When you first listen to flamenco music from a guitarists point of view it can seem quite mysterious as to how exactly the music is able to achieve its sense of tension and fire. Most people will immediately think of the harmonic minor scale and some may even know enough to point to the Phrygian mode of the major scale but this doesn’t actually put you any closer to understanding how the harmonic engine of flamenco music works.
The key lies not only in understanding the structure of its progressions and classic VI – V cadence point but also in the chords used and how their consonance is interrupted in order to maintain a sense of ambiguity and unrest. Even though Spanish guitar music sounds very dark and minor in much of its tonality, major chords are extremely important. Dominant seven chords however are central to flamenco and in particular the ways in which they can be altered to create extra dissonance.
The classic flamenco chord is an E7b9. This is a chord which is full of tension and mystery yet it is often used as a rest chord in typical flamenco cadences. In all dominant seven chords there exists a tritone which already gives the chord a lot of energy to be resolved however flamenco adds a flat 9 which really pushes the envelope and gives the music not only a feeling of unrest but also of great mystery. For every student of Spanish guitar the ability to properly understand the nature of flamenco chords is very important as it will set the tone for many of the well known pieces you’ll be learning and performing.