Flamenco Profile – Ramon Montoya

17 November 2015

Here at The Shine School of Music, we offer specialized guitar lessons of many different styles. One particular guitar is very important to us – the flamenco guitar. Learning the flamenco guitar and about its tradition is a whole world in itself. In order to truly understand and appreciate the depth of this art form, one has to know many different aspects of flamenco including the songs (cante) and dances (baile). Lucky for us, located in Spain, we are at the heart of flamenco culture. For our students here at Estudio Shine and our readers passing by our blog, we would like to introduce you to one of the most influential flamenco guitarist- the great Ramon Montoya.

Ramon Montoya made a huge impact on the world of flamenco guitar during the 1900´s. Many of the first commercial recordings ever of this type of music are under his name. He is responsible for many firsts with respect to the technique of the instrument, development of palos, and the solo flamenco guitar concert. He was born in Madrid in 1880 into a Romani family. Not much is said about his parents with regards to if they were musically involved, but the fact that they were Romani would imply that the gypsy roots of flamenco rhythm, song, and dance were deeply imbedded into his childhood. Montoya purchased his first guitar using money he had earned on his family farm in Madrid and developed so rapidly that he was playing in the old café cantantes by the time he was just a teenager.

When he was just fourteen years old, he started accompanying the famous flamenco singer, Antonio Chacón. One his biggest accomplishments was the development of the many palos (or traditional flamenco styles of songs) that we know today such as the Guajiras and Rondeña. Chacón was especially known for his interpretation of the cante jondo, or deep song which is a more profound and free style of flamenco. This style leaves a lot of space open for the accompanying guitarist to improvise and decorate the melodies in the background. One of Montoya´s signature sounds was introducing us to the world of altered tunings. For example, he started tuning his low 6th string down to the note D instead of E and would also occasionally change the pitch of his third string G to the note F#.

Up until the time of Montoya, the flamenco guitar was really only played in an accompanying role. That is to say that the flamenco guitarist would really only be involved to support a dancer, a singer, or both. This type of style (specialized by players such as Diego del Gastor) is characterized by prominent rhythmic playing in an effort to maintain the rhythm or compás, and energy. This style usually had minimal falsetas or melodic interludes. However, due to Montoya´s amazing facility on the instrument, he often got in the way of the cantaores with his technique when they were trying to sing. With that in mind, Montoya started to play solo concerts with his guitar. With these concerts he also brought with him a whole new range of techniques that had not previously been seen on the level of a concert guitarist. He introduced us to arpeggio falsetas which showed audiences facility across the strings with all of his finers of the right hand in combination with rasgueados. Another technique he introduced us to was the five note tremolo technique. Tremolo is a technique used by classical guitarists to imitate a note that is sustained by the bow on a stringed instrument such as a violin or cello. Classical guitarists use a tremolo with four notes in rapid succession to accomplish this and Ramon Montoya added a 5th note for a more elusive sound within the flamenco aire. To hear an example of tremolo you could listen to Francisco Tarrega´s famous piece, Recuerdos de la Ahlambra and a 5-note in Bronce Gitano by Sabicas (influenced by Montoya).

It was Ramon Montoya who brought the flamenco guitar to the concert stage. He was the Andrés Segovia of the flamenco guitar world. Many of his falsetas are still played by the best flamenco guitarists today. If you are interested in taking flamenco guitar lessons at Estudio Shine in Barcelona, César Munera and Miloš Šajin, our flamenco guitar teachers can get you started on your flamenco journey. If you are not based in Barcelona, we offer live online flamenco lessons via skype. Thanks for reading!

Ramon Montoya – Solea

Ramon Montoya – Rondeña