Alfonso Cid


Introduction to flamenco.

Flamenco is a music and dance form that originated in Andalusia, in the south of Spain about 200 years ago.  It encompasses a great number of styles with different origins, melodies, rhythms and types of verses or stanzas.  It is very important to know all this elements to be able to dance with authenticity these songs or “cantes”.

What I’ll try to do is to give you the tools necessary to understand and simplify something that at first may seem overwhelming.  There are a number of traditional patterns that repeat within the verses and the rhythms as well as the cord progressions of each style.  There are also connections you can make between different styles that will help you realize that after all it is not that complicated.

Each flamenco style is called a “palo flamenco”.  If you look in a Spanish dictionary for the word “palo” you will realize it has many meanings one of them is stick, which is the one a lot of aficionados use, although this is actually wrong.  In this case we are referring to the suit of a deck of cards.  When we talk about palos flamencos, we are talking about the different “suits” of the flamenco genre.

There are “palos secos”, meaning without the accompaniment of the guitar or “a cappella”.  These are: Tonás, Carceleras, Martinetes, Debla and Saetas. 


There are four groups of cantes flamencos according to their rhythm or “compás”. 


Fandangos de Huelva.

Verdiales y abandolaos.


Fandangos Naturales.


Granainas y Medias Granainas.

Cantes de Levante.

(These last four have lost their rhythm but evolved from the fandangos)







Bulerías por soleá.




Cuplés por bulerías.



(These last two have different accents)













































These are the accents that form the rhythms


Fandangos:       1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Soleares:         1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 or 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Seguiriyas:       8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Tangos:           1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

Guajiras and     1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12



There are different kinds of flamenco stanzas or “estrofas”:

Some of these stanzas have been part of Spanish, even European, literature and folk music for centuries before flamenco appeared.  


Quintillas:  verses of five lines with eight syllables each line.  This is the “estrofa” of all fandangos.

En la Fuente del Venero
De Almonaster la Real
Yo me quiero declarar
A esa flamenca que quiero
Que no la puedo olvidar
At the Venero fountain
In Almonaster la Real
I want to declare my love
To that flamenco girl I love
I can’t forget her.

Cuartetas: verses of four lines with eight syllables each line.  This is the “estrofa” of Cañas, Polos, Soleares, some Seguiriyas, Bulerías, Tonás y Martinetes, Alegrias y Cantiñas,Tangos, Tientos, Garrotín.

Y tú dices que no me quiere
Pena no tengo ninguna
Porque yo con tu queré
No tenia hecha escritura
You say you don’t love me
I don’t really care
Because I don’t have a contract
With your love


Tercetas:  verses of three lines with eight syllables each line.  This is the “estrofa” of Soleares, Jaleos, Bulerías, Tangos, Tientos

¿Dime qué quieres de mí?
Si hasta el aguita que bebo
Te la tengo que pedi. 
What do you want from me?
That even the water I drink
I must ask you for it.


Solearilla:  first line of three or five syllables and two more lines with eight syllables.  This is the “estrofa” of some Soleares and Bulerías.

Y será
Pa mi unos tormentos grandes
Verte y no poderte hablar.
It is
For me great torment
To see you and not be allowed to talk.


Verso de pie quebrado: “estrofa” with four lines, the first two lines with seven syllables, the third with eleven and the fourth with seven.  This is the “estrofa” of many styles of Seguiriya.


Yo no soy de esta tierra
Ni conozco a nadie
Y el que lo hiciera por mis niños
Que Dios se lo pague.
I’m not from this country
Neither do I know anyone
But he who could help me with my kids
God bless him!


Décima:  “estrofa” of ten lines with eight syllables that originated in Spain during the Baroque era (17th Century).  This is the verse of the Guajiras.


Aquí la malanga crece
Rico manjar suculento
Y al rumor del blando viento
La rica caña se mece
El ajónjoli parece
Rica alfombra peregrina
¡Ay! El mamey que se reclina
Y hacia la rama que toca
Parece la dulce boca
De mi angélico Rufino ¡ole bien!
Yams grow here
Tasty delicacy and
To the murmur of the breeze
The sugar cane sways
The sesame field seems
A strangely beautiful rug.
¡Ay! The mamey bends over
Towards a branch kissing it
Looks like my Rufino’s
Sweet angelic lips ¡ole bien!


Pregón: this is a song vendors in the streets of Andalusia and Spain used to do to publicize their goods.  There are several “pregones” that have survived until today, also Caracoles and Mirabrás, two styles of Cantiñas, have Pregones in their lyrics.


