Musical traditions such as Turkish, Arabic and Flamenco music introduce regularly the use of microtones in the “cante” or chant. The fact that western tempered instruments like the piano or the guitar cannot perform intervals smaller than a semitone makes it impossible for an instrumentalist to imitate accurately the melodies of the vocal traditions of these cultures.
It is remarkable, nevertheless, the attempt of most Spanish and Flamenco composers to approach microtonality trough the use of dissonances in the construction of chords. One of the main harmonic tool used for this purpose is the creation of semi-toned clusters in half step distance. This means that while in Western Classical music the flat ninth appears one octave above creating a succession in thirds; I-III-V-VII- IX, in Flamenco music the flat ninth appears next to the tonic or the octave, making; I / bII / III / V and optionally the seventh.
The fifth and the flat sixths, 1 / 3 / 5 / 7 / 8, or 1 / 3 / 5 / b6 / 7 / 8 / b9, are also semitoned for this purpose. Falla or Albéniz frequently used 1 / b2 / 3 / 5 / b6 / 7 structures as the tonic chord.
Sometimes, the cluster is employed in the high melodic line. Falla, Albéniz or Granados often omit the third or the fourth and create the following construction of chords; 1/ 5 / 8 / b9.
This same process we do with fifth and flat sixth: 1 / 4 / 5 / b6. Now we 1 / 3 / 5 / b6. we can put together to preserve cases E / F / A / B / C; or 1 / b2 / 4 / b5 / 6, that would be E / F / G# / B / C. At the same time, in certain “palos” or styles such as the Alegrías, Bulerías de Cadiz, Colombiana or Guajiras, a major chord is set with additional ninth; 1 / 2 / 3 / 5; E / F# / G# / B. and E b6 / 9 sus4; E / F# / B / C.
This is how our western tempered instruments approximate Microtonality in Flamenco and Spanish Music.
© Yago Santos y Felix Santos, 2019