Is There Such A Thing As Too Many Falsetas??

When I lived in Spain in my 20s, one of my friends once joked that my nickname should be El Comefalsetas (the falseta eater). I was, in fact, pretty ravenous. I just had this need to learn everything I heard. I was the annoying kid who wanted to learn what anyone around was playing, then I’d go to my lessons and learn more. Then someone would have some TABs lying around so I’d learn that (this was before the internet, so TABs were pretty rare), and then if I heard something else I liked, I’d learn it by ear. It was kind of a full-time thing, all these falsetas. And this was all before I even started writing my own falsetas, which probably number in the hundreds…

I was fortunate to have a good memory, too, so I tended to remember just about everything, giving me a massive repertoire. Years later, when I was back in the US and started gigging a lot I had some 4-hour restaurant gigs where all of that material came in handy – I would often play one set that consisted of a half hour Buleria where I would challenge myself to not repeat any falsetas (not that the average restaurant patron would have noticed if I had).

But is there a downside to learning so much material? In hindsight, I think there may have been. By spreading myself so thin – learning dozens and then hundreds of falsteas – I didn’t spend quite as much time on any one of them as I probably should have. In my case, I feel that this was not the best thing for my technique. I suspect I would have become a cleaner player had I learned half as many falsetas, or even less than that, and spent more time perfecting them. In the battle of Quantity vs. Quality I chose Quantity and didn’t really look back. Whatever your challenges as a player – technique, time, memorization – you’re going to want to find some balance between Quantity and Quality.

So how many falsetas is too many, or not enough…

As with everything, it depends: If you’re an aspiring accompanist or if you’re already playing with dancers and/or singers and just want to be more versatile, then you can actually strategize. Do you have one solid falseta for each Palo that you’re likely to be accompanying? If not, then there’s your answer: until you have your bases covered, you probably don’t need to learn another falseta for the Palo you already have lots in. Learn one very playable (i.e. maybe not that Antonio Rey falseta with all the picado) for each Palo you tend to play. Once you have that down, you can add one or two harder ones for when the circumstances are right.

After that you might ask the people you play with if they plan on doing any new Palos soon. That way, for example, you can have one or two Guajira falsetas ready to go for when that comes up. If they have no new plans, then you could always suggest they think about that new Palo you’re working on, right?

And don’t forget that the falseta is just one moment in the Cante or Baile that you’re accompanying. A bigger part of being a good accompanist is also having a good variety of compás to play at various tempos, chord progressions to play when there’s room for that, and a rock-solid sense of the compás. So consider making really sure you’re good with all of the sections of a dance before learning another falseta.

If you only play solo

If you only play solo that’s different, and I’d recommend you really cover one Palo at a time so that after a little while you have a new piece to perform. Unless you’re learning full pieces, I think that part of the fun is having somewhere between three and five minutes of material to play, and then really spending time with that. By the time the piece starts to feel really comfortable, you may be ready to add some more sophisticated material. At this point you can either replace some of the falsetas with newer ones, or simply add to your repertoire. There’s nothing wrong with having some old-school falsetas next to some more modern ones in the same piece.

But remember that you don’t need 20 falsetas to play a great guitar solo, and don’t forget that all of the compás (what I think of as the connective tissue) that comes between the falsetas is every bit as important. If after every falseta you come back to the same few variations, both you and your audience will get bored. So learn lots of variations for that stuff too – it’s incredibly rewarding, and each variation is probably less time consuming than a new falseta.

If you’re working on your technique

If you’re working on your technique then you may want to go through a phase where you choose, say, alzapua fasletas in various Palos so you can really hone your chops. Sprinkle some more Alzapua in everything you play until you feel like it’s time to move on to another technique. Again, you’ll find just as many great traditional falsetas and modern ones to work on any technique you choose. And you’ll find lots of opportunities to work the chosen technique into your compás variations, as well.

Or you can just follow your inspiration

Or you can just follow your inspiration and learn whatever moves you the most as you listen to all of the great music out there. I really believe that whatever inspires you the most to play is probably the thing to do (assuming you don’t have a gig that’s making specific demands on your time). You’re bound to spend more time with music you love than with music you feel you’re supposed to play, so in the end that’s probably the right choice. But make a point of choosing an amount of material you can handle. Maybe only allow yourself a certain amount of new falsetas at any given moment, and once you feel like you really own a falseta you can start learning a new one.

But whatever you do, be selective

But whatever you do, be selective and maybe don’t feel like you have to learn it all now. Like so many things in life, there’s no way you’ll ever learn all of it anyway. So since we have to make choices, try to choose music you really love, but also that makes sense for your current level. There’s nothing wrong (and lots right) in learning some aspirational material that you can’t pull off yet. But it’s more satisfying to play music that you can nail, that you have some control over. And you’re more likely to nail the stuff you play if you find the right balance between Quantity and Quality. As I often say, you’re much more likely to get an Ole! for playing something simple really well than for being yet another player who couldn’t quite nail that Paco scale….