Flamenco compás — and why it’s the key to understanding flamenco

Metronome to measure the flamenco compás

I have a confession to make. As a kid, I had this odd pastime where I would look at my watch to see the seconds count down, then look away for a couple of minutes while counting the seconds in my head, and then look back at my watch to see whether I’d stayed in time. Sounds nuts? Maybe.

A couple of decades later, I discovered flamenco, and realised that my addiction to counting seconds was actually my love of rhythm. And you can’t beat flamenco when it comes to rhythm, which in the world of flamenco we call the compás. The flamenco compás is key. It’s flamenco’s underlying driving force, its metre, and it’s oh-so-important —and can be oh-so-difficult to master.

Rather than me explaining the wonder of the compás, let this video do the talking…

Incredible, right? I wish I had had one of those on my wrist as a kid.

The compás is mostly marked by handclaps (palmas), guitar strums, footwork or a beat box —many times all of these at once. Staying in sync is therefore of the essence, and you don’t need to be a flamenco expert to identify when someone is fuera de compás (out of sync) —but it does require a bit of a musical ear.

For a flamenco artist, it’s pretty embarrasing to be found fuera de compás. But the fact is that it’s pretty tricky to stay in sync! Basically there are 3 measures in flamenco: binary, ternary — and a —believe it or not— 12-beat cycle. The latter is used in many flamenco styles, and has different accentuations depending on which style is being performed. Oh, and then there are also some flamenco styles that do not respond to a defined metric at all: the estilos libres.

Here is Niño de la Puri (the Child of Puri, as he calls himself 😉 ) explaining how to clap to tangos, a binary style

If you have a close listen to a flamenco song, or if lucky you, you’ve booked flamenco tickets anywhere in the world or if, even luckier you, are joining me in one of my flamenco tours in Madrid, the main role played by compás will become apparent to you. And beware —it’s highly addictive. Once the flamenco compás gets in your bones, it never ever leaves! You’ll catch yourself doing impromptu palmas at the slightest opportunity!

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