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Paco de Lucía, The Only Innovator of Contemporary Flamenco Guitar

Part 2

(June 2009)

Prof. Ruben Diaz, Ph.D. Contemporary Harmony and Composition


The only true innovator

In order to make the claim that someone is an innovator, we must first be clear about what innovation means.  According to the Oxford Dictionary, the verb “to innovate” comes from the Latin verb innovare which means “to renew” or “to alter”.  The verb comes from the noun, novus, meaning “new”.  Therefore, to innovate means to introduce something new or to make changes in anything established.

To support the view that Paco de Lucia is the only true innovator of contemporary flamenco music, I have assembled a comparative analytical table of some original flamenco works performed before Paco de Lucia, then some innovations brought about by Paco de Lucia himself and, finally, some flamenco works which have succeeded his innovations.  In this table, I provide a comprehensive analysis that focuses on the art of flamenco guitar by addressing the following seven dimensions:  (1) the kind of guitar used; (2) the playing position; (3) the flamenco guitar techniques employed; (4) the rhythmic features of the piece; (5) a melodic analysis (i.e., the scales utilized); (6) a harmonic analysis; and, finally, (7) an summary of the arrangement.  The table demonstrates in a very clear, plain and unambiguous manner how Paco de Lucía’s contributions entirely changed the flamenco art—and notably with respect to both flamenco music and cante.
I have also conducted a general and a harmonic analysis of some of the most important bulerias composed by Paco de Lucia.  I quite deliberately chose bulerias because it is so broadly accepted in flamenco circles that this palo is the most important and representative in all of flamenco music.  Indeed, one simply cannot claim to be a real flamenco guitar player without developing a profound understanding and skill with respect to bulerias.

Comparative table of  Flamenco before Paco de Lucia, his innovations and flamenco at the present time



Before Paco de Lucía

Paco de Lucía Innovations

Innovations after
Paco de Lucía

1.-  Kind of guitar

Cypress Guitar (Female)

Inclusion of Rosewood (Negra) Guitar (Male)

The revolution that Paco de Lucia carried out in the flamenco guitar was not only in the way of playing it but in its construction (morphology), woods, sound (timbre) as well as in its proportions.
Originally, the raw material with which flamenco guitars were made was only and exclusively Cypress (sides and back) and it was Paco de Lucía’s idea to make a guitar with the same wood as used for classic guitars (Indian Rosewood) keeping the same measurements and dimensions of the flamenco guitar. This influenced in the aesthetic of the traditional sound (timbre) and, so, it became an instrument with more character and strength.
The technical particularities manifested in the way of playing of this great musician influenced as well in the proportions of the guitar giving birth the following modifications: The space between the first and sixth strings became wider to perform faster scales (Picado) and the Alzapúa (a technical-expressive resource performed with the right hand thumb).


2. Playing position

The guitar was resting on the right thigh and held with the right  arm  making an  450 angle.

The position that Paco de Lucía adopts while he plays: the right leg folded over the left with a slight rotation of the chest towards the right. This change of position was to allow a better mobility of the left hand over the fretboard as well as to relief the right hand for the inclusion of new techniques.


3. Flamenco Guitar Techniques

1. ch A M I down
2. ch A M I down P up
3. A M I down P up
4. Simple alzapúa
5. Parado. This technical resource is muting the strings with the finger 4 of left hand.
NOTE: This techniques are no longer used.

1) Fast double alzapúa
2)Alzapúa with tapping A on the 2nd note
3) Tapping A with flesh
4) Tapping A M with flesh
5) Tapping I down
6) Parado (muting strings) with right hand
7) Tapping A P together with flesh
8) Tapado (muted guitar rhythm)
9) Play a chord with the flesh of the thumb generally in stacatto
10) I up – A I down
11) P up – A I down
12) P up – A P down
13) A M I down – I up
14) Tapping with the knuckle and, after that, with the flat surface of the index nail, like gypsies do when tapping rhythmics on a table.


4. Rhythmic

1. No rhythmic reference like tapado, handclaps or caja, while playing a solo guitar.
2. Remates ended only on the 10th beat of the 12 beat compass.

1. To play a guitar solo with rhythmic reference, namely: hand claps, tapado or caja.
2. Remate ending before the 10th beat, that is, exactly on/or after  the middle point between the 9th beat and the10th beat as shown in Na es eterno (Calle Real, 1983, Track 6, min 3:04 and min 4:02).
3. Añadido


5. Melodic analysis – Scales used

1. Phrygian
2. Eolic
3. Ionic
4. Sabicas used chains of b3th and Chromatic.

1. Phrygian nat 3
2. Phrygian 4+
3. Phrygian nat 6
4. Phrygian 7maj
5. Lydian
6. Dorian
7. Dorian 4+
8. Minor Harmonic
9. Minor melodic (for the degree V7b9 from the b2 and b9, and for the degree aux. V/bVI and aux. V/bVII from the 5th.)
10. Mixolydian
11. Mixolydian b5th
12. Mixolydian b2nd
13. Locrian
14. Diminished (Symmetric scale 1 tone, ½ tone)
15. Augmented (Whole tone scale)


6. Harmonic Analysis














V, V7, Vm
VIm, bVI7
bVII7,  bVII
Auxiliar Dominants: V/VI
Substitute Dominants: none

I, Im, Im on 7maj, Im on b7, Im 1st inv

bII, bII1st inv, bII7maj

bIII, bIII7, bIII1st inv, bIII7maj, bIIIm, bIIIm7,
bIIIm7,9, bIII7,13, bIIIsus,  bIIIm6

IV, IV7, IV4+, IVm, IVm7, IVm 7,9, IVmsus, IVm on b2, IVaug, IV7maj4+, #IV, #IVm7, #IV4+

V7b9, V7b9 3rd inv, V7 on 7maj, V71st inv, Vm Vm7, Vm 7,9, Vm6, Vsus

bVI7 2nd inv,  bVI7,9, bVIsus, bVI4+, bVI 7,4+, bVI7,9,11+, bVI7,9,11+ 2nd inv, bVI7 on 7maj, bVI11+ , bVI9+,  natVI,  natVI 5+, natVIm7b5

bVII7 2nd inv,  bVII7 3rd inv,  bVII7,9,  bVII9,  bVII11, bVIIm, bVIIm7, bVIIm7,9, bVII7maj,  natVII

Auxiliary Dominants: V/bIII, V/IVm, V/V, V/bVI, V/bVII
Substitute Dominants: V/bIII, V/IVm, V/V, V/bVI, V/bVII


7. Arrangement

1) Although in Sabicas time there was a very primitive principle of improvisation in the guitar for accompaniment of singing or dancing, there was no improvisation for the guitar alone.

  1. Improvisation.
  2.  The inclusion of the following foreign instruments: A) Percussion as scaja, congas, bongos, drums and other kind of percussion instruments.  B) Electric bass; C) Arabic lute; D) Different kinds of mandoline like mandolaud; E) keyboard; F) Flute; G)Sax; H) Violins.
  3. Arrangement with Symphonic Orchestra helped by Joan Albert Amargos.
  4. The role of singer and dancer became secondary.
  5. The creation of songs that have a structure on which the player can improvise over chord progression patterns similar to the jazz standards structure.




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