My Flamenco Kryptonite

I have obtained a college degree while being a single parent for most of that time. I have belly crawled in the mud underneath a mobile home to fix the cable wiring. I have worked three jobs at one time. I have endured 19 hours of labor (thank you child #1). All of those things were easier than learning how to play castañuelas…my flamenco kryptonite!

Those pain-in-my-you-know-what small circular pieces of wood are the bain of my existence! This percussive flamenco instrument has been the hardest thing to learn thus far on my flamenco journey! And it’s not because I don’t have a musical bone in my body! I played the piano, clarinet, and ukelele as a child and those were also easier than the castanets.

I have been trying to overcome my flamenco arch nemesis for about a year now. That said, there has been some time away from it due to class changes and focus on other elements of flamenco. But I have recently returned to practicing them at class and am reminded of my foe’s unwillingness to produce a proper sound.

Ta ria ria pi ta…..doesn’t sound so hard, right? The pattern of the sevillanas castañuelas has been no problem. I can hear it in my head just fine. I can even play it, but that dang roll….the “ria” part…has been very elusive thus far. Trying to get my fingers to do things they are clearly not interested in doing is definitely a learned technique. No emotion or aire here, this is all skill. You have to place the castañuelas on your hand the right way, you have to hold your hands the right way, and you have to hit your fingers the right way on the right spot of the instrument. Oh, and let’s not forget the awkward roll up sequence (pinky, ring, middle, index) versus the roll down that seems much more natural. And, yes, please dance as you do all this. What???

How can such a small thing cause so much trouble? I am reminded of an old 80’s commercial, asking “Where’s the beef?”  Instead, for me, it is, “Where’s the roll?” My teachers say to be patient. My fellow flamencos who have already mastered the castañuelas say it will come to me all at once and when I “get it” I will have it forever. The road to getting it seems to be a long one. I must practice more, so have started playing at home for 10 minutes a day. Of course, this must be done wisely so that I do not scare my cats and make them go into hiding. Every now and again, a non-definitive roll flutters through the air around me, but then it is gone just as quickly. I get frustrated and put them down. I stare at them as if a Vulcan mind meld is going to make them instantly come to life in my hands. Be warned, it doesn’t work. What is more probable is the pair is having a party-laughing and staring back at me for my lack of ability.

Practice, practice, practice. Be patient. Okay. I can do that. One day I will make those stubborn castañuelas sing instead of laugh.

Castanuelas Del SurSevilla, 2015

Castanuelas Del Sur Sevilla, 2015



7 thoughts on “My Flamenco Kryptonite

  1. Norma says:

    I loved your article. Have you tried lifting your thumbs (like hitch hikers) when you play your castanets? It causes tension in the string & it opens the castanets. This may make it easier to create your elusive carretilla.
    Happy Playing
    Norma in Kansas


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