Soleá is one of the foundational forms of flamenco music; it is often described as the "mother of the cante (flamenco song)." The word soleá (which can be used interchangeably with soleares) is a gypsy corruption of the Spanish word soledad, which translates in English to "solitude" or "loneliness." When sung, the lyrics of the soleá usually take up themes of romantic tragedy, desolation, and death. Keeping this in mind as you play will help you capture the appropriate mood for soleá: cheerful it is not.
As an accompanist, you will want to be familiar with soleá because of its prominence in the flamenco dancer’s cosmos. Because soleá often includes slow, sensual cante jondo (deep song) passages and rapid zapateado (footwork) sections, it affords the dancer the opportunity to display both profound emotion and blazing footwork.
The examples that follow are for a traditional soleá por baile.
Download the PDF of the full arrangement
Structure and compás
Soleá is generally played in the key of E Phrygian (which contains all naturals, like C major, but which begins and ends on E). Though there are certainly common components to soleá for dance accompaniment, unlike the sevillana and, to some degree, alegria, there is no “standard arrangement” for soleá per se. Keeping the above in mind (i.e. that the arrangement I’m presenting here is an arrangement, not the arrangement), here are the parts of the soleá por baile accompaniment piece I have put together:
- Introduction & Temple
- First Copla & First Falseta
- Second Copla & Second Falseta
- Transition to Buleria and Ending
You should experiment with moving these pieces around and fitting them to each other in new ways. As with the alegria, sections can be rearranged, doubled, or eliminated altogether.
Though it is played much slower than the alegria, the compás of soleá is based in 12s and, like alegria, is accented on the 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12 beats. It can be counted like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. The examples given here (and in the PDF transcription) are blocked out in 12 beat phrases, starting on 1:
In developing this article and its accompanying score, I have used as source recordings soleás by Jose Menese & Melchor de Marchena and David & Alfredo Largos (both of which can be found on the accompanying CD to Robin Totton’s Song of the Outcasts), the soleá accompaniment arrangement found on the Solo Compas por Soleá disc, the solo guitar recordings of Sabicas and Juan Habichuela, and accompaniment I have provided for La Peña Flamenca de Seattle under the direction of Rubina Carmona.
As was the case with the alegria example, the goal of this article is to help you move beyond simply stringing falsetas together and learn how soleá dance accompaniment works as a whole. What follows is a section-by-section description, with musical examples, that will address the details of playing soleá for dancers. In some cases I have included illustrations directly in the text, but remember that all of these examples are drawn directly from the score — the letters next to the section subheadings correspond to rehearsal letters in the sheetmusic/TAB.
Guitar Intro (A)
This introductory falseta is a well-known Sabicas melody. I play it here very libre – which is to say that I let the melody dictate where the tempo is “strict” and where it is “flexible.” This will be a theme that continues throughout this arrangement; you might think of the tempo of soleá as something that pushes or pulls, depending on where you are in your accompaniment or arrangement.
Following the introductory falseta proper at bar 17 is a remate which introduces one of two rasgueado techniques I use in this arrangement. This triplet rasgueado is typical to soleá and is played with the index and ring (or index and pinky) fingers. The overall effect is one of a “mess of notes” which approximates a continuous tone in the same way that tremolo does. If this is your first encounter with this kind of rasgueado, be sure to relax your fingers and concentrate more on the evenness and consistency of your playing than on the exact number of finger strokes in a phrase. You also want to keep your touch light; you should strive for continuity and articulacy, not volume.
As with alegría, the temple in soleá is where the singer “clears his or her throat” and gets ready to sing. In soleá the temple usually sung with a series of “ai-ai-ai” syllables. In this arrangement, I have substituted a guitar progression common in soleá. The rasgueado here is played in the same way as the remate in bar 17 above. As with the alegria, the remate at bar 49 works to “tie off” this theme and return us to soleá marking compás (bars 53 – 60).
NB: If the picado in bars 46 and 47 is beyond your ability at the moment, drop a few notes and play the passage as eighth notes. Speed comes with time.
First Copla & Falseta
First Copla (C)
As with the alegria, the copla in this arrangement is used to lengthen the chord progression and give the soleá substance and a sense of movement. These are the chords you might play in a traditional cante accompaniment. Bars 61 through 68, which move through a standard Am ⇒ G ⇒ F ⇒ E progression, could accompany the first tercio or line of cante. Bars 69 through 72 are the contestation, or the guitar’s “answer” to this line, after which a second tercio, at bars 73 to 76, is sung (or, in this case, played). Bars 73 through 80 are the cambio, represented here by a change in the chord progression which moves through G7 and C before finally resolving back through Am, G, and F to E. In this first copla the cambio is repeated twice – this is typical for a soleá letra.
