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Copyright 2020 by Wayne Stegall
Updated
October 12, 2020.  See Document History at end for details.


Spanish Music Theory

What underlies the Spanish sound?

Perhaps you are just curious or want to improvise or compose with a Spanish sound.  I attempt here to explain some of the theory you need.

Scale alterations

Chromatically altering diatonic scales to get the scale interval sequence 1-3-1 produces the desired exotic sound.  This is known as the harmonic scale sequence presumably because it is the alteration that changes a natural Minor scale to a harmonic Minor one.  The phrygian dominant mode is relative to this harmonic Minor and is the most important mode to flamenco music.  An additional chromatic alteration creates a scale with two harmonic interval sequences which is known as the double-harmonic or Arabic scale.  This scale sound more exotic and Spanish.  In practice playing moves freely between equivalent diatonic, harmonic, and double-harmonic scales as the desired sound requires.  When the exotic sound is desired the melody moves in a harmonic section of the scale.  Because of this, the harmonic sequence bounded by the phrygian dominant tonic chord is called the flamenco pentatonic scale and has the interval sequence of 1-3-1-2-1.

Here are charts of the most played Spanish scales and their variations along with many standard chords produced.

E Phrygian natural/
A Minor natural
 
E Phrygian dominant /
A Minor harmonic
 
E Arabic Major /
A Arabic Minor
 
E Phrygian / A Minor
(Sharp D only)











Scale type: diatonic

Scale:  E F G A B C D E
Scale intervals:  1-2-2-2-1-2-2

Scale:  A B C D E F G A
Scale intervals:  2-1-2-2-1-2-2

Chords
Major:   C F G
Minor:   D E A
Major7:   C F
Minor7:   D E A
Dom7:   G
Dom7-5:   G
It6:   Db
Dim:   B
Aug: 
Min7b5:   B
Dim7: 
Aug7: 
Fifth:   C D E F G A

Typical tonic-predominant-dominant-
tonic chord sequences:

E Minor-A Minor-F/B Dim-E Minor

A Minor-D Minor-E Minor-A Minor

Scale type: harmonic

Scale:   E F G# A B C D E
Scale intervals:  1-3-1-2-1-2-2

Scale:   A B C D E F G# A
Scale intervals:  2-1-2-2-1-3-1

Chords
Major:   E F
Minor:   D F A
Major7:   F
Minor7:   D
Dom7:   E
Dom7-5:   E
It6:   Bb
Dim:   D F G# B
Aug:   C E G#
Min7b5:   D B
Dim7:   D F G# B
Aug7:   E
Fifth:   D E F A

Typical tonic-predominant-dominant-
tonic chord sequences:

E-C-F-E

A Minor-D Minor-E-A Minor

Scale type: double-harmonic

Scale:   E F G# A B C D# E
Scale intervals:  1-3-1-2-1-3-1

Scale:   A B C D# E F G# A
Scale intervals:  2-1-3-1-1-3-1

Chords
Major:   E F G#
Minor:   F G# A
Major7:   E F
Minor7:   F
Dom7:   F
Dom7-5:   F B
It6:   F B
Dim:   F A
Aug:   C E G#
Min7b5:   F
Dim7: 
Aug7: 
Fifth:   E F G# A

Typical tonic-predominant-dominant-
tonic chord sequences:

E-A Minor-F-E

A Minor-F?-E-A Minor

Scale type: harmonic

Scale:   E F G A B C D# E
Scale intervals:  1-2-2-2-1-3-1

Scale:   A B C D# E F G A
Scale intervals:  2-1-3-1-1-3-1

Chords
Major:  F  C
Minor:   E A C
Major7:   F C
Minor7:   A
Dom7:   F
Dom7-5:   F G B
It6:  F B  Db
Dim:   A
Aug:   G B D#
Min7b5:   A
Dim7: 
Aug7:   G B
Fifth:   E F A C

Typical tonic-predominant-dominant-
tonic chord sequences:

E-A Minor-F-E

A Minor-F?-E-A Minor


A Phrygian natural/
D Minor natural
 
A Phrygian dominant /
D Minor harmonic
 
A Arabic Major /
D Arabic Minor
 
A Phrygian / D Minor
(Sharp G only)











Scale type: diatonic

Scale:   A Bb C D E F G A
Scale intervals:  1-2-2-2-1-2-2

Scale:   D E F G A Bb C D
Scale intervals:  2-1-2-2-1-2-2

Chords
Major:   C F Bb
Minor:   D G A
Major7:   F Bb
Minor7:   D G A
Dom7:   C
Dom7-5:   C
It6:   Gb
Dim:   E
Aug: 
Min7b5:   E
Dim7: 
Aug7: 
Fifth:   C D F G A Bb

