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Alegrias by Cordoban painter Julio Romero de Torres

About Alegrías

Alegrías is the best known form in a family of lively, vibrant songs known as Cantiñas.

Cantiñas developed during the Peninsular War in the early 19th Century when Spanish partisans gathered on the Atlantic coast near Cádiz to launch the first attacks against Napoleon. The music of Cádiz blended with jotas from Aragón, and the Cantiñas and its variations were born: Cantiñas, Alegrías, Mirabrás, Caracoles and Romeras. The Alegrías has emerged as the most popular version of the song.

Alegrías is a fairly simple song form and its major tonality is familiar to anyone raised on Western music. However, it is also one of the most complicated dance forms in flamenco, with numerous sections and changes in tempo, mode and phrase structure.

Form

Compás

Palmas

Video Samples

HOME DANCE LESSONS GUITAR LESSONS CANTE LESSONS CDS VIDEOS GUIDES FLAMENCO FORMS
About Alegrías

Form

The Alegrías form isn't fixed. It changes depending on whether it's being performed by a dancer, a singer or a solo guitarist.

When sung, Alegrías consists of one to four letras, each with three or four 8-syllable lines. One distinguishing characteristic of the cante por Alegrías is the familiar 'ti ri ti ti tran tran tran" refrain in which the singer imitates the sound of a guitar.

When danced, Alegrías can become much more complicated, particularly in a concert setting. Danced, an Alegrías would always include letras, or sections where letras should be, whether or not there is a singer accompanying dancers. It will also include one or more escobillas, sections that are devoted to footwork, and a silencio, a slow dramatic section in which the guitarist plays a traditional theme in a minor key. See For Dancers below for a complete description of the dance form of the Alegrías.

A solo guitarist can imitate all or none of the forms Alegrías takes when sung or danced. A solo guitar Alegrías will, however, retain Alegrías' essential compás and harmony, and will often include the same falsetas and phrases the guitarist plays when accompanying singers or dancers.


Compás

Alegrías has a 12-count compás with accents on 12, 3, 6 (or 7), 8, and 10. To get the feel of this pattern, try this exercise we do with our students, clapping out compás patterns with alternating accents on 6 and 7.

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

As with the Bulerías, there is no hard and fast rule about when to accent beat 6 or 7 in a given piece. Listen to the samples, and any other alegrías you can get your hands on, and you'll hear that there are musical and rhythmical reasons for accenting one or the other at any given moment. For example, because the chord changes in many letras falls on beat 6, it's common to accent count 6 in letras.

For the letras, the phrases and count starts on beat 1. During the silencio, llamadas for dancers, and the escobillas, the start is also beat 1. Like the Soléa por Bulerías, count 12 is an important beat, as most dancers use it as the starting point for choreographic sequences. See For Dancers, below for more information on this.


Palmas

The standard palmas for Alegrías is:

V
V V V V V V V V V V V
V
12 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 +


For Dancers Here is a description of the overall form of an Alegrías when danced in a concert or tablao. Not all performances will include all of these sections, but these are all the sections you can expect to see.
Entrada/Salida Entrance, often peformed to a guitar falseta or to the singer’s entrance (salida) ti ri ti tran, tran...
Llamada The dancer's call starting on count 1, indicating that a new section is about to begin. This can be a long sequence of footwork or just one or two sets of compás (12 or 24 counts). This is also the cue for the singer's entrance.
Letra The verse sung by the cantaor/a. This is approximately 7 to 12 sets of compás long. The dancer can extend the letra sections by adding choreography at the end of the song. The dancer can also cue for more letras by completing the first letra with a finish - a remate - and add an initiation cue - a llamada - to cue the singer. by incl
First Escobilla The first extended footwork section. The dancer displays virtuosic footwork here while the guitar plays a standardized arpeggio pattern. The singer doesn't usually sing during an escobilla.
This builds to a subída, two or more sets of compás in which the dancer builds to a climax.
Silencio This is a traditional 6-12 compás falseta performed by the guitarist. The music is slow and in the parallel minor key. The dancer interprets the music, usually in a lyrical rather than percussive manner. The final compás moves back to the major key and the original tempo, leading to the castellana.
Castellana This is a combination footwork/remate section that leads away from the silencio into an escobilla. Usually 4 compás long, the singer sings the traditional 'tiriti tran tran tran" or a shortened verse. This generally ends with one or more sets of compás for the remate. This section is not always performed, but is often included a completely traditional version of the dance.
Second Escobilla/Seco This footwork section is often performed a palo seco, where the guitar acts as a rhythm instrument as the guitarist strums muted strings. The dancer can establish the tempo with palmas and traveling steps for two or more compás, and will continue on to perform many intricate footwork variations.
Third Escobilla The guitar returns with traditional escobilla music while the dancer performs more intricate footwork variations.
Cambio The traditional escobilla starts on count 1 of the compás while the Bulerías de Ca'i, the closing section, starts on beat 12. In the cambio section, the guitarist and dancer move the accent structure to beat 12 to segue into the bulerías.
Bulerías de Ca'i Bulerías de Cádiz - Bulerías de Ca'i - is performed as a finale/remate for the entire dance. The singer sings the traditional bulerías de Ca'i in a major key. This section transitions into the salida/cierre with a desplante llamada - a standardized 12 to 24 count pattern that is the bridge/cue into Bulerías e Ca'i.
Salida/Cierre The dancer dances off stage to traditional closing music. The dancer can also end on stage, but will usually perform a long traveling pattern leading to the closing cierre.

For Guitarists
Guitarists can find Alegrías daunting at first. There are so many sections and so few chords. Accompanying the letras is largely a matter of listening. Often, the only chords are E and B7 (or A and E7 or C and G7, etc.). With practice, you'll be able to hear the chord changes implied in the way singers emphasize chord tones in the melody.

Meanwhile, practice these one- and two-compás patterns to get the feel of accompanying Alegrías.

1) Chord changes on 3 and 10 as in the lamada

E
B7 E
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

2) Chord changes on 10, often used to accompany marking steps

E
B7
EE
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

3) Chord changes on 6, common in letras

E
B7 E
E
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
While accompanying cante involves knowing how to respond to the music of the moment, the escobilla and the silencio are traditional or composed passages. Guitarists need an escobilla and a silencio or two under their belt to be able to accompany dancers.
A traditional silencio.
A traditional escobilla.

Sample Cante Here is a sample of a traditional letra.
Con mi niño/a passando
Cada vez que voy a Cádiz
Con mi niño/a passando
Todas las sirenas del puerto
Que salen de pronto tocando

Mi barca marinera
Tiene dos velas
Una me lleva cielo, Ay!
La otra a tu vela
When I'm out walking with my girl/guy
Every time I go to Cadiz
All of the mermaids of the seaport
Suddenly emerge, dancing!



My ship has two sails
One takes me to heaven
the other envelopes you.

Video Samples

Al Baile

Al Toque

Al Cante