are trying for individual, percussive, and rhythmic strokes with each finger, rather than just unfurling your fingers in a blur of sound.
We prepare our rasgueados by making a loose fist. The fist allows us to “cock” (prepare) each finger to fire. The idea being that your finger is being shot out of the fist, rather than pushing through the strings.
The hand is supported by the thumb which rests on the sixth string. You will find that a bent first thumb-joint will allow for a better angle to attack the strings (especially the 5th string, which is so important to so many chord voicings in flamenco).
Generally the first part of the Cante that is sung to call out the dancer or introduce the dance or the cante. The salida will generally be a loose melody on syllables such as “ay” and can often be accompanied by basic compás.
Literally ‘foot solo’, this is a section where the dancer shows off their footwork, sometimes performed without accompaniment from the guitarist.
Literally a ‘lift’, a subida is a quickening of tempo, which can be gradual or sudden.
Used as a noun, a tablao is a club where you might see flamenco performed. As an adjective, tablao is used to denote informality and a more improvised style of performance.
Playing the guitar as a percussion instrument by muting the strings with the left hand.
The tonic is the first note of the scale used to build a piece of music. This note, and corresponding chord, gives us a sense of resolution in music. We often refer to this as “home base.” For example, in the key of A, the root of the main chord is A, therefore tonic is A.