WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1) The Andalusian Cadence is a series of chords that gives flamenco music its distinctive sound
2) Cadence: In Music, a sequence of notes or chords comprising the close of a musical phrase: the final cadences of the Prelude.
3) This chord progression consists of the i, VII, VI, and V chords of any minor scale, ending on the V chord.
4) The most commonly used scale for this chord progression is the Harmonic minor scale (in the key of A minor: A B C D E F G# A)
5) The most common keys in Flamenco are A Phrygian, known as Por Medio in flamenco guitar, and consisting of Dm, C, Bb. A chords. A Phrygian (Por Medio) is used frequently in Tangos and Bulerias. The other common key is E Phrygian, known as Por Arriba in Flamenco guitar, and consisting of Am, G, F, E. E Phrygian (Por Arriba) is used frequently in Solea and Fandangos Del Huelva.
THE ANDALUSIAN CADENCE:
Today we will be discussing a really common chord progression and sound in Flamenco: The Andalusian Cadence! Learning more about this sound will help audiences better appreciate flamenco music, provide flamenco dancers with a better understanding of the music that accompanies them, and non Flamenco musicians some basic theory to incorporate flamenco sounds into their music.
At this point, if you want to skip the theory and just listen, skip to "LISTENING: THE ANDALUSIAN CADENCE IN CONTEXT. I would recommend reading the theory portions just for some context.
THE MUSIC THEORY: THE CHORD PROGRESSION
This series of four chords is so ubiquitous in Flamenco that anyone listening to it should know it when they hear it. This chord progression (or arrangement of chords) is called the Andalusian Cadence because of its close association with music from the Andalusian region of Spain, which is the region and culture from which Flamenco music originated. In Music, a cadence is a sequence of notes or chords comprising the close of a musical phrase: the final cadences of the Prelude.
This Cadence is also known as the Phrygian Cadence in Western/Classical music theory. That name comes from the 7 Greek modes. In a nutshell, for those of you who are musically literate, if you are familiar with you're C major scale (C D E F G A B C), the Phrygian scale consists of the same notes as the C major scale but starts on the note E (E F G A B C D E). Think of it like this: if you start and finish on each of the different notes on the C major scale, you will end up with 6 different scales with their own sound (7, if you include the original major scale). These scales are called "modes" and are often thought of as in relation to the major scale from which they share notes. For example, F Lydian is the 4th mode of the C major scale (F G A B C D E F) and G Mixolydian is the 5th mode (G A B C D E F G). Note that F is the 4th note of the C major scale and G is the fifth.
THE MUSIC THEORY: THE HARMONIC MINOR SCALE:
Finally, in order to further understand flamenco, you must also familiarize yourself with the notes and the sound of the harmonic minor scale. The A minor scale, also known as the A Aeolian mode (the 6th mode of the C major scale), is where we need to start. The A minor scale consists of the notes A B C D E F G A. The A harmonic minor scale is the same thing only with one note alteration: G#
So, A harmonic minor is A B C D E F G#
So, what are the chords of the Phrygian cadence? The most commonly used key in flamenco is E Phrygian (or A minor, depending on how you want to look at it).
The Chords are: A minor, G major, F major, and E major with a flat 9 (F natural).
Am, G, F, E major add b9
Notating this in numerals so its easy to transpose into different keys:
A minor: i, VII, VI, Vb9
Note that the scale that fits all these chords best is A melodic minor (A B C D E F G# A)
Am: A C E
G: G B D
F: F A C
E major add b9: E G# B (F)
While I am presenting this in terms of A minor, we are actually in E Phrygian and ending on E major add b9, so in reality we are building a chord progression and harmonies on the 5th mode of the A harmonic minor scale (E add b9 being the ending or "cadence" of the phrase). This scale is called the Phrygian Dominant Scale (E F G# A B C D E). Note that it is the same as the E Phrygian scale (E F G A B C D E) but with a G#.
LISTENING: HEARING THE ANDALUSIAN CADENCE
Flamenco dance music is accompanied on guitar, and there are two very common versions of this cadence on guitar that you can listen to, each with a slightly different sound. Below are video demonstrations by myself of the most common chord progressions in some of the more common flamenco dance forms:
Por Medio (Key of A Phrygian), commonly used for Bulerias and Tangos
Por Arriba (Key of E Phrygian), commonly used for Solea and Fandangos Del Huelva
The Harmonic Minor Scale
EXAMPLES IN CONTEXT: SOLO GUITAR AND DANCE
Por Medio (Tangos): Here is a great recording of one of my favorite flamenco guitarists Paco Pēna. A good example of the chord progression is at 0:28-0:32:
Por Arriba (Fandangos Del Heulva): Here is a good recording with a dancer and singer. You can hear the chord progression at 1:53 - 1:57: