I have some thoughts on TABS –

I was going to start by saying that I don’t like TABS. That they’re a crutch and a poor way to notate music and that flamenco has never used notation. But that’s not quite fair.

I learned the old-fashioned way, with teachers showing me what I should learn without the benefit of any kind of notation. I would record my lessons on cassette tape and go home and learn it by ear and from what I remembered from my lesson. Which meant that I always scheduled an hour or two after each lesson to learn everything before I forgot it all. All of which just makes me sound like a grumpy old man complaining about how things were better when I was young. An old man who had the benefit of a tape recorder, of course.

But when I was coming up there was also a guy in France called Alain Faucher who transcribed most of the important records and sold TABS. You would send away for these (I can’t really remember, but there must have been a check involved) and a few weeks later you’d get a new Paco piece in the mail. It wasn’t cheap, either, but I treasured those TABS and learned a bunch of great pieces that way, all the while still taking my weekly lessons and learning what my teachers told me to learn.

The treasure trove of TABS –

And then I met Brook Zern at the American Institute of Guitar in New York. Brook has since been knighted by the king of Spain for his contributions to the study of flamenco, but at the time he worked in publishing and would spend his lunch hour reading the newspaper while practicing (I’m not making this up – he did this at least once and it made a big impression on me…).

Brook offered to share his library of TABS with me, and when we got to his office he had a filing cabinet filled with multiple copies of everything Faucher had ever transcribed (or so it seemed). I borrowed dozens and dozens of pieces and learned quite a few of them. My strategy at the time was that whenever I had finished learning a new Palo with Dennis Koster (my teacher at the time and for my first four years of flamenco) I would reward myself by learning a solo piece that was way too hard for me. For Fandangos de Huelva I learned Aires Choqueros, for Rondeña I learned Cueva Del Gato, for Guajiras I learned Guajiras de Lucia, (It was mostly Paco at first but eventually I expanded my horizons).

Using TABS as a stepping stone –

At the time I didn’t have the ears to transcribe this stuff on my own, so I have to admit that the TABS were invaluable. Nowadays if I like a piece enough to learn it I sit myself down and, with the occasional help of the Amazing Slow Downer, I’ll figure it out. It’s always a great ear-expanding experience to transcribe a new piece, and since I only do it for music I already love it’s hugely rewarding.

But I still give my students a hard time about TABS, mainly because I do believe that there’s something to the idea of having to use your ears, and learning to memorize quickly. And I provide TABS here on the site because, honestly, I know a lot of people will be turned off if they aren’t here.

Advice about TABS and learning Flamenco –

It is really important, especially for your compás, to try and learn without TABS. Make the connection between your ears and your hands and watch the videos. And if you’re short on time or just can’t get it then don’t feel bad about looking at the TABS. But don’t get used to always playing with them. That’s when they become a crutch (with all due respect to my classical friends…). Think of them as a teacher who isn’t always there. You can check to see what the fingering is for a given falseta or what that chord voicing is, but then get back to using your ears. It’ll make you a better musician, and it’s more fun.

We have TABS here on Flamenco Explained!

All that said, we do offer TABS for most of the full pieces and falsetas, but not for the lessons that are more about compás. Mainly because I don’t want people looking at music while they learn compás. And we’re always creating new content and uploading to this TABS playlist so keep checking back! And let us know if there’s a specific falseta or full piece you may be interested in learning.