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Flamenco is the music of the Andalucian gypsies. Poor nomads from India and frequently ostracised throughout history, they developed independently of the other Spanish peoples. Consequently, their music and dance is unique and is an eclectic mix of styles gathered from their wanderings, Indian, Arabic, Jewish, Andalucian folk. 

The music is based around the song, with accompaniment usually by guitar. For percussion, they used anything that came to hand, such as hand-clapping (palmas), finger snapping (picas), a box they were sitting on used as a drum (cajón), and footwork (zapateados). 

The dance therefore evolved round the song. Some songs were light and happy (cante chica), others sombre and dark (cante jondo), all fired with emotion. 

There are a limited number of types or categories or forms of song or dance (palos). Each palo has its own particular rhythm (or compás) with its own name. So if someone says they are going to dance, for example, an alegría, the name is instantly recognisable to the flamenco guitarist and he would know exactly the speed, the rhythm, and the structure of the dance, and even the musical chord sequences to use. 

Within each palo, the variety of song, music, and dance is, of course, infinite, but it is all loosely or strictly based on the basic rhythm and musical structure of the compás. 

A distinctive feature of flamenco rhythms is the 12-beat rhythm. Our culture is used to music based round 4 or 8 beats. This is also used in flamenco, in rhythms such as Tangos, Tientos and Tarantas. But the 12-beat rhythm gives flamenco its distinctive flavour and is alien to the normal European ear. 

The 12-beat rhythm is used in dances such as Alegria, Solea and Buleria. 

The rhythm consists of 2 threes followed by 3 twos. It is counted with the accent on the end of each group of beats, i.e. on 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12 – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 

Very often the phrasing of the dance begins on beat 12, which makes the timing – 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11


12 beats in each bar (measure)


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


– beats per minute



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