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  • Writer's picturealvaroechanove

5 reasons why flamenco rhythms are insane

Flamenco rhythms are hard to grasp, and don't worry : it's natural to be a little lost. Actually, it seems like they were specifically designed to confuse the listener. Here's 5 reasons why :

Hands of a flamenco singer clapping in rhythm.
The legendary hands of Camaron de la Isla.

1 - It's hard to know where they start

Most flamenco rhythms are acephalic, as in "without a head". It means that the first beat of the measure (and sometimes the second beat too) is silent, which makes it hard for the listener to know where the rhythm starts and where it finishes. It is something that is also used in Indian and African music.

2 - The lenghts of the measures are strange

We use measures in 2, 3, 6, 12, 5 beats, and sometimes a mix of all these (which would be a form of polyrhythm). Sometimes, in Bulerias, you are counting in 12 until you reach a point in the singing or in the dance that forces you to switch to 6. And this is not done according to any kind of conscious rule : it is just something that people do because they know it has to be done.

3 - Tempo is fluid

We use abundant accelerations and rubato. The tempo in flamenco is extremely fluid.

4 - Alternate rhythms

The beats in the measure are not always evenly spread : in the — very often used — 12-beat measure, we will accent the 3, and then the 6 (or the 7...), the 8, the 10 and the 12, like in this example. Sometimes, even the strong beats will stay silent, or « inferred », present in the musicians minds but not in the music. That is why sometimes, you can see their shoulders jolting or their face leaping forward in an unconscious physical externalization of the silent beat.

5 - Contratiempos

Most of the singing, dancing and guitar playing is done off-beat, because flamencos just love that kind of danger. The art of « contratiempo » is a fundamental aspect of flamenco music.

But don’t despair, my flamenco friend : the journey is long and hard, but that is exactly what makes it exciting!

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