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Soleá and siguiriyas rhythms

(click here to see and hear samples)

Soleares, or soleá, is one of the most important styles of flamenco singing, guitar playing and dancing. It has a peculiar rhythm (or compás) that is found in other styles of flamenco such as alegrías, and other members of the cantiñas group. The soleá rhythm consists of twelve beats accented on beats three, six, eight, ten and 12. Tension starts on three, increases on six, peaks on eight and resolves on 10. Because of the irregular distribution of the accents we can interpret the twelve beats in different ways: a full set of twelve; two sets of three and three sets of two (3+3+2+2+2=12); or four sets of three (3+3+3+3=12), with the first two sets of three accented on the third beat (1, 2, *3*), the third set accented on the second beat (1, *2*, 3), and the fourth set accented on the first and third beat (*1*, 2, *3*). Look at the diagrams below:

One set of twelve beats:
one set of twelve beats

Two sets of three beats and three sets of two beats (3+3+2+2+2=12):
two sets of three beats and three sets of two beats

Four sets of three beats (3+3+3+3=12):
four sets of three beats

Most transcriptions of flamenco guitar, including my own, use the last system in order to package the rhythm neatly within a simple 3/4 time signature. Check the soleares samples to see how this notation appears.

The bulerias rhythm is basically a double-time version of soleá.

(click here to see and hear the samples)

The siguiriyas rhythm is similar to the soleá rhythm in that it can be interpreted as having 12 beats with the same intervals between stressed beats. However, the siguiriyas rhythm starts and finishes at different points in comparison to the soleá rhythm, and tension and resolution also happen at different moments. If we use the same counting taken from soleares, this rhythm will start on eight:

The siguiriyas rhythm compared to the soleares rhythm.

The tempo here is faster than in soleares, making it more logical to count only the accented beats in a framework of five irregularly spaced beats. If we adjust the counting to reflect these differences, we end up with this:

The siguiriyas rhythm counted in five irregularly spaced beats

The counting of the rhythm is no longer "linear" because some of the beats are longer than others: Beats one, two and five are of the same length (two eighth notes here), and beats three and four are one-and-a-half times that amount (three eighth notes in this case). This is worth careful consideration: There would be four sixteenth notes in each of beats one, two and five, and six in each of beats three and four, but if the notes were double triplets there would be six and nine, respectively.
Examples of the siguiriyas rhythm.

The six sixteenths in beats three and four of the second example should not be played like double triplets, although there are six of them. The reason is that double triplets would be binary, or in twos (two sets of three), and this idea is ternary, or in threes (three sets of two). This typically causes problems in a typical ending seen below. The symbol ">" indicates an accent. Use the same fingering for both; the difference lies in the accents.

Don't play this:
Play this:
Así, no:
ˇEso es!
The different durations of the beats cause difficulties when choosing a time signature. Most transcriptions use alternating 3/4 and 6/8 meters, but starting on beat five. I have tried to simplify this by modifying the structure so as to allow the first measure to start on beat one. For the samples as well as the siguiriyas collection, I have used thick bar lines to indicate the start of the rhythm (beat 1) and thin bar lines to indicate the longer beats of three and four. The result is a measure of 2/4 (beats one and two), a measure of 6/8 (beats three and four) and a measure of 1/4 (beat five). Although this may seem to be a more complicated system, the rhythm is much more accurately represented, much easier to follow, and avoids a radical departure from systems used heretofore. The thick bar lines indicate exactly where to start counting and the thinner bar lines offer a context in case of doubts or seeming ambiguities. See the samples to get a better idea of this.

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