The sevillana is originally an Andalucían folk dance and is a central feature of Seville’s spring féria. Sevillanas can be sung or played on a single or multiple guitars; all of these forms can be danced. Sevillanas are typically danced in sets of four.
The sevillana is a good place to start thinking about dance accompaniment not only because it is the form many dancers begin with, but also because it is a set palo with a pre-determined structure. Moreover, sevillana provides a good starting point for a discussion of the difference between which components of accompaniment can be varied and improvised and which ones need to stay put.
Structure & Compás
The basic sevillana has three pre-defined sections: a rhythmic introduction, a salida (a melodic “departure”), and a three part copla (containing verse or melody sections). The sevillana can be counted in 3’s throughout with the accented beat on one: 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 (etc).
Some flamencos will count the sevillana beginning on three: 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 (etc). This is also “correct.” Remember that counting is secondary to the actual music: whatever works is “correct”—as long as it keeps you in compás.
The examples that follow are from a traditional sevillana in A major.
Download the PDF of the full arrangement.
The introduction of the sevillana as played for dancers typically covers seven bars of three beats each. It is common for the first accented “one-beat” to be silent:
As with every part of the sevillana, you want to be sure to “feel” the accent of the first beat of each bar. These accented beats create the vital pulse which drives the sevillana. Playing in contratiempo (literally “counter rhythm”) can give your toque a more modern feel, but even if you don’t play every accented beat you need to know where those beats are—you might think of it as playing those beats “silently.” Notice the chord change from E7 to A maj: it happens one beat before the accent. This gives sevillana its bouncy, rocking feel (that is, "rocking" like a pony, not "rocking" like Sammy Hagar).
The next part of the basic sevillana is the salida. In the introduction you have established the time, key, and aire (“feel”) of the sevillana; the salida is where you establish its melodic theme. If you’re accompanying a singer, this is where the singer will begin his or her letra. In cante accompaniment, the salida may be very sparsely played or even silent (letting the cantaor/a instead provide the sevillana’s “departure”). The salida spans six bars (eighteen beats):
The copla, which is the main body of the song, follows the salida. In the musical example here, you’ll notice that the copla is composed of both melodic lines and chording. Some sevillanas have coplas composed entirely of chords; some coplas are all melody. The first two sections—or tercios—of the traditional copla have twelve bars.
You may notice that in this example the phrasing both of the salida and of the copla actually begin with pickup notes in the previous bars. Remember that the accented beat here is not on the actual beginning note of the copla melody, but on the "one" count of each bar.
The last tercio of the basic sevillana form ends on a “one” beat: think of it as picking up the “one” beat you “played silently” in the beginning. You’ll also notice that it is slightly shorter than the first two tercios: it is not followed by the brief rhythic sections found after tercios one and two.
As in this example, the final section of the copla may be a melodic variation of the first two sections. In cante accompaniment the chord progression may also change.
There are really no “rules” for melodic and rhythmic variations within the structure of sevillanas. As long as you stay in compás your playing will be "correct" and a dancer will be able to follow you. As such, the salida and copla are prime areas in the sevillana to begin working out your own interpretations. You’ll need to remember where beat one is (that is, stay in compás) and be aware of the tercio’s twelve bar structure, but otherwise be creative: try building on or altering the traditional melodies and progressions in order to work out your own musical ideas.
For instrumental accompaniment, each of the four individual sevillanas in a set is often in a different key. Key changes should relate to and build on each other. For example you may move from a sevillana in A major to one in A Phrygian, then to E Phrygian, ending with the final sevillana in E major. You will also want to be attentive to the melodic relationships between individual sevillanas. While it’s not necessary to repeat themes or phrases from sevillana to sevillana, it usually sounds awkward to mix very traditional sounding sevillanas with ultra-modern or jazzy sounding sevillanas.
So, you might be asking, if I simply play sevillanas as it’s written here and accent the “one” beat, that will be good dance accompaniment? It would certainly be a good start—it would be correct in any case. By “correct,” I’m not making a judgment on what is or isn’t flamenco: if you’re playing sevillanas accompaniment, you need to stay in compás. It’s that simple. The same can be said for most other palos. You could break compás for your own artistic reasons, of course, but then it might be more accurate to say you’re playing in the style of sevillanas, or that what you’re playing is inspired by sevillanas. In any case, such variations will not be of much use to dancers.
In the next part of this series on dance accompaniment, we’ll explore the alegrías. Alegrías also has some common structural elements, but it is nowhere near as rigidly “set” as sevillanas. Once you know the basic parts and how to put them together, alegrías offers even more room for creativity and individual expression.