Alzapua in Flamenco Guitar Music

A technique that epitomizes the Flamenco sound, alzapua employs thumb upstrokes to give passages of melody a rhythmic, pulsing syncopation with its rapid, repeating pattern of three different thumbstrokes. Taking its name from the Spanish verb ‘alzar,’ meaning ‘to lift’ or ‘to raise,’ alzapua is employed in many different toques.

Known today as a technique which shows off a virtuoso’s skills, alzapua has its roots in the ancient past.  Similar techniques have been used for centuries in music composed for the Islamic ‘ud, an ancient instrument which is part of the modern guitar’s pedigree. Using thumb upstrokes has a long history of use in Flamenco music.  Guitarists employed the technique to play both rasgueo as well as single note runs, in the latter using their thumbnail as a plectrum.

Start learning this powerful technique to give your music a lively rhythm. Play the strokes in this order:

1. Using your thumb, play a downstroke chord across all of the strings, using a well-defined note in the melody as your starting point, which will be the lowest and most important note in the chord.  How far the chord extends onto the higher strings is optional.  Usually, guitarists play a golpe at the same time that they play the thumbstroke.  For example:

2. Next, play a powerful upstroke on the same chord, using the edge of your fingernail to hit across all of the strings in the chord.  This is the key ingredient that will give your rhythm its distinguishing syncopation, as well as a sense of urgency.  Again, the extent of the stroke is not as crucial as the manner in which you hit the strings, since the upstroke is not part of the melody.

3. Finally, play one melody note on a bass string, using a firm apoyando. Use the same string as you want to use on the next downstroke, or, alternately, on the next lower string.  If you use the next lower string, swing your thumb on to sound the next note, with a smooth follow-through after striking the melody note. Keep your right hand in the ‘thumb’ position, shown earlier in Lesson Two.  Swing your thumb from the joint where it joins your wrist.  Base your left-hand finger movements on the chord positions used in the piece,  Hold the chord positions with some of your fingers, using the others to stop the melody notes.