Searching for that Crossroads moment…

Not sure if anyone remembers, or has even seen this film from 1986, but besides being obviously a vehicle for the Karate Kid actor, I liked it.

It was the search for Robert Johnson’s lost song, had a score by Ry Cooder, was directed by Walter Hill, who also made ‘The Warriors’, and had Steve Vai playing the devil’s guitarist. What’s not to like.

Anyway, I’m fascinated by the idea of a before and after transformation. You are at a certain level in your art, something happens, and then you reach a much higher level. Of course I’m not too sure about selling my soul (?), and believe in the power of effort, so I’m always searching for doing something that would dramatically improve my playing.

Therefore, this week’s video, La Barrosa. It’s another Alegria, so the same counting as in the post of that title – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. But this time it’s by Paco de Lucia, and it’s very difficult to play. I’ve always admired this piece. It is pure drama for me. With a little bit of every possible plate needing to be sent spinning in all kinds of directions. 

I’ve been told that I’m brave attempting it, and questioned if it’s way out of my reach, but I’m wondering what would happen if I played this until it becomes easier. I usually play something like this for a while, get it to a certain level, then move on. So this is a kind of scientific research. I’ll keep at it, and see what happens. Or I’ll sit waiting at the crossroads. Just not sure which one would work around where I live…


Music and language…

I’ve always thought of music as a language, although I realise it’s more complicated than that. It seems that music doesn’t convey meaning in the same way as a language, such as English, does. It is not ‘significative’ in the same way. I guess you can’t, for example, order a cup of coffee using music very easily. But as a means of expressing emotion, or conveying something I feel necessary to ‘get out’, music sometimes seems to do a better job than trying to put it into words.

When I started to study flamenco guitar, I also started studying languages at university. Italian, to be precise. There is something about having to make the extra effort in putting together a ‘sentence’ that is attractive – in both Italian and flamenco. Samuel Beckett wrote in French for this reason, apparently. Another giant.

I learned Italian mainly at university, and largely through an intensive course learning the rules of grammar. When I got to Italy it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Eventually I could speak, and reasonably well, but the process was not fun!

Since then the Italian has gone, pretty much, and due to my partner being French, and living in Aix en Provence for over 2 years, French is my main second language. This time I’m avoiding grammar. It’s true that I don’t understand French in the same way as I did Italian, but I’d much rather learn this way, as babies do. It does take longer though. And learning only happens on an ‘as needed’ basis.

And flamenco guitar is like this. I’m aware, especially when I meet other, more accomplished, guitarists, that they have often built their ability on solid foundations of musical ‘grammar’. And I haven’t. And they often look confused. Like, how on earth did I get to this point. 

This week’s video starts with a Taranta tremolo by Paco de Lucia, which I have been studying for a while. It’s been suggested that I play more simple tremolo pieces before trying to play something like this, and I do, but this is what I want to play, so…

And the tremolo is followed by something I wrote. I’m not sure if I have an ‘accent’. I hope so. 


Besides the technical plate-spinning, the many techniques that have to be practiced and perfected, there is also the rhythm – the compás.

So, not only have you got to master all the individual elements of flamenco guitar, but you’ve also got to play them in time. And the timing is very complex. I’ll use this week’s video example of Alegrias as an example.

It is in 12! Not 4, or 3, or even 6, but 12. This is shared with a few other palos in flamenco, so it’s pretty important.

There is a strong beat on 3. Not 1, as you may be used to. Although sometimes the whole thing starts on 12, and that feels like 1. Confused?

The whole thing is traditionally counted 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

So the accents are on the 3, 6 8, 10 and 12! Fun huh?

You do get used to it, just expect to give it quite a few years.

So, as a practical demonstration, on the video there is the Dr. Compás app. It is doing the counting for you. It actually starts on 12, which I supposed doesn’t help, and also the 6 accent has moved to 7!

So here’s the count again 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

But don’t forget, the guitarist doesn’t just count, but plays hopefully meaningful phrases along with the rhythm.

Have fun!