Flamenco Rhythm {What is compás?}

Welcome to part 3 in our series for complete beginners. Today's post is all about compás.

You can find part 1 here

and part 2 here

As we described in our last post rhythm is at the centre of everything flamenco. EVERYTHING.

There are some palos that may be sung and played 'libre' or free that don't have a recognisable rhythmic pattern but it is very clear that it is a choice made by the artists to use a free rhythm.

Let's start at the beginning for those of us who are really new to all of this.

What is rhythm?

Rhythm is a regular repeated pattern of sound or in the case of the dancer - movement.

There are many different ways these patterns can be arranged but at the heart of flamenco there are some patterns that have been codified and each one relates to a different palo (style). 

A palo is a style of song (remember the cante being important?) and each song has a corresponding compás.

What is compás?

Compás is the flamenco term used to describe the different rhythmic patterns. Within each palo there is a basic shape of the compás and then there are variations to that shape.

For now don't worry about the variations we are just going to look at a few basic compás shapes.

We should point out here that everything we describe or try to explain to you here is based on our knowledge and experience.

Nobody in all the world knows everything there is to know about flamenco. That person just doesn't exist. As you begin your journey studying flamenco you will find many many people to learn from and you should never stop trying to learn from everyone you meet. We have always wanted Flamenco Bites to be a jumping off point for your studies not the one and only place you come to for information. 

Ok, disclaimer over ; )

Back to the compás. Each palo has it's own compás that it is your job to learn as if it were your own heartbeat.

Let take a look at one that you are likely to encounter as a beginner.


Tangos is considered one of the most important flamenco styles. There are 3 main regional variations of tangos from Cádiz, Sevilla and Málaga each with it's own nuances. There are also personal styles within each regional variation. 

The compás of tangos is a 4 beat cycle within a larger 16 beat cycle that is repeated with accents on counts 2, 3 and 4. When doing palmas for tangos the 1 count is silent however it can be marked with a stamp of the foot.

This image is an attempt to show the shape of the compás graphically. You can see counts 1, 2 3 and 4 - these counts are the first beat of the 4 no. 4 beat cycles within the larger 16 beat cycle.

You could count this as ...

 1  2  3  4  2  2  3  4  3  2  3  4  4  2  3  4.

Now take a look at this video of José demonstrating a step for tangos. In the background you can hear my palmas - remember the first beat is not sounded by a clap. José takes 16 beats or 1 compás of tangos to do the step on one side before changing to repeat it on the other side.


See if you can dance along with José and stay 'in compás'!


In our next post in this series we will be talking more about cante flamenco and we will continue to use the palo of tangos as our example. 

Thank you for reading!

Renae & José