Last Update: 10/21/99

Interview with Flamenco Guitarist,
Juan Serrano.
Part One

I first met Mr. Serrano in 1987. My dad and Juan taught at the same University and they would bump into each other frequently. As a birthday gift my dad arranged for some flamenco lessons with Juan. At this time I was a guitar major at California State University at Northridge and I wanted to expand my knowledge of other styles. So, while I was on summer break, I took lessons from Mr. Serrano. This was my first introduction to this fine flamenco artist.

The following interview with Juan took place in mid-September 1999. Enjoy!

DS-Juan, I'd like to start with some questions off of the internet. The first question is from Peter Chan and he asks, "What brought about the event that saw you playing in the White House for President & Mrs. J.F.Kennedy in the early 1960's?"

JS-At this period of time I used to perform very often on every event for the Spanish Embassy. They invited me to play. Sometimes with dancers, with singers, and also solo guitar. The event was for many ambassadors from around the world.

DS-Was this around the time Ed Sullivan brought you to the United States?

JS-Yes, around this same period of time. I even have one anecdote like a little comedy, a joke. It was true I was very disapointed afterword, after I learned more about this country. First of all it was not in the White House it was in the State Department. Now, I don't know if you know that in Spanish we don't say things the same as here. For example here you say "I want 2 fried eggs", in Spanish we say "I want 2 eggs fried-dos huevos fritos." Now, here you say "State Department", we(in Spain) say "Departamiento Estado." At this time my english was not very good and I made many errors. The day before I played for the State Department, for Kennedy, I was on the Merv Griffin show. He(Merv Griffin) asked me "What is in the future, what are you going to do?" and I said, "tomorrow I have to play in the Estado apartment, apartment estado.." and I got stuck I didn't know how to get out of it and explain it good. And he(Merv) said, "In Washington?" And I said, "Yes." And the audience laughed! Later somebody played back the show for me. About a year or so later. They called me in New York and said "Mr. Serrano, do you understand good english?" And I said, "yes." This person said, " you will receive a present in the mail." They sent me a record, not a tape, on it was the show. Just the audio. When I got it I wanted to die. Because what he(Merv) said after me was "Oh, you are going to play in one apartment in Washington?" And I said "yes!" And he said, "Well, everyone in Washington has an apartment." I'll never forget that.

DS-The next question is from Jon. He asks, "Do you have any tips for developing the s-a-m-i continuous rasgueado?"

JS-For this I would say to buy the book "Juan Serrano-King of the Flamenco Guitar"(Mel Bay) In it I explain about every type of rasgueado that I play. Also the video "Flamenco Tradition- part one.(Mel Bay)" It is all technique about the rasgueado.

I can explain to you, if you want to learn more about the rasgueados, why so many rasgueados and why I developed my own.

DS-Yes, why are there so many rasgueados?

JS-The way we learn rasgueados, I'm talking about many years ago, we learned rasgueado by ear. It was not like now when the teacher is prepared and can give you the explanation, the fingering, timing and so on. Back then the teacher say "OK you want to learn? Ok do that(does a rasgueado)." Then the teacher hands you the guitar and you try do it. We did not have two guitars, only one between me and my father. I had to do, in my mind, what I believed was the technique. If you ask, "What finger?" they say, "I don't know, this is the sound, you do it!", and you have to take it and develop this.

Now many people, because it is easier, when they mark the rhythm start with this (s-a-m-i). For me at this period it was easier to do like that (i-m-a-s), because it was stronger in the reverse. And from then I developed my own rasgueado. I became popular in Spain, to accompany dancers and singers, with this kind of rasgueado. At one time some professionals would be in Madrid and say, "Oh, this boy must be crazy, even the rasgueado he does it in a reverse way."

Now days you go to a teacher and they say, "No, this rasgueado is wrong" and another they say, "No, this is wrong. Do like this..". Nobody put it in a book. This is what gave me the idea. I was the first one to put it in a book and give an explanation.

A reason why I developed this (i-s-a-m). I asked many flamenco guitarist, people that play good already, "OK,how do you play rasgueado?" They say,"Oh, I start with my little finger." I would say, "ok, give me four count in 1/16th notes." "What is that?" they say. Some of them did not read music so they did not know. They would start with the little finger and it sounds like dah-dah-dah-DAH(s-a-m-i). It was not even like dah-dah-dah-dah(i-s-a-m). See what I mean? It teaches good control of the timing. Later on you can choose what ever you want.

Rasgueado Study (60K)

So, this is the history of the rasgueado. First, nobody knew how to teach it and everybody learn in his own way. Then, later, when they become professional, everybody creates their own.

DS-How about some tips to develop the flamenco tremelo p-i-a-m-i?

JS-Yes, first do not play anything fancy in the left hand. Just keep one chord. It could be E major or A minor at the 5th fret, what ever you want. On the basses play 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 3, 4, 5 with the thumb and i-a-m-i on the first string. This way you can concentrate on the right hand.

Tremelo Study (59K)

The second thing is to use a metronome. Always! Use the metronome. Play each note of the tremelo with one click of the metronome until the fingers become trained. It must be even!

I also have my students play tremelo on one string. They play on the 3rd string only, a chromatic scale. 5 counts (p-i-a-m-i) per note.

I also play tremelo with 8 notes(p-i-a-m-i-a-m-i), like 32nd notes! It's a beautiful affect. This is good for slowing down the bass. It's good for accompaning dancers when they dance slow.

End of Part One

Musical examples from the book "Juan Serrano-King of the Flamenco Guitar" are used by permission and may not be reproduced. © 1997 By Mel Bay Publications, Inc.