Exploring Chords: The Andalusian Cadence


Illustration by Abigail Edmonds

Andalusia is an area of Spain that sits at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula, with its tip reaching out to the Strait of Gibraltar and Morocco. This land is a crossroads that welcomes the world’s travelers, in the waters between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and land travelers between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. This interaction with people from many different cultures has allowed Andalusia to develop a strong identity of its own. Flamenco and bullfighting are both from Andalusia, and now are considered to be typical of Spanish culture.

The Andalusian cadence consists of four chords that descend from the sixth step of the scale in a major key, or from the root of the minor mode. These chords descend step by step and when improvised on, send us dancing the flamenco and smelling the sea air mixed with Spanish dust and pine trees. Listen to Bill McGlaughlin explore this Andalusian cadence:

The flamenco dancer, Leopold Schmutzler (1920)

Bill McGlaughlin spells out the structure of the Andalusian cadence in such a way that you can pull out your instrument, and by following his simple rules you can sound as if you are sitting on one of the terraces of the Alhambra looking out over the rolling mountains. This is exactly what has been done since the Renaissance, and probably even long before that.

The flamenco guitar is a very different instrument than jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, or even classical guitars. It’s a smaller acoustic instrument with gut strings and a nutty round resonance to its sound, perfect for accompanying a voice or a dancer with castanets. The dancers and their rhythms we know, but it is worth checking out the vocal styles of cante jondo. This flamenco style of singing has not significantly changed for many centuries. It’s a unique voice of Andalusia that has spoken to the souls of music lovers for a long time.

Explore more chords with Bill McGlaughlin.