First Falseta (D)
The first falseta in based on a tremolo passage Juan Habichuela plays in “A Mi Luis” (found on the excellent disc De La Zambra Al Duende). Following the falseta are two compáses of remate which follow the Am to E chord progression described for the tercios above, but in much shorter form (i.e. in the space of a single compás). This compressing (or expanding) of progressions is a key (and easy) way to create variety in your playing. Different amounts of time spent on or spent moving between chords provides a break from strict repetition and creates distinct opportunities for embellishment (as you can see in these examples).
Redoblao in this context basically means “double-time” — and it is a chance for the dancer to break out of soleá’s characteristically slow pace and show off some fancy footwork. In solo guitar work, redoblao is not all that common. A dancer will likely miss it, though, if it’s not part of your accompaniment repertoire. The changes and rhythm are fairly straightforward here. Do note, however, that while the time doubles, the tempo remains consistent at around 90 beats per minute: you’re doubling time, but not actually speeding anything up. This is important to keep in mind as you close the redoblao at bar 145 and return to single time: maintaining a clear sense of where your redoblao playing fits in with the twelve-beat structure will help you make this transition cleanly (and – more importantly – in compás).
Second Copla & Falseta
Second Copla (F)
The second copla provides another example of creating variation by playing with section length. Whereas the first copla was fully “built out” with two tercios, a contestation, and a repeated cambio, this second copla ends up much shorter by cutting out the contestation and only playing the cambio once. I have also noted (and played) a version of the cambio which includes a wider variety of passing chords. This is not a terribly common accompaniment for singers, but it does make for a more interesting phrase when played on guitar alone.
Second Falseta (G)
The second falseta is also adapted from Juan Habichuela’s soleá “A Mi Luis.” It is a fairly simple phrase, but allows the guitarist some nice opportunities for playing with dynamics and nuance. As with the first falseta, it is followed by remates which vary the descending Am chord progression.
NB: Note the addition of an extra right-hand finger stroke in bar 193. I do this to denaturalize the rhythm (i.e. break it out of strict 4/4 or 3/4 time), which works to further emphasize the accent chord which follows (in this case the up-beat of the third beat in measure 193). You could think of this as playing a 7:6 grouping of notes … but then again, you (as I) might also not want to over-think it too much – if it sounds right (and it’s in compás), go with it.
As in alegria, the escobilla (H) is a standard section for soleá baile accompaniment. As it does in other forms, the escobilla here builds in tempo and intensity, matching and accenting the dancer’s footwork. In this case, I use the escobilla to transition to this soleá’s final buleria ending — but, as with all of these components, escobilla can go virtually anywhere in an arrangement. In the interest of keeping this arrangement manageable (it’s already almost eight minutes!), I have noted a short passage of escobilla here. As with the redoblao section above, you may end up playing a much longer version when you play for a dancer. As before, creative variation will keep things interesting from a musical perspective.
Transition to buleria and Ending
As you accelerate through the escobilla, you should keep in mind that you ultimately (at least in this case) want to end up at a buleria tempo. Once you’re up to speed and you make the transition to buleria (here at bar 213), you may want to alter your foot tapping pattern to better catch the feel of these closing phrases.
When I tap soleá, I usually tap my foot in a steady rhythm and keep track of where the accent falls on an “up” in my head. For slower tempos, this helps me stay in time:
For faster tempos, however (like buleria), I find that tapping out the compás in full helps me better sync up with the rhythm – and consequently, better bring it out in my playing:
NB: For more on foot-tapping in flamenco, see the article “Foot Tapping for Bulerías” here on Ravenna Flamenco.
As has been the case above, the buleria section here is fairly short. For actual accompaniment (or for your own amusement), you might make this passage much longer – and can, of course, finish it off any way you like. Listening to as many performances and recordings as you can lay your ears on will go a long way toward helping you come up with ideas about how to embellish, rearrange, and change. Flamenco is a living art and undergoes change all the time; arrangements like the one I’ve given you here provide a starting point, but are far, far from the end of what you might do.
Interpretation and Solo Guitar
As with the alegria in the previous article in this series, a good soleá accompaniment may contain all or only a few of these elements—and in whatever order makes sense to the dancers and musicians involved. It is important, of course, that there be some musical sense to the arrangement, that it builds meaningfully in some way, and that musicians and dancers are able to use the form to “say something.”
As an accompanist you will do well to learn variations on the common components of soleá and learn to assemble and rearrange them in an order that compliments what your dancer is doing. This, of course, is why soleá appears late in this article series—once you’ve become familiar with forms that have standard arrangements, the next logical step is to move out into more open territory form-wise. This is also a good move toward being able to come up with your own arrangements and compositions for flamenco as a whole: once you begin to understand the various flamenco song forms and how they move, you will be more confident about putting your own stamp on them—both while accompanying a dancer and while playing all on your own.
The final installment of this series on dance accompaniment will take a look at moving "further afield" and applying some of the principles of arranging flamenco music for accompaniment to a wider variety of flamenco song forms. We’ll discuss how to approach Tangos, Fandangos, Farruca, and other forms with an eye (and ear) toward dance accompaniment.