Flamenco Pedagogy

This is a Buleria, a style of Spanish Flamenco. If you can’t tell from the video, Flamenco is known for its fiery energy and complex rhythmic structure. Complex as it may be, how complicated is it, really? In reality, the rhythms are nowhere near as complicated as they sound, but to our Western ears, their ability to dance (literally and figuratively) so quickly and smoothly around what would otherwise seem to be a simple rhythmic structure is part of what makes Flamenco such an amazingly unique style in the world.

Fortunately, we are lucky enough to have Eric Schroeder in our class, who has done some Flamenco study himself, and was able to give us a little bit of insight! It was an unfortunately short-lived overview of Flamenco rhythm and dance, but this is a style I’ve become increasingly interested in as I’ve had a chance to work with Andrea Salcedo, an undergraduate guitar major who has grown up surrounded by Flamenco – but more on that later.

As has become a theme in recent posts, this ended up being another lesson in pedagogy for me in addition to learning some Flamenco dance steps. First, Eric pointed out that the style we would be working with would be in 12, but this alone is interesting to note because, in Flamenco, you have to think of counting time like a clock; rather than starting on 1, you start on 12, so the “downbeat” is on 12, the second beat is on 1, etc. This is something I actually discovered working with Andrea, but again, more on that later. Secondly, it is important to note the groupings within the pattern – in Western subdivision terms, we would say that it is subdivided in 3+3+2+2+2, with emphasis on the first of each grouping. He then went on to show us the heel-toe foot combinations that form the basic steps of Flamenco and even played with us a bit.

As I mentioned, this was a short-lived lesson, but he also did briefly mention some Flamenco theory, mainly noting that the chord progression very indicative of Flamenco is the famous iv-iii-ii-i progression which ends up being slightly modal due to the parallelism. It is simple, but Flamenco would, without a doubt, not be the same without it.

Again, however, what was most interesting to me in the end was the differences in teaching styles. Typically, when you learn from what you would call a secondary source (someone who learned the style intentionally rather than growing up with it as a part of their culture), especially in America, the teacher ends up using a very Westernized, almost mathematical and/or theoretical approach to teaching. When you learn from a primary source (someone who is native to the source of the style), they tend to teach it the way they learned it, which is typically by rote and imitation. In Andrea’s case, I would personally put her somewhere in between. Andrea and her family are from Mexico, which is just about as far from Flamenco’s homeland of Spain as we are here in Illinois, but she grew up with older brothers already active in the Flamenco world and learned the style virtually the same way a Spaniard would, and even visited Spain to study.

With that said, when I first worked with Andrea, she was trying to explain to me how to count a Buleria (like is seen in the video above and is counted in 12), and it wasn’t until I saw a Flamenco metronome app she had on her phone that I had the mini-epiphany about counting it the same way as a clock and was able to figure out where the “downbeat” was. Additionally, she gave me an amazing amount of music to go listen to, which I did, and was never disappointed. In fact, I came to realize by listening and talking to her that there is actually a connection between Flamenco and Irish music. Geographically, this doesn’t seem too ridiculous, but it is definitely not something I had thought about since I had never really heard the two in even remotely the same context until I heard this song:

The addition of a fiddle and flute alone has the sound of an Irish folk group, but even the ornamentations on the melody scream Irish folk music. Vicente amigo is definitely considered one of the best living Flamenco guitarists from my understanding (and you can hear why if you listen to any of his music), and this music definitely has a hybrid sound to it, which is not something you necessarily hear a whole lot of if you just search for Flamenco!

All this said, Flamenco is a deep, complex world that I definitely plan on diving deeper into in hopefully the near future, but for now I will just enjoy it for all it is worth as a listener!