Dream Chaser ~ Learning Guitar

Apr. 2, 2019


(Pictured here, Roger and Valerie Scannura of RITMO Flamenco)

Flamenco music, dancing, and guitar style is from Spain.  From the 8th to the 15th Century, Spain as we know it today was under the influence of the Arabs.  The country was originally spread across 5 different Kingdoms, very regional, divided by Mountain Ranges.  This meant that each Region developed its own culture, music, dance, food, and instruments.   

In the 15th Century, Jews, Christians and Muslims all lived in this Region, getting along just fine, however, the Arab influence took hold in Andalusia, in particular with respect to the development of music and instruments, making the music of the area unique from the rest of Spain.

Andalusia is now an autonomous part of Spain.  The origins of the name are somewhat under debate:
      “The name "Andalusia" is derived from the Arabic word Al-Andalus (الأندلس).[10] The toponym   al-Andalus is first attested by inscriptions on coins minted in 716 by the new Muslim government of Iberia. These coins, called dinars, were inscribed in both Latin and Arabic.[11][12] The etymology of the name "al-Andalus" has traditionally been derived from the name of the Vandals; however, a number of proposals since the 1980s have challenged this contention. Halm in 1989 derived the name from a Gothic term, *landahlauts,[13] and in 2002, Bossong suggested its derivation from a pre-Roman substrate.”  (Wikipedia)


Gypsies were not really welcome there.  The “Gitanos” were nomadic and known as robbers.. now, the word Gypsy is considered to be an unwelcome slur, however, the gypsy way of life and their nomadic culture has long been a romantic interest.   Perhaps one of the most famous operas of all captured the gypsy spirit and fiery passion of the men and women ~ the persona of Carmen will live forever in our memories as a beautiful, spirited, and desirable gypsy woman.

Even with the influence of other cultures surrounding them, the Gypsies developed their own style of music and dance, incorporating everything they heard from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths and communities, as they traveled around.

The word Flamenco is derived from the term for “one of those”, in Arabic “fellah menkum”, or “farmer from your group”, again, not very complimentary.   However, in 1959, these Andalusians became protected by the Nobility of the Region.  It was then that their music and dance began to flourish and become known worldwide, for its spectacular dance movements, bright and flamboyant costumes, and incredible rhythms.


The Andalusians were superstitious and based their music on 12 beats because there were 12 moons in the year... as a result, there are over 60 Rhythms (or ”Palos” as they are known) in Flamenco.   All of the rhythms are complex and quite difficult to follow, for a beginner!

As an example, the rhythm to the song Solea is 12 beats with the heavily accented beats shown in bold:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Contra Tiempo is another technique introduced by the Flamenco artists, which is the art of clapping against or between the beat.   This in itself is extremely difficult, when we consider that a large group of people clapping to different rhythms would be inclined to ultimately end up clapping together after long enough!


It is remarkable that the guitar only entered this genre about 100 years ago, and even then it was primarily for accompanying the dancers.  It wasn’t until about 1955 that Flamenco guitar became a solo aspect of the Flamenco tradition.

A true Flamenco instrument is different than a Classical guitar, in its neck shape, as well as overall timbre.   The inner structure is supported differently, and there is usually a tap plate, to facilitate the tapping sounds that are inherently part of the music. A Flamenco guitarist holds the instrument differently than a Classical guitarist would.

Paco de Lucia is an extremely well-known Flamenco guitarist.  He renamed himself from Francesco Sanchez, to the Stage Name of Paco de Lucia, in part so that his name was more familiar (there were many other Pacos) and so that he would honour his mother:  The “de Lucia” part means “of Lucia”.  His father was also a Flamenco guitarist.

He became famous at the age of 14, touring with a dance company, and obtained his own record deal at age 21. He wrote his own music but was also a master ‘improvisadora’, at one point he was invited to record a piece and he entered the studio and proceeded to improvise the entire piece.

Lucia’s album, Entre dos Aguas (Between Two Waters) was released in 1976. [He had wanted to call his album Spain but someone had already used this name for their album.]

De Lucia was known for his exceptional ability in both the fast fingerstyle (picados) and strumming (rasgueados).   A true pioneer in the art form, he was also the first artist to use percussion or bass with Flamenco, and also was able to fuse in some chords and Jazz sounds with the traditional Flamenco sounds, making him unique as an artist at that time, and perhaps a little more popular than Flamenco artists who remained within the original traditions of the music.

