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An introduction to flamenco rhythms

In the following, a short description of the rhythms of the most common flamenco styles (or Palos) is presented, together with typical hand clapping patterns. As you certainly know, flamenco rhythms are usually of either 12, 4 or 3 beats. The rhythmic units is called Compás*, thus one Compás includes either 12, 4, or 3 beats. Since most flamenco styles (Palos) have 12 beats, let us start with these styles. Palos with 12 beats are for example Soleá, Alegría, or Bulería. A table about the rhythms of the different flamenco styles is available at the end of this page.

Compases of 12 beats generally have strong beats on the 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12 (marked bold in the following text). The rhythm usually ends at the 10 (e.g. when there is a break, also called corte, in the music). The basical rhythm of this Compás is:

Soleá

The style Soleá (or in plural Soleares) has a Compás of 12 beats. The strong beats in this Compás are as usual the 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12. However, some of them are especially pronounced, more specifically the 3, 10 and 12. Try to hear some Soleares, you will hear it. A typical hand clapping pattern (Palmas=hands) for Soleares is:

In this example, off-beats (or Contratiempos) are played between the 1 and the 2, the 4 and the 5, and the 9 and the 10. These should be exactly in the middle of two notes, not somewhere between them. This hand clapping pattern is typical for the singing (Cante).

For percussive dance patterns (Escobillas) the rhythm is frequently "doubled":

However, note that it is the very same rhythm as before which should be played at the same speed. The only difference is that two notes are played instead of one (A), or 4 notes are played instead of one (B). When playing or dancing such patterns it help to pronounce the full notes (the bold x's).

Alegría

Alegría is another rhythm with a Compás of 12 beats. A typical clapping pattern is equal to the first one shown for Soleá. A similar variation is the following example:

When two people are clapping their hands together (two Palmeros) then the following pattern is very nice:

Bulería

Bulería is rhythmically maybe the most difficult, but also most exciting style. Usually Bulería is taught as an example of a style with 12 beats, which is often true. In this case, the basic clapping pattern is:

A nice variation when two Palmeros are performing together is:

A typical Corte (break) is shown in the following example. Note that in the first half of the Compás many Contratiempos are played. These, together with the pause after the 6 (in the sense that the contratiempos stop for one beat), indicate that there will probably be a break at the end of the Compás (10).

As noted earlier, Bulería is often played as a Compás of 12 beats. However, in many cases the Compás rather follows a pattern of 6 beats. And to make things more complicated, Bulería can switch from 12 beats to 6 beats and vice versa at any time. However, it is all easier than it seems. First have a look at the Bulería pattern with 6 beats. Two different variations occur, one representing the first half of the Compás and one representing the second half of the compás (don't worry about the strange way of counting from 12 to 5 yet):

These rhythmical patterns may be repeated many times. When playing the first one after the second one, you get the Compás of 12 beats again. But a typical rhythmic pattern will repeat the second pattern for example three times, before finishing with the first pattern:

The first pattern is used for breaks (Cortes), because it corresponds to the second half of the "normal" Compás (of 12 beats). When playing a break using this pattern it is convenient to count as in the second half of the Compás from 6 to 12, then it becomes clearer at which position we are in the rhythm:

It now becomes clear why we previously counted from 12 to 5. When counting in this manner it is easy to switch to 6 7 8 9 10 whenever a break approaches (don't forget to stop at the 10, as in any break). The entire sequence is consequently counted as:

The sequence may also be shorter or longer, or use a different pattern. For example the first pattern of Bulería with 6 beats may be repeated four times before closing the sequence with a Corte in the fith Compás.

If you don't know how long the pattern will proceed, simply continue counting from 12 to 5. If you think a break is approaching, then be prepared to stop at the 10 (or the 4 if you still counted from 12 to 5). If there was no break, no problem. It is not important to play the 11. But if there was a break and you continued clapping, then everything is ruined.

