I wrote a blog post answering our most commonly asked question: “Now what do I do after I finish the Beginner Course?” But I’ve realized that there’s a lot more to that question than meets the eye at first.
In addition to being a specific question about “What do I do right now?” I think that the bigger question is “How do I become a proficient flamenco guitar player, and how will I know when I’ve done that?”
This is a big question, so here goes one attempt at an answer:
BASICALLY, KNOW EVERYTHING
A professional flamenco guitarist is expected to know a lot. You’re expected to be able to accompany a singer or dancers in just about any Palo. You’re expected to be familiar with tons of “traditional” material. You’re expected to know enough falsetas – at least a couple for any Palo that might come up – and to know specifically some of the more common traditional ones (We cover a lot of this stuff in the Courses and Survival Guides). You’re expected to have at least a guitar solo or two to play in a show, which in addition to adding variety to a show gives the dancers a chance to change costume or just rest a bit between numbers. And you’re often expected to be the one performer who might not get a break for the entire show.
It’s a lot. It can even seem like too much to ask of one person. So how does one go about learning all of that? And is that even what you’re trying to accomplish?
Most guitarists outside of Spain start out with the goal of playing solo guitar pieces, and never even consider the possibility of accompanying singers or dancers. Nothing wrong with that. If this is you, keep reading anyway.
SOLO OR ACCOMPANIST
But whether your goal is to be a soloist, an accompanist, or that well-rounded soloist/accompanist Jack-of-all-Palos, the way you go about learning is going to be pretty much the same – One thing at a time. The big difference is how deep you dive into fasletas and compas variations for each Palo as you learn.
Let’s look at the difference in how you might approach a new Palo depending on which track you choose:
If you want to play solo guitar, then learning the basic compas and one or two falsetas for a give Palo may not be enough. You want to either learn a solo piece by a player you like, or you want to learn enough compas variations and falsetas that you can improvise a solo piece from that material. You’ll need a good intro, a bunch of falsteas, a great ending, some chord progressions or other rhythmic bits, and lots and lots of ways to manipulate the compás.
To do all of this you’ll be mostly listening to guitarists and choosing the material you like and that is currently playable for you. As with everything, the more you listen, the more you’ll begin to feel the essential nature of the Palo and the more you’ll recognize the common little bits that everyone plays in that Palo. And for even more context, I recommend you also watch some videos of the dance of the Palo in questions (if it’s a danced Palo – Libre Palos won’t be).
If you want to learn to accompany that Palo, there’s some overlap. You need a good intro or two, and you need to feel rock-solid in the compás of the Palo. You want to become familiar with the most traditional letras that might be sung for that Palo (Check out our Cante Explained course or our Cante Play-Along series). You’ll also want to become familiar with common Escobilla patterns that the dancers might dance. You’ll need a good falseta or two, but not a whole solo guitar piece’s worth off material. (And I always recommend to have one or two easy fun falsetas that won’t become impossible if the dancer goes faster than expected). You’ll want a few good chord progressions to riff on for Escobillas, and you’ll want to know how the Palo tends to end, which means being familiar with the Macho of each Palo.
LISTEN, WATCH, AND LEARN
To do all of this you’re going to want to watch a lot of dance videos, because those will include all of the cante, and you’ll see how those work together. You may never have enough material (or the right kind) to play a solo piece in the Palo, but you’ll be able to accompany whatever is thrown at you.
You’ll notice that in either instance, you don’t get to just check the Palo off of your To-Do list after a week or two. You need to really spend time getting to know the Palo. You need to dive deep, and to listen. A lot.
The good news is that if you’ve been listening to lots of flamenco, then hopefully the new Palo isn’t totally foreign to you when you start. The more you listen to all kinds of flamenco, the more likely it will be that you’ve heard elements of that Palo before. That you recognize one or two of the letras. Or maybe that you can recycle material from another Palo to use in the new one.
We have Survival Guides for a few Palos which will familiarize you with the essential stuff you want to know. And our Palo Courses go in-depth most of the Palos you’ll want to know for either solo guitar or accompaniment.
As I always say – nothing can replace hours of listening to and watching flamenco. You’re more likely to know how to roll with new material if you’ve heard it before and have a sense of where it’s going. You only get that from experience and from listening to lots and lots of flamenco. So another answer to “now what do I do” is that you listen to and watch as much flamenco as possible. Not only is the listening invaluable, but it will inspire you and help you decide what you want to work on next.