Paco was then discovered by Al di Meolo and worked on the Mediterranean Sundance album - which became the top seven guitar solo albums ever.   He went on to produce many more groundbreaking albums.

Both Paco and Al collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin. McLaughlin earned his guitar stripes as a youth in post-war Yorkshire, England, but soon began to travel the world, becoming a follower of the Hindi faith and Shikta belief system, which influenced his music greatly as well. However, he had always had an affinity for Flamenco, and after a lengthy career in Jazz, and creating fusion between Jazz and Indian music, he returned to his first passion and was able to collaborate with Paco and Al, two of the most influential Flamenco guitartists in the world.   It was during this collaboration that Paco himself stated that “he was not necessarily the one that the others were learning from ~ in fact it was the other way around.”  Paco felt that he could not match the complexity and harmonies that John was able to bring.

Another famed artist, Manitas de Plata was truly born a gypsy, in the South of France in 1921. The nickname “Por el camino de Ronda” was given to him, which means “little hands of silver” ~ describing his agility and artistic ability.   His idol was another guitarist named Jean “Django” Reinhardt.   De Plata did not play in public until Reinhardt had passed away, as he felt that Django was truly the king of the gypsy guitarists.   When he finally did play in public, and the artist Pablo Picasso heard him, Picasso signed his guitar, out of great admiration.

The band The Gypsy Kings are all Manitas’ nephews - de Reas was their last name.  Their song  “Bamboleo” became a huge hit, but is not considered to be true Flamenco.  


We cannot forget that Flamenco consists of six blended art forms:

  1. Cante. Singing.
  2. Toque. Guitar playing.
  3. Baile. Dance.
  4. Jaleo. Singing and choruses. 
  5. Palmas. Hand clapping.
  6. Pitos. Finger snapping.

The most captivating aspect to me is the dance, in terms of the posture, movement, and proud & fiery elegance that the dancers convey and command our attention with.

Women first danced barefoot, but of course now they wear shoes and have added nails to the soles for the click/rhythm enhancement.

Clapping and the use of castanets is extremely important in Flamenco dance, as they capture the complexity of the rhythms with their heels, toes, and stamps, clicks and claps in combination.

As a beginner guitarist, Flamenco playing is somewhat of a stellar, and unreachable thought, as is the complexity of the dancing.   Best that I leave both to the experts.  :) 



Mar. 10, 2019

One of the first things we were asked to to in class was to identify the different parts of the guitar...so I made this little photo. It is hard for me still to think of the high E as my ‘top’ string when it is at the ‘bottom’ of the fret in my mind...! This is just a matter of getting used to the terminology.

Feb. 27, 2019

The Fingerstyle technique in guitar playing refers to the manner in which the strings are sounded individually and with individual fingers, as opposed to strumming or using a single pick for each sound.  This technique allows the guitarist to play multiple aspects of the music, thus sounding much like an ensemble, bringing a bass line, a melody, and a rhythm section together in one instrument.  

In this vein, it means that notes need not always be played as arpeggiated chords, or strummed, but that each string can be played or plucked simultaneously, using all five fingers at once; it means that various intervals can be played much like a cello can bow across two strings at once; it means that more expression can be drawn out of the instrument.

There will always be discussion around who is the ‘best’ example of a fingerstyle guitarist ~ there are many!  The photo insert from www.thaliacapos.com cites Tommy Emmanuel as one to follow, if you are interested in fingerstyle technique. 

I had been messing around with playing Spanish Romance (badly) for the first few weeks of class, all on the high E string but with a bit of fingerstyle in my right hand.   Now that I have found this little tutorial video, it might give me the help I need to use a more complicated way of finding the notes.    I still have trouble with BARRE chords though!   https://youtu.be/6Z9svmmcIDg

There are quite a few wonderful videos on how to learn Barre chords too, and most of them preach stretching and patience as to two key elements.  Here is one that I have tucked away for a rainy day, to go back to! https://www.uberchord.com/blog/barre-chords-for-beginners/

Hammer On and Pull Off Technique

An important aspect of fingerstyle is the movement of the fingers on the fret board from note to note.   In using Hammer On and Pull Off, this refers to the movement up to higher notes (hammer on) and the movement down to lower notes (pull off) when moving through a scale.   In my off-campus private lessons, my instructor has taken me through these exercises in a number of different combinations, to train my fingers on how to move smoothly and easily through the notes of a scale, in both directions.   

