Advanced Flamenco Harmony for Guitar

The flamenco sound primarily defines a major key that is modal in character. The flamenco mode must constantly be reminded to the listener by the guitarist. If the mode is not constantly reminded to the listener then our subjective perception will quickly drift to the Ionian sound (pop-music sound).

What makes the flamenco sound? The constant release of tension I outline below towards the major home sound. Home is defined by the first chord we play on the guitar to define the key. The mode will be defined by adding the b9 but resolving it swiftly to the root of the tonic. No major third is required. However all other chordal structures we use, will happily welcome the major third of the key as a passing tone to remind us of the flamenco sound.

Flamenco chords

Chords other than the tonic, the home sound, are generally short in duration and selected more by the root movements they create than by the resulting vertical chordal structures.

In all modal music vertical structures are created to produce tension in relation to the home chord we are moving towards to, or away from. As guitar players, we need not to think of chords as structures of consecutive thirds but rather as clusters of notes we select to create degrees of tension when we move to and away from the home sound.

The use of chordal vertical structures or harmonic movements that relate to our major sound must be played wisely to maintain the flamenco environment and not to have our perception drift away from the modal sound to its relative major .

In order to start familiarising yourself with the flamenco sound, play the tonic on the Spanish guitar with out the third and add the following passing tones: tensions 7- b9 – # 5- sus 4 . Keep them short and make sure you resolve quickly to the corresponding note of major tonic with the third.

Now its time to move away for a beat or two to a subdominant type of sound. One which creates contrast by creating structures from these root notes:

  • b11
  • bV11m
  • and V diminished .

Experiment with them on weak beats and make sure they are short in duration. Do not only play block chords, arpeggiate them to achieve further contrast with the tonic sound.

Try adding, on the guitar, a passing tone on each of them. For example, add the g# if in the key of E.

Also experiment as melodic passing tones with the following tensions:

  • bII: Tensions b7- 7- b5- #11- 9- b9-13
  • bV11m: Tensions 7- b5- 9-11- 13
  • V diminished : Tensions 7- 9- 11- #11

Now let´s create vertical structures with a lesser degree of tension between the home sound (the tonic) and the above chords. Please note that the following chordal structures have some similar notes to the tonic chord.

  • IVm: Tensions 7-9-sus4-6-9-11- 13
  • VI : Tensions 7- Maj7- #5- 9- 11- 13
  • III: Tensions 7- 9- sus4- #5 – 6-11-#11-13

Try creating melodic ideas by arpeggiating them and resolving either on the tonic chord or on the following:

  • b11
  • bV11m
  • and V diminished