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An Introduction to Flamenco Guitar

The traditional flamenco guitar is made of Spanish cypress or sycamore for the back and sides and spruce for the top, which accounts for its characteristic body color, and is lighter in weight than a classical guitar, to give the sound a “brighter” and more percussive quality. This is achieved by reducing the amount of internal bracing and thickness of the materials used in the body and top construction. The top is typically made of either spruce or cedar, though other tone woods are used today. Volume has traditionally been very important for flamenco guitarists, as they need to be heard over the sound of the dancers’ nailed shoes: to increase the volume of the instrument, harder woods, such as rosewood, can be used for the back and sides, with softer woods for the top.

In contrast to the classical guitar, the flamenco is often equipped with a tap plate (a golpeador), commonly made of transparent plastic, similar to a pick guard, whose function is to protect the body of the guitar from the rhythmic finger taps, or golpes. Even so, a well used Flamenco guitar will only survive so long before the constant "golpes" wear through the top. Frequent replacement and patching of the "golpeador" help.

Originally, all guitars were made with wooden tuning pegs, that pass straight through the head stock, similar to those found on an oud oud or a violin or lute, as opposed to the modern classical-style guitars' cogged tuning mechanisms. Indeed, traditional pegs are still very popular amongst flamenco guitarist and guitar makers.

The action, or the height of the strings above the fingerboard, is generally lower than that of a classical guitar, typically less than 3mm at the twelfth fret. This lower string height can increase the playing speed, and greatly reduces fatigue of the left hand during lengthy performances.

"Flamenco negra" guitars are called "negra" after the darker of the harder woods used in their construction, similar materials to those of high-end classical guitars, such as rosewood or other dense tone woods. The harder materials increase volume and tonal range. A typical cypress flamenco guitar will sound more treble and percussive than the more sonorous negra. These guitars hope to capture some of the sustain achieved by concert caliber classical guitars, whilst retaining the volume and attack associated with flamenco.

Flamenco guitarist
Flamenco is played somewhat differently from the classical guitar, utilizing different posture, strumming patterns, and techniques. Flamenco guitarists are known as tocaores (from an Andalusian pronunciation of tocadores, "players") and flamenco guitar technique is known as toque.

While the classical guitarist supports his guitar on his left leg, and holds it at an incline, the flamenco guitarist will usually cross his legs and support the guitar on whichever leg is on top, placing the neck of the guitar more or less parallel to the floor. The different position is a result of the different techniques. Many of the tremolo, golpe and rasgueado techniques are easier and more relaxed if your upper right arm is supported at the elbow by the body of the guitar rather by the forearm as in classical guitar. Classical position is still used by some Flamenco guitarists.

Flamenco is commonly played using a cejilla (capo) which causes the guitar to sound somewhat more sharp and percussive. However, the main purpose in using a cejilla is to change the key of the guitar to match the singer’s vocal range. Because Flamenco is an improvisational musical form, utilizing common structures and chord change sequences, the capo makes it easier for players who have never played together before to do so. Rather than transcribing what you know on the fly to another key each time the singer changes, you just move capo and use the same chords you used open. Flamenco uses a lot of highly modified and open chord forms to create a solid drone effect and leave at least one finger free to add melodic notes and movement. Very little traditional Flamenco music is actually written, it is still mostly passed on hand to hand, though authentic didactic books are becoming more available. [source : Flamenco Guitar]

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