We travel up four notes and then move to the next string, up four notes again, etc... then doing this going back down.   Another way to approach the exercise is to stay on the first four notes and do them ascending and then descending, and then move to the next string.   Long term, this practise will lead to better fluidity and speed.    This YouTube example is a fantastic on to explain the technique!  https://youtu.be/s_yasaZaCug

I tried a little bit of fingerstyle myself - here is one of my first attempts in playing the Spanish Romance <3 https://youtu.be/_p4vJ-pOAQI 

Feb. 27, 2019

Reggae is a style of music that has deep roots from 1960’s Jamaica and that evolved out of the Ska and Rocksteady genres that were popular just prior to the flower power era, also borrowing influence from Rhythm & Blues as well as Jazz.

The term Reggae evolved from the Jamaican word for rags, or intimates something raggedy looking. The etymology also points to the word “streggae” which in Patois means a loose woman. It is also interesting that in Italian, the word strega means ‘witch’ ~ however, there are differing viewpoints on exactly how the term Reggae was coined and who first derived its meaning. We now mostly associate Reggae with the music, yet also with the Rastafarians who were the first fathers of the genre.

Rastafari is an Abrahamic religion (one of the three religions that stems from Judaism and that worships the God of Abraham or Yahweh) that began in Jamaica in the 1930’s, among the very poor Afro-Jamaican communities, and appeared to be a response to the British Rule that was imposed at the time. The belief that the world’s poor and persecuted Blacks were God’s Chosen People is at the core of this dogma, and it gave them strength to believe that the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was the Messiah, and that he would return the Black people to Africa.

The ‘father’ of Reggae is said to be Peter Tosh, but most people associate the genre with Bob Marley, one of the most famous musicians and Rastafarians from that era. It is Marley’s tunes & lyrics that have become the anthems of freedom (Redemption Song)* and the “feel-good” vibe, the political statements that would shine a light on the plight of African Slaves (Buffalo Soldier), and also speak to the benefits of pot smoking and the fight to legalize it (Kaya). The Rastafarians do not embrace Western medicine and their use of cannabis is widely known as a healing agent, and heavily associated with the Reggae sound and feeling.

The Reggae beat is a very distinctive, instantly recognizable rhythm, with its guitar on the accented off-beat, and is always in 4:4 or 2:4 time, and the groove is held by the bass guitar and drums. As mentioned above, the subject matter is almost always about freedom or happiness, however, *Redemption Song is one of Marley’s tunes that does not have a Reggae feeling to it, but rather, more of a folk song approach.

Reggae beats and vibe have been borrowed by many other artists, including Sting in The Police’s Roxanne and Don’t Stand So Close to Me, as well as Zeppelin’s D’Yer Maker, and even the Gypsy Kings in their “Escucha Me” piece.  https://youtu.be/8S5v6Sa-rcA

Nov. 11, 2018

There is no video clip yet

We are already 8 weeks into the curriculum and I have to admit that I don’t practise every day, but when I do, I actually make a good bit of progress! I have to tell myself that I am not going to learn to play if I don’t even pick the darn guitar up.

In class, we mostly are working on chords and have the chance to ask a few questions. We are also given lectures, which I will write about later. This past week, there was a new-to-our-class student whom the teacher very nicely placed beside me. He patiently taught me how to go up the E-String with a nice finger style pattern and by the end of the class I had memorized it!

I went home and over the next two days or so, feeling inspired, I tried much harder at my Sound of Silence, and was finally able to pull it all together with my voice. My biggest challenge is making the transition between chords, and then the hand/eye coordination that goes with it. I have gotten better at transitioning between A minor and F, and between F and C, but still having trouble reaching the G chord from the A chord when needed. I might look at my fingering on that and see if another way would be easier.

I am very pleased with this progress and it is going to spur me on to try harder. I am looking forward to Christmas break...when I feel I might just have the energy and wherewithal to pick it up every day.

Here is my little video from today....Dust in the Wind! https://youtu.be/7b43bxy0BZ8