The flamenco guitar
Flamenco guitar playing, as it is known, is one of the three fundamental elements of this art form. Together with singing and dancing, it forms the essence of flamenco and has its own characteristics that make it unmistakable to the ears of any enthusiast.
Although each one has its own history and protagonism, depending on the flamenco style being played, the truth is that it is difficult to attend a live flamenco show and not see them together in the tablao.
However, despite the fact that the synchrony between all of them is the basis and what gives meaning to this genuine Andalusian art, the truth is that they are three different parts and that each one has had its own origin and evolution.
The flamenco experts agree in situating flamenco singing as the origin of this musical genre, being a flamenco singing, loaded with feeling (also known as “jondo” or hondo) and which was performed alone, without any kind of accompaniment. Later on, the rhythms were varied and, with them, the different types of flamenco dancing appeared, a mixture of regional or traditional dances typical of each place.
Just when flamenco was reaching its maximum splendor, in the singing cafés during the 19th century, the guitar joined in as a third fundamental element. What is curious is that almost from the beginning, flamenco was adapting the tones offered by the classical guitar to flamenco, making even the instrument itself vary its shape.
The flamenco guitar: the “toque”
In the 20th century, with the establishment of flamenco shows as part of popular culture, the flamenco guitar became indispensable in the flamenco tablaos that proliferated throughout the country, giving the different palos new musical structures, such as entrances and exits, as well as melodic parts in which it acquired total prominence.
The flamenco guitar, as we mentioned before, is made to flamenco and the “tocaores” (as flamenco guitarists are known) are beginning to demand a lighter instrument.
That is why, if you look at it, the flamenco guitar is a little smaller, with a narrower body and less sound, which makes the singer’s voice resonate on the boards. This is also achieved with the materials, which are usually cypress wood, with the handle in cedar wood, the top in spruce and the pegbox in metal.
Flamenco guitarists also have their own technique when playing the guitar. Normally, guitarists play the instrument standing up, while flamenco players do it sitting down, with their legs crossed and resting the guitar on the leg that is most elevated.
With the neck positioned almost horizontally, the way in which the hands are arranged on the flamenco guitar is also characteristic. The thumb usually rests on the soundboard, and the index and middle fingers on the upper string that is being played at that moment. This enhances the sound during the performance.
The tapper is also widely used, which is used as a unique percussion element, or as a complement to the flamenco cajón.
With this technique, different ways of playing the flamenco guitar arise, known within the flamenco as rasgueo, picado and alzapúa.
Rasgueo or strumming: this is the best known technique for anyone who has visited a flamenco show. The player places the fingers of the right hand on several strings of the guitar, while the left hand marks the chord, thus creating different tones and rhythms. Although the variety is infinite, since each player gives, worth the redundancy, his “touch”, the strumming has different forms to support, in some cases the singer and, in others, the dancers.
Picado: it is the alternation of the index and middle finger to execute scales at a great speed. Guitarists known as Paco de Lucía used picado in their compositions.
Alzapúa: a technique that consists of pressing down on the string with the thumb and then pressing it up again with the nail. Thus, times and setbacks are created, which Vicente Amigo was passionate about.
To see a live flamenco show in Seville
Although we can describe all the techniques and illustrate each one of them with videos, the truth is that the best way to appreciate the flamenco guitar is to come and see a live flamenco show.
At Cuna del Flamenco, we take a tour of the origins of this art form in a unique tablao located in the centre of Seville. “Seducción Flamenca” brings together in one hour a walk through the most traditional styles of flamenco, with the three flamenco elements: singing, dancing and playing.