resources index
versión en español
falseta collections
Flamenco Guitar Transcriptions
The Music of Gaspar Sanz

These pieces were published in 1675 in a guitar method written by the Spanish guitarist Gaspar Sanz, and are presented here in order of playing difficulty.

Antecedents of flamenco rhythms

Certain styles of popular music from Sanz's era used irregular rhythms very similar to those found today in flamenco, although the harmonic tension and release happen at different times and in different ways than in flamenco. The rhythm in Sanz's Zarabanda and Canarios is similar to that of the guajiras and peteneras styles of flamenco, his Jácaras is similar to soleá, and his Pasacalles, if taken in sixes, bears a certain similarity to sevillanas or fandangos de Huelva and, when taken in twelves, can be likened to soleá.

The rhythm of Sanz's Zarabanda and Canarios is often called "de amalgama" in modern flamenco terminology, due to the asymmetrical intervals between the accented beats (3+3+2+2+2). This rhythm is normally written in a mixed meter of 6/8 and 3/4, but it can be found throughout the history of Spanish music, sometimes appearing as a homogenized 6/8 or 12/8, as seen below (the musicologist Dionisio Preciado described this as 'camouflaged').

In his 1577 publication "De Musica Libri Septem," the theoretician Francisco de Salinas wrote that this rhythm was used in the folk song "Retratada está La Infanta / bien así como solía" and also in the romance "Conde Claros."

The musicologist Eduardo M. Torner wrote that this rhythm is found throughout most of a Christmas carol found in the "cancionero manuscrito de la Biblioteca Columbina" (see the indication below from the work of Emilio Rey García). Written in the early 16th century, the first verse is: "Los hombres, con gran placer."

The musicologist Dionisio Preciado has interpreted this rhythm in the "Cantigas de Santa María," number 166, although the musicologist Emilio Rey García mentions that this may be based on a controversial transcription of Querol. Preciado also indicates the presence of this rhythm in "Paño Moruno" (not Falla's version, but the original from the "Cancionero Murciano"), in another old folk form called the tirana, and in certain parts of the Basque ezpata-dantza (banako, binako and laudako).

Emilio Rey García indicates that this rhythm is found in the "Cancionero Musical de Palacio" (compiled around 1520), numbers 12 and 310; in the "Cancionero Musical de la Columbina," numbers 61, 71 and 89 (edition M. Querol); in the "Cancionero Musical de Góngora" (thus named by Querol), numbers 1, 4, 5, 8, 14, 15, 17, 22, 24, 25, 27, 34, 35, 38 and 40; and in 24 pieces included in "Música Barroca Española," also by Querol, appearing in books 32 and 39 of "Monumentos de la Música Española," published by the Instituto Español de Musicología del CSIC.

Baroque guitar

In Sanz's time, the guitar still had only five strings, tuned A-D-G-B-E, bass to treble. Double strings were used, except for the first, or E, for a total of nine strings. The B- and G-string sets were tuned in unison, but, according to Sanz, the D and A could consist of two treble strings (standard practice in Italy), two bass strings (standard practice in Spain) or one of each. This means that, depending on the tuning used, the A- and D-string sets could be higher in pitch than the G-string set. Sanz studied in Italy, and his style reflects the tendencies of the Italian school. I've transcribed these pieces from the original upside-down five-string tablature (lower-pitched notes on uppermost lines) to reflect how they sound when played on a modern guitar in standard tuning.

Obviously, the music Sanz wrote was intended for a different instrument than the modern guitar. Because Sanz used trebles for the fourth and fifth strings, playing his music in standard tuning will produce octave jumps in certain melodic lines, and some pieces will adapt better than others to modern guitar. Ironically, using bass strings for the fourth- and fifth-string sets actually seems to improve some of the pieces. Perhaps Sanz wrote for different tunings. In recent years, arrangements of Sanz's tablature have been written for modern tuning, moving passages from the bass to the treble strings, in an effort to maintain what appears to be the original melodic line. However, this completely alters the striking-hand fingering, and Sanz apparently put a great deal of importance on this aspect when he wrote the following:

"Great care must be taken in the use of the right-hand thumb. It always plays the lowest voice, and, if there are two numbers, even if they appear on the lowest lines (note: he's referring to the trebles), you should use your thumb for the lowest voice, because the thumb is the finger that has to explain that voice, so that it has more body, and because the second string does not sound as good with an index-finger upstroke as it does with a thumbed downstroke."

Sanz's tablature includes double bar lines that separate passages called diferencias: twelve-beat phrases that can be likened to flamenco's falsetas. Notice the two-beat pickup measure at the beginning of the Jácaras and the Pasacalle.


The rhythm of this piece is also present in Sanz's "Canarios," and is normally written as a mixed meter in 3/4 and 6/8. Apparently, the zarabanda was thought by some to be immoral, as the singing and dancing of this style were prohibited in Spain in 1585 and 1630, respectively. But don't let that stop you from having a good time playing this piece.

(original tablature from 1675)
Zarabanda of Gaspar Sanz - original tablature
(click here to listen)
Zarabanda of Gaspar Sanz, modern notation


The rhythm of this jácaras is reminiscent of soleá and is in the key of A minor. The other jácaras appearing in Sanz's method is in the key of D minor (both are in minor, whereas flamenco is in Phrygian mode). In this way, the two pieces use the "por arriba" and "por medio" positions of flamenco. Perhaps they are simply popular keys for the guitar, but the similarity is curious, and the music actually fits the soleá rhythm very well. Beats one to three are assertive and beats four to six follow suit (the pick-up measure helps to center the accents on beats three and six), but here the harmonic tension nearly always resolves on beats six and twelve, and is normally maintained for beats eight to ten (unlike soleá, which resolves on beat ten). Try counting the soleá rhythm while listening to the audio file. Notice that the sixth diferencia has only 11 beats, which sets up the conclusion of the piece in cycles that start on beat 12, as in the pasacalle.

(original tablature from 1675)
Jácara of Gaspar Sanz - original notation
(click here to listen)
Jácaras de Gaspar Sanz, modern notation


Sanz presented this piece as an exercise designed to loosen up both hands, and it makes for an excellent workout in rest strokes. There are several left-hand effects like mordents, vibrato and trills (T) that are only partially represented here. As a general playing rule, Sanz wrote that the thumb, index and middle fingers should be used whenever possible. The fingering in the last diferencia is worth special attention. In the third staff, we can see echoes of an idea in thirds that Montoya and Melchor often played in soleá. The music below is composed in twelve-beat passages, similar to the Jácaras. When taken in sixes, certain moments can be likened to sevillanas or fandangos de Huelva. Notice that, like the Jácaras, the passages start with a well-defined 1-2-3, but, toward the end, the cycles begin on beat 12, adding a flowing sensation to the conclusion.

(original tablature from 1675)
Pasacalle de Gaspar Sanz - original tablature
(click here to listen)
Pasacalle de Gaspar Sanz Pasacalle de Gaspar Sanz
resources index
falseta collections