Recently I've been trying to get some flamenco spirit into my playing. I've already experimented with some 'gypsy' scales and it feels good, but I've also realized that part of the secret is in using less common time-signatures.

What time-signatures could be considered as typical for these styles?

  • do you have a song or piece as an example?
    – brian
    Jan 14, 2011 at 1:21

4 Answers 4


You need to understand that flamenco rhythm is very different from classical or popular music (it has more in common with Indian Classical music and the concept of "Tala").

All flamencos talk about rhythm using the notion of "compas" - these are rhythmic "styles", that include a time structure, as well as a feel and a usual tempo. For example, Bulerias compas is a cycle of 12 beats, but sometimes just 6, played fast (and faster!), and has a feeling of "fiesta", both dark and light, about it. So when one of your answers refers to a Paco de Lucia song as "Bulerias", he is mistaking the name of the compas for a song title. And Paco is certainly not playing in 3/4 - the "uncommon" time signature you are hearing is coming from taking 12 fast beats and grouping them by threes and twos (Google "hemiola"), and with Bulerias in particular, often throwing in an accent on beats 7 and 8 (with 12 being the first strong beat of the cycle).

"12 being the first strong beat"?!? Another amazingly confusing thing about flamenco rhythm is that traditionally flamencos count the 12 beat cycles (Bulerias, Solea, Alegrias, etc.) starting with 12, instead of 1. This seems just perverse, until someone reminds you that they refer to the "clock" - and the clock starts ticking at 12...

OK, ok, there are simpler compas - "Tango" is four 4/4 measures (but the cycle usually ends on beat 3... And it doesn't really have anything to do with Argentine tango...). Obviously, people can go on and on about this topic - it's a great stew of old dance forms (think Sarabande, from Bach's time?), ethnic music (Zambra, from the Jews of Cordoba), modern "whacked" rhythms (they rap to flamenco in Jerez) and ancient mystery (compas really are like Indian Talas).

But since you are just looking for flamenco "spirit", and aren't necessarily committed to Total Immersion Flamenco Obsession, I would first just focus on trying to hear those squirrely groups of twos and threes, and how they shift throughout the 12-beat cycle. But if you get curious, there's lots of material on the web (a good start is the Wikipedia article on flamenco - and then just start typing the names of various compas into YouTube). Have fun!


Based on a quick survey of my flamenco music books, here is a quick survey:

Gypsy Kings: 18 songs in 2/4, 7 songs in 4/4.
Django Rheinhart (gypsy, not flamenco): 13 songs, all 4/4.
Paco de Lucia: 8 in 3/4, 1 in 4/4, 4 in 3/8, 1 in 6/8.

Sample YouTubes by signature:

Generally, bulerias and sevillanas are 3/4 time; rumbas are 4/4.

Disclaimer: my ex was a flamenco dancer and I never throw books out.

  • 1
    Anyway Im surprised as I expected that majority of flamenco songs to be something else then 3/4 and 4/4. It has to be something in the rhythm and style how its played that gave me that impression.
    – Anonymous
    Jan 14, 2011 at 12:36
  • In Seguiriyas the measures are 3/4, 6/8, 3/4, 6/8 etc...
    – Chiron
    Jun 8, 2011 at 19:33

The most typical 12/8, with different 3 + 2 and so on patterns, maybe the most remebered/accessible/stereotyped being 3+3+2+2+2 (Bulerías)

Wikimedia One of the Typical Flamenco Signature

At least the one I remember most exportable and fusionable...

, which are not spanish)

But they can use as 6/8, 3/4 and even 4

I'm not expert but I am spanish :)

  • The last link is dead.
    – Dom
    Jun 5, 2018 at 1:56
  • It's Yes - Heart of the Sunrise
    – Whimusical
    Nov 6, 2019 at 1:13

I'm not affiliated to it but in my own opinion the following web page:


is the most extensive online document I've found as of yet on the issue of compas. It breaks down all of the main time signatures of flamenco palos. Unfortunately it is only available in Spanish, as is the case of many of the best ressources on flamenco. I submit it just in case...

However, as was said above in another answer, if you aren't looking to fully immerse yourself in flamenco and only add some flamenco spirit to other forms of playing, I wouldn't focus on the time structure (which could take years to discover all of the ins-and-outs of) and would focus on the scales and chord voicings that are specific to flamenco, as well as some of the right hand techniques.


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