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A note about Compás



As you study flamenco, you'll hear a lot about compás. If Spanish isn't your first language, or flamenco is the first musical non-Northern European form you have studied, you may think that compás is unique to flamenco, a sense of rhythmic pulse you're either born with or can achieve only through years of study with those who were born with it. The Spanish musical term compás simply means meter. Just as Western music has common meters such as 4/4, 3,4, 6/8, etc., Flamenco encompasses musical forms with a variety of meters or compáses.

When you're first learning flamenco, you'll learn the basic compás of each form you study as a pattern of accented and unaccented beats. We teach you the basic compás for a number of common flamenco forms under Flamenco Palos.  (Palo in flamenco means "form." Bulerias, Alegrias, etc are all palos.) The compás of any given palo is a fundamental element of that form, part of what  distinguishes it form other forms.


As you progress, you'll begin to become aware of the dynamic relationships between the accented and unaccented beats of each palo, how they echo and balance one another. You'll also come to understand how those beat patterns can change as a performance develops. There are a number of elements  that can change the way compás is expressed in performance, including:

  • Section: The accents in more complex forms, such as the alegrías, can change from section to section. Also, other forms, such as Tientos, can have short passages in other forms and will briefly use the compás of the borrowed form.

  • Tempo: The difference between accented and unaccented beat, and which beats get accented, can change when a performance speeds up or slows down.

  • Regional Style: Some forms, such as the Fandangos or the Tangos, have distinct regional styles, each with their own underlying rhythmic feel.

  • Solo work: Some solo passages, particularly footwork, require a regular, fixed rhythmic background to allow the soloist's rythhmic ideas to come through. Other situations allow for a more varied rythmic accompaniment. Also soloists, particularly singers, can choose to extend a line or bring it in ahead of the beat. 

Flamenco is an intensely collaborative art form and a shared sense of compás is essential to a successful performance. At the same time, as you delve more deeply into flamenco you'll begin to notice how different artists handle compás differently.As with any evolving art form, part of the joy of flamenco is discovering new ways to handle its essential elements, including compás. But first, you need to understand the basics.


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