Typical tonic-predominant-dominant-
tonic chord sequences:

A Minor-D Minor-Bb/E Dim-A Minor

D Minor-G Minor-A Minor-D Minor

Scale type: harmonic

Scale:   A Bb C# D E F G A
Scale intervals:  1-3-1-2-1-2-2

Scale:   D E F G A Bb C# D
Scale intervals:  2-1-2-2-1-3-1

Chords
Major:   A Bb
Minor:   D G Bb
Major7:   Bb
Minor7:   G
Dom7:   A
Dom7-5:   A
It6:   Eb
Dim:   C# E G Bb
Aug:   C# F A
Min7b5:   E G
Dim7:   C# E G Bb
Aug7:   A
Fifth:   D G A Bb

Typical tonic-predominant-dominant-
tonic chord sequences:

A-F-Bb-A

D Minor-B Minor-A-D Minor

Scale type: double-harmonic

Scale:   A Bb C# D E F G# A
Scale intervals:  1-3-1-2-1-3-1

Scale:   D E F G# A Bb C# D
Scale intervals:  2-1-3-1-1-3-1

Chords
Major:   C# A Bb
Minor:   C# D Bb
Major7:   A Bb
Minor7:   Bb
Dom7:   Bb
Dom7-5:   E Bb
It6:   E Bb
Dim:   D Bb
Aug:   C# F A
Min7b5:   Bb
Dim7: 
Aug7: 
Fifth:   C# D A Bb

Typical tonic-predominant-dominant-
tonic chord sequences:

A-D Minor-Bb-A

D Minor-Bb?-A-D Minor

Scale type: harmonic

Scale:   A Bb C D E F G# A
Scale intervals:  1-3-1-2-1-3-1

Scale:   D E F G# A Bb C D
Scale intervals:  2-1-3-1-1-3-1

Chords
Major:   Bb F
Minor:   A D F
Major7:   Bb F
Minor7:   D
Dom7:   Bb
Dom7-5:   Bb C E
It6:   Bb E Gb
Dim:   D
Aug:   C E G#
Min7b5:   D
Dim7: 
Aug7:   C E
Fifth:   A Bb D F

Typical tonic-predominant-dominant-
tonic chord sequences:

A-D Minor-Bb-A

D Minor-Bb?-A-D Minor

Note:  Dom7-5 is a Dom7 without a fifth.  The It6 is derived from Dom7-5 and may not have any particular function.

Harmonic Theory

The minor harmonic mode is well known, so for now the first interest is the Phrygian and related modes.  The Flamenco mode moves freely between Phrygian natural, Phrygian dominant, Arabic major, and Phrygian with only 7th note sharped.  This gives rise to an enormous number of chords as shown above.

The second chord (F in E Phrygian) has three leading notes (a semitone away) to the tonic chord.  Indeed, a shift to the Arabic major mode makes all of the notes not part of the tonic (combining to make II7, F7 in E Phrygian) leading notes to the tonic chord.  That, and the fact that the fifth chord is a diminished one, change considerations of what constitute the primary harmonic functions.  In major mode theory, the dominant function is filled by a dominant chord with one leading tone to the tonic note and a stronger one by a dominant seventh having two leading tones to the tonic chord and a dissonant interval between them to drive strongly back to the tonic chord.  In flamenco mode these functions seem to have moved to the second degree as mentioned.  For example, superficial analyis of a Seguiryas shows much alternating I-II-I and then finishes II7-I (A-Bb-A ... Bb7-A in A Phrygian).  Predominant chords prepare or lead to dominant chords:  a function ordinarily given to the fourth chord.  Here the fourth chord has a consonant fifth and seems to be used along with its relative major (Am and C in E Phrygian).  Soleares uses C in progressions like E-Fmaj7-C-Fmaj7-E.  Others use Am.  The function of the other chords in the charts could be evaluated for a leading note to the tonic and the presence of any dissonance to determine their function and played to evaluate the result.  All chords outside of simple major and minor triads are dissonant:  minor and major sevenths mildly, and dominant sevenths and diminished (including minor 7 flat 5) strongly.  Since the Phrygian mode is not well documented the discovery of its theory is incomplete and may be subject to additions or corrections.

Techniques

All the techniques of first Classical then Flamenco guitar, of which the following are typical.

It is really necessary to learn Classical then perhaps Flamenco to attain this technique aspect.

Could more be added?



Document History
February 22, 2020
  Created.
February 22, 2020  Added Minor improvements.  Changed term subdominant to predominant to indicate function rather than a specific chord.
October 12, 2020  Added more chords to chord tables and a new section on Harmonic Theory.