Solea is one of the foundational forms of flamenco music and is often described as the “mother of the cante (flamenco song).” The word “solea” (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 solea 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 solea: cheerful it is not.
As an accompanist, you will want to be familiar with solea because of its prominence in the flamenco dancer’s cosmos. Because solea 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 choreographies.
Structure and compas
The structure of solea is more flexible and open to interpretation than either alegria or sevillana, but there are nonetheless common structures and passages you’re likely to encounter when accompanying a dancer. Common arrangements include:
- 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.
The compas of solea is based in 12s and, like alegria, is accented on the 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12 beats:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
The examples provided in this article (and in the accompanying PDF transcription) are blocked out in 12 beat phrases, starting on 1:
Solea in E Phyrgian
Here are the parts of a traditional solea in E phyrgian and a video example of the piece.
Download the PDF of the full arrangement. The letters next to the section subheadings below correspond to the rehearsal letters in the PDF score.
Guitar Intro (A) (0:00)
This introductory falseta is a well-known Sabicas melody. It is played 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 solea as something that pushes or pulls, depending on where you are in your accompaniment or arrangement.
Following the introductory falseta proper at bar 17 (:30) is a remate which introduces one of two rasgueado techniques used in this arrangement. This triplet rasgueado is typical to solea 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, similar to the tremolo technique. 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 evenness, not volume.
Temple (B) (1:14)
As with alegria, the temple in solea is where the singer “clears his or her throat” and gets ready to sing. In solea the temple usually sung with a series of “ai-ai-ai” syllables. In this arrangement, I have substituted a guitar progression common in solea. 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 solea marking compas (bars 53 – 60).
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. This works equally well. Speed comes with time.
First Copla & Falseta
First Copla (C) (2:05)
Even though there is no singer, the copla in this arrangement is used to lengthen the chord progression and give this solea 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 or “change,”” 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, which is typical for a solea letra.
First Falseta (D) (3:20)
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 compases of remate which follow the Am to E chord progression described for the tercios above, but in much shorter form, in this case in the space of a single compas.
This compressing (or expanding) of progressions is one 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 (E) (4:20)
Redoblao in this context basically means “double-time.” It is a chance for the dancer to break out of solea’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 (4:50) 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, most importantly, in compas.
Second Copla & Falseta
Second Copla (F) (5:08)
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. We also see here 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) (5:58)
The second falseta is also adapted from Juan Habichuela’s solea “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.
As in alegria, the escobilla (H) is a standard section for solea 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, the escobilla transitions to this solea’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. Creative variation will keep things interesting from a musical perspective.
Transition to buleria and Ending (7:10)
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 solea, 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, like buleria, I find that tapping out the compas in full helps me better sync up with the rhythm—and, consequently, better bring it out in my playing:
For more on foot-tapping in flamenco, see the article Foot Tapping for Buleria here on Ravenna Flamenco.
In this example, the buleria section here is fairly short. For actual accompaniment (or for your own amusement), you might make this passage much longer. 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 up your playing. 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 from the end of what you might do.
Interpretation and Solo Guitar
A good solea 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 solea and learn to assemble and rearrange them in an order that compliments what your dancer is doing. 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.
Once you have the basic compas and form of solea down, the next step is to add variety and diversity to your repertoire by adding falsetas and varying your style. I recommend practicing with a flamenco metronome, both as you learn the basiscs and as you explore new territory. This will keep you in compas and help you understand how new song parts really work within the form.