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Foot Tapping for Bulerías

flamenco ensemble

A reader recently wrote with a very good question: "When Playing bulerías, should I tap my foot on the first beat of each measure, or the third, or where I feel the beat? If I just go “natural” I start tapping on twos and threes and it feels like 2/2 or 2/4?"

This is a great question for all sorts of reasons—not the least of which being that it was a puzzle I personally obsessed over for longer than I care to admit. I eventually found a technique that works for me, but before I go into it, I want to point out that I’m not suggesting that there’s any one “right” way to tap (or count) bulerías. In any case, if you’ve got a system that works and keeps you in compás, great—keep doing that. If not, here’s one way (or two) that might work.

When I play bulerías, I usually tap out the compás “straight” like this:

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

Basically my footfalls are on the boldface numbers and I just hang out for the beats in between. This takes a little bit of getting used to, but you can train yourself to do it by playing really simple marking compás (the stuff that usually goes in between falsetas) and then working your way up to more syncopated stuff. Once you get comfortable with marking, try tapping to easier falsetas. Ultimately, you’ll be able to keep time with your foot whenever you play.

By way of illustration, here’s a short bulerías I recorded some time ago. I wasn’t trying to capture any "foot tapping" at the time, but you can still hear it under the guitar and golpes:

You also might check out the Flamenco Compás Metronomes right here at Ravenna Flamenco. They’re a good way to train your fingers, feet, and head to think in flamenco polyrhythms. (And they’re also free!) Of course other people tap differently. In fact, depending on the way you play, you may want to tap differently. The bulería I play above is in the traditional "twelves" style—i.e. I’m playing each cycle of twelve beats as a distinct unit. But "twelves" is not the only way to play bulerías: it can also be played in "sixes" or in "threes" (conceivably also in "twos," though I can’t think of any ready examples of this ).

As morally, ethically (perhaps ecumenically) wrong as it feels to put a video of Paco de Lucía on the same page as a video featuring insignificant me, here is a great example of Paco playing bulerías in sixes and tapping his foot in threes:

The tapping, I think, is fairly obvious: he taps a cycle of three that repeats regularly. This tap, by the way, mimics a common palmas pattern for bulería. In this case, Paco’s not only keeping time, but is also giving a particular flavor to the piece as he plays it.

My assertion that he is "playing in sixes" is a bit more complicated. Basically what I mean by this is that instead of phrasing all of his rhythm and falseta work in discrete twelve beat cycles, Paco’s phrases tend to move in six beat cycles. Often times you will hear a twelve, but he moves fluidly between the two types of phrases throughout the song.

I’m of course not suggesting that as part of a beginning "let’s learn bulería" regime anyone should try to tap his or her foot like Paco. But it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the different flavors alternate counting patterns can give.

For an example of more playing in "threes" (and an absolutely mad weaving back and forth between different times), check out this bulería, danced by "La Chimi" with Antonio Gamez and Curro Vargas on guitar:

Again, I’m not suggesting that when learning how to count out bulería one need go to such extavegant lengths. Indeed, for an instrumental piece, this would probably be distracting (if not a bit irritating). The point to take away, though, is that time in bulerías is a fluid thing—and a slippery beast—but that it can wrangled by being a flexible and attentive player.

Attentive, that is, to the music you’re playing and to the people you’re playing with or for. You’ll notice in the "La Chimi" video above, for example, that the guitarists are doing very little in the way of falsetas or fretboard pyrotechnics. But they are almost maniacally attentive to what the singer, dancer, and palmista are up to—and they calibrate their toque to fit the situation.

posted in technique
tags: time, compas
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