April 18, 2014

Flamenco Guitar Scales And Lessons


I can still remember the first time I heard Charo belt out her trademark phrase.  I was about 6 and was watching her on a variety show on TV.  I’ll pass on telling you which show it was. ;)

I remember laughing at her and thinking it was entirely too silly to be taken seriously until she started playing guitar, and those flamenco scales.  My six-year-old jaw hit the floor.  THAT was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

The way her fingers danced on the fretboard held me captive.  I stared at her fingers and listened to every note she played.  To this day, her Malaguena is one of my all-time favorite performances.  It never gets old.

As you can guess, that’s why I’m really excited about this post.  I feel like I’m going back to the start of it all.

Flamenco is a Spanish music and no one will dispute that, but actually comes from that of an Indian dance – the Romani (the modern-day version is called the Kathak.)  Flamenco is actually the Spanish name for the Greater Flamingo, native to Southern Spain.

It is thought that the dance is Southern Spain is ironically where the Andalusia region is – the birth place of this incredible music and dance.

It is this mixture of Romani and Andalusian music and dance that gave rise to the flamenco we know and love.

Originally, the music was meant to accompany the dance.  An instrumentalist was judged by his or her ability to accompany the dancers.

An altered Phrygian mode (usually descending) is where we start, although there are a couple of other variations we can use.


An E Phrygian normally has no flats or sharps – it’s in the key of C.  For what I’m going to call the Flamenco Phrygian, we are adding a D#, moving the A down half a step to G# (or Ab) and moving the B down a whole step to A.

Obviously, you can play the scale up and down, but traditionally, it is played in a descending manner, which gives us the ever-famous Andalusian cadence like we hear in Walk, Don’t Run by the Ventures.


The Flamenco scale keeps the G# from the altered Phrygian, but leaves the B and D in tact.

Altering the Phrygian gives us a little more “spice” to play around with, but both scales will give us 9 note scales to work with.  A fair amount of Flamenco is in 3 or 6 times (3/4, 3/8, 6/8, etc.) which makes the 9-note scale very effective.

However, if you’re suspending it over a 4/4 time, it gives you some interesting rhythmic variations to play with:


You probably noticed the third scale labeled “Dorico Flamenco.” Like the altered Phrygian, it adds an Ab (G#) but skips the D#, leaving us with 8 notes to round off our little triplet-inspired lick with some straight 8ths.

Hope you enjoyed your trip to Southern Spain. Happy shredding!

About Brad Barnett

I am a music fanatic and have been playing for over 15 years. I have a lot of experience with guitar, bass, music theory, recording, band promotion and so on. My favorite thing about music is playing live shows in front of large energetic crowds!

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