Flamenco Teaching Philosophy
By Adam Del Monte - New Learning Vision
Is it possible to learn flamenco and not be a Gypsy or a Spaniard?
Since I grew up in Malaga, and later in the caves of Sacromonte in Granada spending four long summer months living with the Gypsies as one of them, I can say that the answer to that question is yes.
Does that mean everyone should now follow in these exact footsteps?
Of course not; everyone creates their own path to their own way of learning. However, there are a few cardinal principles I have identified for myself during my thirty-one years of playing guitar and twenty years of teaching. I think that my experiences can help people maximize their learning ability and avoid major pitfalls of wrong and harmful beliefs about the learning process.
In school, we are mostly taught in a linear way. Every bit of information is supposed to be fed to us one piece at a time. Most of the information is not transmitted in full context and without any emotional value or connection to our life.
Music should definitely not be taught that way. Don’t misunderstand me there is a part of learning music that is linear in nature like learning the notes on a page or a video etc. But it should always be placed on a foundation of an emotional understanding of your particular instrument, style of music, the culture, the language, the people. In short, the total space that gave birth to what it is that you are learning. Then, and only then, does the linear part become alive and fun. This can inspire one to practice one passage slowly one thousand times and not go mad, but actually, benefit from it and go deep inside your self as a result of it. Therefore, I encourage anyone who wants to learn flamenco to listen to as much as possible, see videos of flamenco dance, visit Spain if you can understand the mentality, eat Spanish food, drink Spanish wine (if you’re of drinking age), etc.
How does one go about teaching flamenco or learning flamenco outside of Spain?
If you don’t speak Spanish, have never been to Spain, and didn’t grow up in a flamenco environment, how do you learn? Good question?! Well, you gotta start somewhere. But where and how? Good, solid, quality knowledge is obviously very important. You have to have a teacher that knows the forms, can play and can transmit the information, so by the end of the lesson you feel that you own this knowledge. Whatever little bit it is – you own it; it’s yours. You then need to understand that any falseta (musical variation) or compass pattern you know (groove licks), no matter who composed them (traditional/anonymous or not). It is only one compositional example of infinite possibilities that exist within the vocabulary of the language of flamenco.
One must cultivate the ability to listen with the heart. What does that mean?
When you hear the brooding sound of Seguiríya or the agitated riding gallop of the Buleria and it makes your blood flow in the other direction – Bingo! That’s listening with the heart.
Once you have this feeling inside you, you must use your intuition to find the path that connects the linear learning (the mind) of the material, sensitizing your awareness to every possible nuance of what you are learning from the teacher or the CD, video, etc, and assimilate not only what is being played, but HOW it is being played. The how will lead you to create that path to the heart. This is called learning by osmosis.
I consider Pepe “Habichuela” my master and mentor.
How many falsetas did he show me over fifteen years of hanging out?
Ah, about four to five tops.
Why then do I consider him my mentor?
Because instead of studying from him, I studied him. I understand not everyone may have this luxury, but it is my hope and wishes to transmit some of this spirit in my lessons, be they private or on New Learning Vision.
I can’t stress enough the importance of studying slowly and in depth. Pepe always used to tell me, “Tranquillo, la saldra.” – “Relax, take it easy, it’ll come out”
It is my desire to utilize to the maximum, the medium of online lessons to transmit exactly that; slowly explained and in-depth knowledge (linear information) that is grounded in an understanding of the total process. The total process being: a correct understanding of technique and how to develop it in its various stages; a natural way of progressing through the levels of complexity and difficulty of repertoire and paying close attention to your musical execution of what you are studying. Not only the technical-mechanical but also the expressive. They all have to be in constant balance.
Remember, once you tread on the path of learning, you will never feel satisfied because you will (at least you should be) aware of what you don’t know and how much more there is to learn. It is that feeling of dissatisfaction that will drive you to learn more and therefore make you realize that you’ll always have something new to learn and look forward to for the rest of your life.
Now that, I find quite satisfying.
Adam del Monte
New Learning Vision