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Flamenco Guitar Scales

How to play a typical flamenco guitar scale on the guitar

by Michael & Rafael

Rafael has taught and performed flamenco guitar for over 40 years, including many famous stars – from EOB (Radiohead) to Jack Peñate (recorded with Adele).

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While flamenco encompasses a wide range of musical styles and techniques, one of the essential aspects that give it its unique character is the use of Spanish and Arabic-sounding scales. Below we take a look.

The Basics of Flamenco Guitar

Before we delve into the scales, let's take a moment to understand the fundamentals of flamenco guitar. Unlike classical guitar, which emphasizes precision and formal structure, flamenco guitar is all about raw emotion, improvisation, and soulful expression. It's an art form where feeling and technique intertwine to create the distinctive flamenco sound.

Rumba Scale

A common choice is the E Phrygian mode (which is essentially a C major scale starting from E). Here's a simple tab for an E Phrygian scale, which you can incorporate into flamenco rumba-style playing:

e|-----------------0-1-|
B|-------------0-1-----|
G|-------0-2-----------|
D|-----2---------------|
A|-2-3-----------------|
E|---------------------|

And another version of this:

e|--------------------------0-1-|
B|---------------------0-1------|
G|----------------0-2-----------|
D|----------0-2-----------------|
A|----0-2-3---------------------|
E|0-1-3-------------------------|

Rafael plays this scale below, with a capo on the 5th fret:

Rumba Lesson – Flamenco Guitar Scale

As Rafael teaches by ear, we encourage you to try and get the notes by playing the video again and again so you learn intuitively how to pick up the notes from just hearing them. By 'reading' tabs and music you are limiting your rate of learning by making things too easy. Unlike classical guitar, flamenco guitar is a tradition taught by ear.

Flamenco Guitar Scales: The Phrygian Mode

Phrygian mode is the cornerstone of flamenco music. It's characterized by its minor tonality and distinctive flattened second note. This scale creates a dramatic and melancholic mood, a signature feature of many traditional flamenco compositions.

Major Phrygian Mode

Also known as the "Andalusian" scale, this mode is a variant of the Phrygian mode with a major third interval. It's used to evoke a brighter, more festive atmosphere in certain flamenco styles, offering a beautiful contrast to the darker Phrygian mode.

When playing Bulería, the video below, Rafael plays using the Phrygian Scale – take a look:

Bulería Using F Phrygian Scale

Application and Variations

Flamenco guitarists use these scales as building blocks to craft their melodies, but they go beyond that. What makes flamenco truly unique is the way musicians infuse these scales with their personal emotions and flair. They employ techniques like rasgueados (rapid strumming), picado (fast picking), and golpe (percussive tapping on the guitar body) to add depth and complexity to their compositions.

Right hand techniques when applied to scales

Here's an example of these right-hand techniques put together with a flamenco scale in this Solea piece:

If you are serious about learning spanish guitar through flamenco music, we'd encourage you to check out Rafael's online course.

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