The typical hand-clapping pattern for Bulería in a compás of 6 beats is shown in the following example. Every second beat is pronounced by the clapping hands, although the strong beats in the rhythm are the 12, 2, and 4. This results in a more interesting, swinging rhythm.

When ever you hear Bulería try which pattern fits the music or the dance better, either the pattern with 12 beats or one of the patterns with 6 beats. The patterns with 6 beats are especially common in many Bulería songs and also in guitar falsetas (melodic parts of the guitar). When a Falseta ends a break is typically played, after which the music resumes with the rhythm of 12 beats (until the next Falseta or the next song). When you hear a lot of flamenco music you will soon learn to hear and understand the rhythmic patterns and when to make breaks.

Siguiriyas (Seguiriyas)

The rhythm of Siguiriyas can be interpreted as a Compás of 12 beats, starting at the 8 and finishing at the 7. This counting scheme is propagated by many flamenco books. In this case the strong beats remain the same as usual, i.e. the 8, 10, 12, 3, and 6. Most Flamencos (people performing flamenco music or dance), however, prefer another counting scheme, counting simply from 1 to 5:

For this counting scheme the intervals between the 3 and the 4 and the 4 and the 5 are longer than between the 1, 2 and 3. You can overcome this irregularity by counting "1 and 2 and 3 and a 4 and a 5 and…" or similar.

It is uncommon to accompany Siguiriyas with hand clapping. However, rhythmic passages dedicated to the dance may be accompanied with Palmas. The following pattern gives one example:

Tangos, Rumbas, etc.

Several flamenco styles have rhythms of 4 beats, such as Tangos, Tarantos, Tientos, and others. As in popular and classic music, the beats 1 and 3 are emphasized:

A typical hand clapping pattern for Tangos is:

Aother variation for two Palmeros is:

The typical hand clapping scheme for Rumba is shown in the next example. Due to the higher tempo Contratiempos are usually omitted in Rumbas:

Fandango de Huelva

Fandangos are a group of very melodic flamenco styles. Most Fandangos have a very free rhythm (Fandangos libres) are not danced at all. However, between the songs, the guitar usually regains the rhythm at plays "a compás". Only a few Fandangos have a constant rhythm and are danced, such as Fandango de Huelva. Many people interpret the rhythm of Fandango as a Compás of 12 beats, with the strong beats on the 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12. On most recordings, however, Fandangos are typically accompanied by a rhythm of 3 or 6 beats. A typical hand clapping pattern for Fandango de Huelva is:

Contrary to this example, the rhythm of Fandangos is written with an upbeat (beginning with the 2 - 3) in many musical notations. Consequently, the rhythmical pattern seems to be shifted:

 

Some recommendations for practicing

1. Begin very slowly.

2. When increasing speed, practice only at a maximum speed at which you can still perform accurately and with a clean sound.

3. Train the same dance, guitar, or hand clapping pattern at different speeds. If you can't play it at any speed, then haven't captured the rhythm yet.

4. Pay especial attention to contratiempos (off-beats, syncopes) and tresillos (triples), make shure that you don't increase speed without intention. Use a simple rhythmic pattern when training contratiempos and tresillos with a metronome.

 

An overview of the rhythms of the flamenco styles

Compás
de 12
Soleares (Soleares, Caña, Polo, Alborea)
Alegrías/Cantiñas (Alegrías, Romeras, Caracoles, Mirabras)
Bulerías
Soleares por Bulería
Peteneras
Bamberas

Compás
de 12/5

Siguiriyas/Saetas (Siguiriyas, Liviana, Serrana, Cabales)

Compás
de 3

Fandangos
Verdiales
Malagueñas
Granaina
Tanguillos

Compás
de 4

Tangos/Tientos
Garrotín
Farruca
Taranto

 

* For musicians: One Compás of 12 beats corresponds to four 3/4 rhythms. For Compases with 4 or 3 beats, one Compás corresponds to one 4/4 or 3/4 rhythm.

 

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Last changes: 15.10.2013