Im studying Paco de lucia at the moment and trying to dissect his songs and see what I can soak up and add to my wisdom of the guitar. I notice there are flattened and sharpened extensions literally around every corner in his compositions.

What is the theory behind these extensions? How does he know what extensions to play, if they should be flat/sharp or not?

In the song I studying, the song is in in F#minor. It’s called “reflejo de luna” by Paco de Lucia.

Here is an progression in the song which I find extremely beautiful. I wonder why does the altered chords work so well? Flat sixes and sharp 11 etc.


I just put the notes in at oolimo (an app) and pasted the chords.

You can hear it here at 2:35 minutes in, ending at 2:50.

  • This is too broad a question. Better to ask about the use of a specific extension on a specific chord in a specific piece.
    – Aaron
    Jul 17, 2022 at 20:18
  • 2
    This question may get closed but I do want to point out that b11 and #13 are not typically used as tensions. b11 is simply a M3 and #13 is a m7, both of which are usually regular chord tones. The other thing I’d like to point or is that diminished chords and minor or major chords with dissonant tensions function in very different ways so they don’t necessarily make good substitutions for each other. Jul 18, 2022 at 0:49
  • Hey I just noticed that you’re right! Thanks! That simplifies the problem quite a bit. So I’m now down to b9/#9, and #11, and b13. These are only 4 alternate chord extensions. I will update my topic entry. Thanks!
    – j a
    Jul 18, 2022 at 11:27
  • Are these chord extensions coming from a lead sheet or some other printed music? Jul 18, 2022 at 14:15
  • Actually yeah and I could add that in the post. In reflejo de luna, the song is in Amajor. But he will play at one point a diminished iii chord with a flat 6. Sometimes he plays a Dmaj7(#11), or a Bb7(#11). (The Bb7(#11) I found on google is basically tritone sub.).
    – j a
    Jul 18, 2022 at 16:29

2 Answers 2


What is the theory behind these extensions?

Music theories are organized or established ways of talking about a part of human culture: music-making. Theories are not behind music. Theories describe musical activities. Depending on what the activities are and in which culture, and from which culture the talkers-about-music are, different theories i.e. ways of talking might be appropriate. One way to talk about chord extensions is that they feel different, they taste different. Every extension and its sharp/flat modified version has a specific taste and feeling to it.

Another way to talk about these chords is: I play a regular major or minor chord and move one of the notes a bit. Or even, I move a finger along the fretboard.

Try the following chord.

F# flamenco chord

It could be said to contain a Gdim chord in the middle strings, or a "flat 9th" (if you insist that everything is a stack of thirds), but I'm quite sure that's not what flamenco players are thinking about. It's more like an F# major, with a twist.

A third way of looking at chords and notes in Reflejo de Luna: I play this chord, and then I play a melody over it using the high strings. In the melody, I use tones which add to the chords in some way and lines which land on important tones of the chords. For example in the melody line A - G# - D, the G# is the tone between my root and third, and pathological everything-must-be-a-stack-of-thirds thinkers would call it a "9th". It adds a melancholic feeling. The D note lands on the third of the next chord, Bm.

I see all these as plausible frameworks. Reasoning about music does not have to follow the conventions of functional harmony and stacks-of-thirds.

How does he know what extensions to play, if they should be flat/sharp or not?

He has played with them, listened to the music and developed a taste. It's a matter of artistic choice and availability. You see things in terms of what you already know.

So far I have only figured out that if you sharpen or flatten a extension it will always sound dissonant as a rule of thumb. b9, b11, b13, or #9, #11, or #13 all are dissonant sounding. Since diminished chords are dissonant too I assume that it would make sense that you could replace diminished chords with just natural minor or major chords except with a bunch of sharpened or flattened extensions on top of it, if you’re going for a dissonant sound. Am I wrong?

That's wrong. Take a song that uses a diminished chord and substitute it with one of your "dissonant" extended chords, it shouldn't do a similar thing at all. Except in the flamenco dominant chord (my made-up name) I showed above, there happens to be a dim chord inside. Maybe you stumbled on that by accident? But it's not about a level of dissonance, whatever "dissonance" really even means to different people.

Pat Metheny said in an interview that all possible extensions are something sensible and non-dissonant to him. (Don't remember where, but maybe it was the recent The Pat Metheny interview with Rick Beato)

How do you master extensions, as well as flattened and sharpened extensions?

First you build a foundation on something that you can use without further explanations. When you have a known foundation, you can see other things in terms of those basic elements. You could even learn the flamenco chord above as a basic chord that doesn't need explaining, but for some reason you want to "understand" it.

A good foundation for the flamenco thing is to know basic minor and major harmony, in terms of three chords of minor, and three chords of major. And to be able to find the key center. For example in E minor and G major, these would be

  • E minor: Em (tonic), Am (subdominant), B7 (dominant)
  • G major: G (tonic), C (subdominant), D (dominant)

The foundation means being able to:

  • Find the chords on your instrument.
  • Listen and find the key center on your instrument.
  • Listen and play by ear songs which utilize the 3+3 chords. (I, IV and V of major, and same for the relative minor)
  • Listen to other more advanced music and feel that this sounds familiar, somehow similar to what you already know from the simpler 3+3 chord world.
  • Assign some kind of names or symbols to the chords, so you can make notes, retrieve the notes later and reproduce the music. If you cannot read and write, remembering locations on the instrument can work as symbols, but being able to talk with other people is nice. (Though if they have their foundation in order, you could also show the locations on your instrument or play the chords and they will get the idea.)

