Whether you’re a native Spanish speaker or not, there are a plethora of terms specific to the flamenco guitar that need defining. Below is a short list of the most common flamenco guitar terms and techniques, with an explanation of their meaning.
While this is not an exhaustive list of every possible term, the goal is to help give you get on the same page as other flamenco artists so you can play together!
Abanico – a flamenco right hand triplet rasgueado technique, usually with a quick combination sequence of ma (middle and ring together), and p (thumb). First, ma strum down together as one strong motion. This is followed with a p down stroke. Lastly, play a final p up stroke. The abanico technique requires significant right hand mobility for fast speed, especially in the wrist. Some players prefer to play the abanico technique using p, i (index), and m (middle). The abanico technique is also known as the “Marote” rasgueado in reference to it’s alleged creator, the great flamenco guitarist Juan Maya Marote.
Aire – literally meaning ‘air’, ‘atmosphere’ or demeanor. In flamenco, the term aire refers to the expressive quality of a flamenco performance, and even extends to an individual performer. Thus a personal aire refers to the special essence that makes an individual player’s style distinctive.
Alzapúa – a technique where the right hand thumb acts like a pick and rapidly strikes single notes (or several strings in quick succession) in a series of up and down strokes. Alzapúa typically occurs in bass line melodic phrases.
Apagado – a technique in which the player immediately mutes the sound of a chord being played, either by damping the strings with left hand pinky or with the palm of the right hand.
Apoyando – a right hand technique also known as rest stroke with the thumb.
Arrastre – a right hand technique where a (the ring finger) rakes across the strings from highest pitch to lowest, creating a dramatic bellowing effect. Arrastre is commonly heard in the Tarantas form.
Cejilla – also known as a capo, used to move the voicing higher up the neck.
Cifra – also known as “tablature”, a numeric notation system with a six-line staff representing the six strings of the guitar. Tabs show you which fret and string a note should be played.
Compás – has many meanings in flamenco, but generally refers to the rhythmic cycle of the palo and the accented beats.
Copla – a full melodic phrase, copla is commonly spoken about in reference to the Sevillanas form, in which it is often repeated three times following the introduction and salida.
Duende – when one achieves a heightened state of emotion and expression during a flamenco performance, thereby playing with a great sense of authenticity and feeling; the spirit of evocation. The term duende also refers to a goblin-like creature in Spanish and Latin American folklore. The renowned Spanish poet Federico Garciá Lorca formally developed the duende aesthetic term as it relates to art in a 1933 lecture entitled “Juego y teoría del duende” (“Play and Theory of the Duende”).
Escobilla – a rhythmically clear and constant accompaniment section intended to feature a dancer’s footwork. These are commonly used melodic phrases that fall into a 3/4 time, and are often found in the Alegrías form.
Falseta – similar to a guitar solo, a falseta is a self-contained melodic idea that can last as many compás cycles as the artist desires.
Golpe – meaning to hit, is a tap on the golpeador (guitar tapping plate) with the right hand ring finger (a) below the first string, or occasionally with the right hand thumb (p) above the sixth string on a downstroke.
Ligado – also known as the slur technique. In guitar, this is commonly referred to as the “hammer on” and “pull off” technique.
Llamada – meaning “call” in Spanish, are a palo-specific one or two compás moment in which the compás is overtly declared. Guitarists use llamadas to open or close sections, and bring attention to an artist or the compás in general.
Macho – sometimes a modulation takes place at the end of a piece in an exciting conclusion, known as the macho. The artist will transition to different palo with a faster rhythm, or modulate to the parallel major key. Tangos have rumba as a macho, tientos have tangos as a macho, and twelve-beat palos such as the soleá have bulerías as a macho.
Palo – meaning “branch” in Spanish, this refers to a branch of flamenco form (also called toque from the guitarist perspective). See my page on palos/toques for more information.
Picado – refers to the right hand rest stroke technique, most often played with the index (i) and middle (m) fingers. Single-line guitar solos and scales are usually played using the picado technique.
Por Arriba – one of the most common voicings in flamenco, playing por arriba corresponds to playing in E-phyrgian mode.
Por Medio – another one of the most common voicings in flamenco, playing por medio corresponds to playing in A-phyrgian mode.
Rasgueado – also called rasgueos, refers to flamenco strumming technique, typically executed by flicking the pinky (e), ring (a), middle (m), and index (i) fingers out in successive fashion. However, it should be noted that thumb (p) can also be included directly at the end of a rasgueado strum in certain dramatic instances.
Salida – literally meaning ‘departure’, the salida is a brief introductory melodic passage heard in the Sevillanas. The salida is typically a fragment of the longer copla, which follows directly afterwards.
Subida – meaning “lift”, subida is a gradual or sudden acceleration in the tempo.
Tapado – playing the guitar as a percussion instrument while the left hand fingers are damping the strings.
Tirando – a right hand technique also known as free stroke. Arpeggios and instances where two or more notes are played simultaneously are most often played tirando (free stroke) instead of apoyando or picado (rest stroke).
Trémelo – a right hand technique found in both classical and flamenco guitar styles. Flamenco trémolo is played using the following right hand sequence: apoyando thumb stroke on a bass string (p), followed immediately by four notes played tirando on a treble string (i-a-m-i). These five notes are notated in one beam as a quintuplet. The trémolo technique gives the listener the sense that they’re hearing two instruments at once, as the bass and treble parts have independent qualities of sound that blend together into one. The flamenco five-note trémolo was introduced by the revered flamenco concert guitarist Don Ramón Montoya.