Por la salida de Asturias
Y la entrada en la montaña
Fabrico yo mis caramelo
Y pa’ venderlos por España
¡Ay! de menta, caramelos,
Que los acabo, mis caramelos.
Venir niñas a comprarme
Que lo llevo de menta,
También los llevo de limón,
De Félix y Mariano Rodríguez,
De Vicente Barrera,
Del gran artista Cagancho
Y el Niño del Mataero.
Comprarme mis caramelos.
Next to the exit to Asturias
And the entrance in the mountain
I make my candy
To sell them around Spain
My mint candy
I’ll sell them all out, my candy.
Come to me girls and buy them
My mint candy.
There is also lemon candy
From Félix and Mariano Rodríguez,
From Vicente Barrera,
From the great artists Cagancho
And the Boy from the slaughterhouse*
People, buy my candy!!

*All these are names of legendary bull fighters who used to order candy with pictures of their faces on the wrapping as advertisement.  


Coplas, cuplés, canciones:  These are songs that have been incorporated into the flamenco repertoire.  There is in Spain a music genre called “Canción Española” which is actually popular music from the early 20th Century with an influence from Spanish folk music and Spanish operetta or “zarzuela”.  They follow the format of any popular song: verse-chorus-verse-chorus and in flamenco we can find them performed in Bulerías.  More recently, since the 1960’s, Tangos and Rumbas have also been composed in this format.


The structure of the Cante Flamenco

The flamenco songs as you have seen have a tendency to be short verses, despite this they have full meaning and stand on their own with full poetic and musical  intention.

When a singer starts a flamenco performance, he or she first of all chooses a “palo flamenco”, for instance soleares, and will proceed to do a series of different styles or traditional melodies within that “palo”, something like a medley.

The performance will go as follows:


  1. Guitar introduction.
  2. Salida:  This is a cry full of ornaments done with half and quarter tones; it is the essence of flamenco music.  It is the way a “cantaor” uses to get within the frame work of the tonality and the scale he will use to do his “cantes”.  It can be an “¡ay!, lere lere, tiriti tran tran tran”, etc...   
  3. Cante de preparación:  This is the first cante, or a few of them, which are slightly difficult. 
  4. Cante valiente or macho:  This is a cante of extreme difficulty that brings the performance to its emotional climax.  After the cantaor warms up he will do these styles within the palo, in occasions without breathing in between phrases or “tercios” to show how capable he or she is as a performer. 
  5. Remate:  This is an ending or tag in some styles, called “coletilla”, “coro” or “juguetillo” that is performed in a faster tempo.  In other styles like Malagueñas the “remate” is a cante abandolao or verdiales.  We also have this in dance numbers, for instance, we finish or “rematamos” a soleá or alegrías dance with bulerías or tientos with tangos. 


Flamenco scales.

The flamenco scale is without any doubt the Phrygian scale.  There are also songs in major and minor keys but when you listen to the Phrygian scale you associate those sounds to flamenco right away.   

When you look at the keyboard of a piano and play a C major scale (all white keys) but instead of going from C to the higher C you start on E you’ll be playing the Phrygian scale, the flamenco scale.  There can also be a note that may change the sound of this scale that is the third note.  If you raise it a half a tone, in this case it would be G to G sharp (G#), the scale would sound even more flamenco.


Flamenco vocabulary.

Baile, el: flamenco dance. 

Cante, el: flamenco song.

Cierre: closing, break at the end of a footwork section of a dance.

Camelar: to want, to love.

Castellana: Castilian girl, step of the Castilian girl performed traditionally after the silencio in an alegrías de Cádiz dance.

Coletilla: tag, little refrain at the end of a flamenco stanza.

Compás: rhythm, beat, musical bar.

Contestación: answer, footwork done by the dancer in between the music phrases of a song.  It coincides with the “respire” or breath of the singer.

Desplante: literally means rudeness, it is a step full of attitude, a break similar to a llamada and performed in bulerías as a remate.   

Escobilla: solo footwork section in a flamenco dance.

Falseta: Melody or musical idea performed by the guitarist.

Jaleo: racket, mess, shouts of encouragement to cheer the performers in a flamenco show.  It also refers to a style that is the origin of bulerías.

Juguetillo: literally it means little toy, in flamenco this refers to a tag or refrain at the end of a dance.

Letra: lyrics, words.

Llamada: call, cue given by the dancer to call the singer in.

Remate: break, specially the one the dancer performs at the end of a flamenco song.  It can also be the ending or climax of a flamenco song or dance.

Respiro: breath, it can go on for an entire “compás” or bar.  It coincides with the footwork answer or “contestación” by the dancer or an embellishment by the guitarist..

Salida: start, it is a cry, a wail the flamenco singer performs at the beginning of a flamenco song or dance to warm up or tune up with the guitar.

Silencio: silence, very lyrical section without footwork of the alegrías dance performed traditionally by the guitarist in a minor key, as opposed to the major key of the alegrías. 

Subida: rise, climb, speeding up footwork section in which the dancer brings up the tempo of the dance.

Tablao: flamenco stage, it also refers to the flamenco clubs that originated in Spain during the 1960s.  

Tercios: literally it means thirds; it also refers to the different stages of a bullfight.  In flamenco it refers to the different musical phrases of a flamenco song.

Toque, el: flamenco guitar playing.



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