When you have the foundation, you can build on it. And then you can for example

  • learn what it feels like to make the subdominant a 6 chord.
  • learn what it feels like to make one of the major chords a maj7
  • learn what it feels like to make the major's subdominant chord a seventh, like the D7 in Reflejo de Luna
  • learn to make substitutions like instead of a dominant chord, play a dim or dim7 rooted on the dominant's third. Or a tritone substitution.
  • learn to see chord sequences from other keys being temporarily used, like in a song that's in F# minor, there can be a G#7 - C#7 motion,
  • learn tunes by listening, instead of relying on unreliable sources like the internet and "apps"

If I understood correctly, one of the fundamental problems behind this question was not being able to hear that the flamenco tune is in a minor key, and instead accepting bogus information from online "tools".

  • I appreciate that you took the time to answer but I disagree with a lot here and don’t think it answers the question. Chefs actually do use chemistry, the most basic level you learn what’s sour and not (that’s PH). Some chefs even learn neurogastronomy. For me, learning a instrument is a lifetime endeavour. It is something you mature with and develop over decades. Since I have so much time I don’t see why I shouldn’t dissect and consume music with as deep perception as possible. To me it broadens the mind and teaches me a lot.
    – j a
    Jul 18, 2022 at 11:10
  • 1
    @ja If you disagree with the food analogy and insist that it's possible to make good food without being able to taste, fine. I was only trying to explain that there is absolutely no substitute for being able to listen and hear a difference in the notes you play. I changed the answer. I originally thought it wouldn't help to say you're wrong, because that would be a step to the wrong direction, talking about intellectual and logical things. The thing you seem to be missing is development of senses and skills, not logic and knowledge. Jul 18, 2022 at 13:16
  • @ja Can you accompany by ear the song Happy Birthday, using the chords F, Bb and C? If yes, can you add a seventh to one of those chords somewhere so that it supports the song? If yes, can you make one of those chords a minor chord somewhere in the song, so that it supports the progression? How about a dim7 chord? It's about skills, not knowledge. A long journey of developing skills and senses. Using words like "dissonance" misses the point and is more of a distraction than help, IMO. Can you ride a bicycle? It's either can or cannot. Having done well in physics and math doesn't help. Jul 18, 2022 at 13:21
  • The format of this site is largely unsuitable for learning music. Most people would need more like a personal trainer and coach, not theori and logical "correct" answers. Participating in "matches". Interactions and practice, not reading. The coach might need to read a little bit every now and then, but the students need coaching. If you can work as your own coach and trainer, then you should now be telling yourself to do ear training exercises. Jul 18, 2022 at 13:29
  • I was saying to you that learning this instrument feels like a lifelong commitment. So I don’t see why I shouldn’t go in depth mathematically if I want to, I have all the time in the world anyway. Why not develop preferences like you say and seeing what I like and don’t like - and Also learn tonality, functions, frequencies and whatever? That’s the only part I disagreed with you on, that you seemed to be saying I shouldn’t focus on the logical or mathematical aspect of it all. And I have gotten some good answers here already. Also reading on google and found some interesting things.
    – j a
    Jul 18, 2022 at 16:18

The first thing you'll want to learn is that flamenco often uses a phrygian dominant key (which I suppose you could call the "flamenco key"). Neophytes to the genre often make the mistake of confusing it for its relative minor, for lack of paying attention to the harmonic rhythm and probably also just out of habit because a phrygian dominant key is not something you're taught to conceptualize in other genres.

For instance a basic solea will often be in "E flamenco". Take the same chords as the relative C major but assign the scale degrees you would have if E were the tonic.

I = E, II = F, III = G, iv = Am, V = Bdim, VI = C, vii = Dm,

A solea in E will spend most of its time going back and forth from F to E. That II-I cadence serves the same functional purpose as V-I does in a major key. At some point it will go up to the 4th degree, Am, but the Am does not at all feel like a resolution to flamenco ears (though it may sound that way to the neophyte). It will then switch to a V-I cadence in the relative C major key, in what is the functional equivalent to a blues turnaround, before going back to the "E flamenco key". Those are the basics of solea in E.

A lot of the alterations you're picking up on are the product of the sheer physicality of the guitar. What happens when, instead of using E as the tonic for the flamenco key, you use F#? Well, over the years certain chord voicings and certain uses of open strings developed into the standard for playing in F#. And that standard is associated with particular forms of flamenco. When I hear those F# voicings, I immediately associate it with, for instance, taranta.

Reflejo de luna is a granaínas. Granaínas are a subform of fandangos that on the guitar are played in "B flamenco key". Or rather, the sung version is in G major, but guitar accompaniment often goes back and forth between G major while the singer is singing, and off into the relative B flamenco key when providing fillers. A lot of the alterations you're picking up on are just the standard voicings that developed from applying the flamenco key to B tonic on a guitar.

The last point is to forget about the objective notes and think of them only in relation to wherever the capo happens to be. Here Paco de Lucía is playing with capo, but he is in thinking in terms of the chord shapes he would use for granaínas, with or without capo. A flamenco artist will call the tonic for that B, regardless of whether it actually is one or not. Your analysis will be a lot simpler if you transpose everything back down to open string position.

Applying to flamenco a theory that was developed for entirely different genres can get you in trouble. Don't get me wrong, it can be done, but it's supremely difficult and the smallest mistake will lead to a lot of unnecessary confusion. To understand flamenco guitar you want to be thinking with concepts like "palos", "por arriba", "por medio", etc. etc. and less with concepts like flat 6s or whatever. If you really want to understand it, sticking to theoretical concepts of "Western" music theory will only hold you back.

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