There’s No Such Thing as a 3rd Sevillana
There’s no such thing as a ‘3rd Sevillana for a guitarist. I remember when I just started gigging as a flamenco guitarist and sometimes the dancers on the gigs were as green as I was. One day one of the dancers on a gig said to me “play me a 3rd Sevillana”. I must have looked at her like one of us was crazy, so she insisted on showing me the Sevillana she was going to dance and told me she needed me to play the Sevillana that goes with that one. It took me a minute, but I finally figured out what she was talking about. You see, she had learned a Sevillanas choreography which included the four Sevillanas (I go into more detail and explain this below), and to her each Sevillana was different. She was used to hearing whatever music she had learned in class. I only had a few options (I had learned a few different Sevillanas and had a few solo guitar ones I played on gigs like this), but I knew something that she didn’t understand yet – that all Sevillanas are structurally identical! So I confidently told her that the one I was playing WAS a third Sevillana, and we all lived happily ever after.
The truth of the matter is that any Sevillana I played would have worked. Some might groove differently than others, or feel different to have a different mood, but unlike all of the other Palos, as long as we both played the right structure, I knew everything would work out no matter which Sevillana I played. Keep reading to understand why.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to learn Sevillanas!
And the thing that guitarists need to know is that from our point of view, all Sevillanas are basically the same. That being said, Sevillanas are a unique Palo. While they’re absolutely part of flamenco – and something you have to know if you’re a flamenco guitarist – they’re also sort of their own thing. Consider the following:
- They can be any tempo
- They can be any key
- They can be light or heavy, happy or sad
- They’re the only couples dance in flamenco
- Spaniards who have almost nothing to do with flamenco are generally able to dance some kind of Sevillanas, and do so all the time
- They’re as much Spanish folk music as they are flamenco
- They can be played by a solo guitarist, a singer and guitar, or with huge choirs of singers, groups of musicians playing Spanish folk instruments like bandurrias, or even orchestras. And, of course, they can be danced.
- Unlike any other Palo in flamenco, they have a fixed structure
As guitarists it’s easy to overlook the importance of Sevillanas. But play a few Tablao gigs or casuals (the weddings and corporate gigs so many of us do or have done to make a living) and you’re going to have to be able to play Sevillanas. And it’s not uncommon to see serious staged versions of Sevillanas either. Also, they can be really fun!
The good news is that as you begin to accompany you can get away without learning all that much material at first. Because every Sevillana has the exact same structure, if you know one Sevillana you can start playing for class.
One confusing thing right off the bat is what we mean when we say ‘A Sevillana’. We can talk about a single Sevillana as a little song, usually around a minute long, that has a fixed structure that looks like this:
- Guitar intro (this part can be as long or as short as you want, and can even be left off altogether)
- Cante intro or a little guitar falseta – 3 measures of 3/4
- First section – 12 measures of 3/4
- Second section – 12 measures of 3/4, and generally a repeat of the first section
- Third section – 12 measures of 3/4 and generally a variation on the first two sections
- One last beat that everyone ends on together
- The dance, if there is any, begins on the first beat of the first measure of the first section
This is one Sevillanas – but when danced or sung, we almost always perform four of these in a row. Just to make things even more confusing, we sometimes call this ‘a Sevillanas’. So one Sevillana can be one of the four Sevillanas you play, or it can refer to the set of four Sevillanas that you play. I wish there were separate words for this, but there just aren’t. And if we get into coplas, then it can mean one of the four Sevillanas, or one of the three sections within that one Sevillana, so again – not helpful!
See some Sevillanas in action – Can you hear and count the structure?
All Sevillanas Are The Same!
Dancers will learn four different Sevillanas to dance, each one having the same structure, but being a little different from one another. For example, the third Sevillana has a distinctive footwork thing the dancers traditionally do there. But structurally and in terms of compás all of the Sevillanas are identical. So if a dancer asks you to play a third Sevillanas (or first, second or fourth, for that matter) you can play any Sevillana you happen to know and it will work. This may sound confusing, but the bottom line is good news: As far as you are concerned, all Sevillanas are the same!
We’re gearing up to add more Sevillanas videos to our Sevillanas playlist – so keep an eye out, or subscribe to our newsletter and get notified. Tune up your tradional Sevillanas in the mean time. Want some harder stuff, check out the four Marchena Sevillanas in that playlist, a more advanced Sevillanas piece that I wrote. And as always, email in any questions you may have!