Flamenco Palos

The Diverse Styles of the Art Form

What are palos in flamenco?

The word “palo” generally means “stick” or “pole”. But in this specific case it means “suit” as in “suit of cards” indicating a category. In flamenco, palos are the different types of flamenco styles.

Just like other music genres such as rock or jazz, flamenco too has a wide and diverse range of styles. These styles are categorized by their place of origin, rhythmic pattern, key, or subject matter – plus any other number of combinations. Continue reading to find out more about the rich variations of flamenco.

Patricia Palacios, co-founder of España Guide
España Guide Co-Founder
Patricia is an engineer turned content creator who for over a decade has been helping travelers navigate her native Spain. In addition to her own website, her tips and recommendations have been featured on BBC Travel, CNN, El País & Lonely Planet, just to name a few.

This article might include affiliate links, allowing us to earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Check our disclosure page for more info.

Patricia Palacios, co-founder of España Guide
España Guide Co-Founder
Patricia is an engineer turned content creator who for over a decade has been helping travelers navigate her native Spain. In addition to her own website, her tips and recommendations have been featured on BBC Travel, CNN, El País & Lonely Planet, just to name a few.

This article might include affiliate links, allowing us to earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Check our disclosure page for more info.

How many different palos are there in flamenco?

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer. However, generally speaking, it’s considered that there are more than 50 main flamenco palos. Each one is then subdivided in a multitude of further categories and variations.

Passionate flamenco performance
Passionate flamenco performance

Palos & improvisation in flamenco

To understand the palos it’s necessary to first learn about the importance of improvisation in flamenco music. Improvisation is a fundamental part of this passionate art.

This means that each flamenco palo has a fixed and a variable part. The fixed part is what makes it possible for the group of artists to perform to the beat. The variable part gives way to improvisation which is usually the most emotionally charged part.

Identifying palos: what defines each palo?

Male flamenco dancer (bailaor) in Madrid
Male flamenco dancer (bailaor)

The main characteristics defining each palo are:

  • Rhythmic pattern (compás). There are palos of two, three, four or twelve beats. The 12-beat or alternating rhythm is the most characteristic of flamenco. For that reason, it’s also known as compás flamenco or de amalgama. Good examples of it are bulerías and soleás.
  • Key or mode. E.g. Alegrías are usually in a major key (typically E major or A major).
  • Motif. The songs usually have a recurrent thematic. For example, they might speak about love (such as fandangos) or about pain and sorrow (such as seguiriyas).
  • Lyrics as in the structure of the songs and the rhyming scheme of the verses.
  • Geographical origin. A great example are the zambras which originate from the gypsy cave-houses of the Sacromonte neighborhood in Granada but are also characterized by local Moorish influences.

It’s also common for flamenco palos to be interrelated: there are evolutions, mixtures, subdivisions, regional variations, etc.

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How are palos categorized?

As was already mentioned, there are many different ways of classifying palos. One of the most basic categorizations is based on their mood and feel. All palos fit into one of these 3 categories:

  • Cante jondo: the oldest form of flamenco. It’s characterized by deep emotions and often deals with death, anguish and pain. The song style is complex. E.g. soleás, seguiriyas.
  • Cante chico: simpler in rhythm, it requires much less emotional investment. It deals with more joyful subjects, such as love, fun and humor. E.g. fandangos, tangos, alegrías, bulerías.
  • Cante intermedio: for flamenco palos that don’t belong to one of the previous two categories. It’s usually more of a hybrid that incorporates elements of other Spanish music styles. E.g. granaínas, tientos.
Flamenco dancer with a shawl in Seville
Flamenco dancer with a shawl in Seville

Another common classification of palos is by compás:

  • Ternary compass (three beats). E.g. sevillanas, fandangos.
  • Binary or quaternary compás (two or four beats). E.g. tangos, rumbas, tarantos, tientos.
  • Flamenco or amalgam compás (12 beats or alternating). It’s the most characteristic of flamenco. E.g. bulerías, soleás, alegrías, guajiras.

Those are just two of the most popular and basic classifications, but it goes much further than that. This graph should give you a better idea of the complexity of the palos classification.

Famous examples of flamenco palos


Soleás (or soleares) are considered to be the mother of all flamenco styles and without a doubt, the most important. The word “soleá” comes from “soledad” which means loneliness. These songs are very emotional, solemn and sad.

Soleá – Adela Campallo

Soleás feature a slow tempo in 12 count compás. They are usually a challenge for artists, because they require great technical skill and a deep emotional connection to the music. The famous dark and creative concept of duende is most often experienced in this style of flamenco.


Fandangos are one of the oldest palos of flamenco. As such, they have a more complex history and a lot of influences. Featuring Arabic and Portuguese roots, they then developed into different styles in each Andalusian region. E.g.: malagueñas are fandangos from Málaga.

To give you a better idea, there are 32 different fandango styles only in the province of Huelva!

Fandangos de Huelva – Rancapino Hijo

Fandango lyrics usually deal with love and courtship. It’s a very popular palo due to its lively rhythm. It’s often associated with celebrations and parties.


Continuing with the oldest, most traditional and fundamental palos of flamenco we have tangos (not to be confused with Argentinian tango!).

Tangos are considered a simple flamenco palo with 4 beats, but with infinite variations.

Tangos – La Lupi

They are very lively, festive and danceable. The lyrics speak of love and desire, and the catchy rhythms invite dance and emotional expression.

They are an ideal palo to start dancing flamenco.

Tangos can be longer or shorter depending on whether they are from Cádiz, Málaga, Extremadura… When the rhythm is slower, they are called tientos.


Seguiriyas (or seguidillas) are also one of flamenco’s oldest and deepest forms. They consist of dark, dramatic songs about life hardships and death.

Seguiriya – Patricia Guerrero, Arcángel y Fahmi Alqhai

Seguiriyas transmit suffering and pain through the singing, the slow leisurely rhythm and the sober dance. One could say that the moaning has even more presence than the lyrics.

Like soleás, seguiriyas are considered one of the most difficult palos to perform due to the technical complexity and emotional demands.


Alegrías originate from Cádiz and reflect the local character: joy, good humor and optimism. They feature mid to fast tempo in 12 count compás (same compás as soleá but a bit faster).

Baile por alegrías – Carmen Moreno

Alegrías are one of the most strictly structured palos. They start with a salida (start), followed by a paseo (walk), silencio (silence), a castellana (upbeat section) and some zapateado (foot tap). These are all followed in a strict order and often finished off with a bulería.


Bulerías are a very festive palo, probably the most cheerful and fun. They are an expression of flamenco passion and wit, with lyrics full of mischievousness. Bulerías along with soleás are two of the most classic flamenco styles.

Bulerías – Tomatito

Said to have originated from Jerez’s gypsies, they feature fast pace and an energetic 12 count compás (again, same compás as soleá but even faster than alegrías). They are made to dance.

Another main characteristic of bulerías is their flexibility. They are spontaneous and dynamic, always changing. They are often used as culmination of other palos (e.g. soleás, alegrías): dancers stand in a circle and each one takes turns to go to the center and dance.

Flamenco Palos Icon - Bulerías    There isn’t a flamenco party that doesn’t end with bulerías.


Sevillanas are one of the most popular palos but at the same time one of the least “flamenco”. They are heavily influenced by other Andalusian folkloric music. Flamenco purists would go as far as saying that sevillanas aren’t flamenco.

Sevillanas Corraleras – Rocío Jurado

Sevillanas are what you see people dancing to in the ferias such as Seville’s April Fair. The songs are light and lively and are usually danced in pairs.

They are a good starter for people learning to dance flamenco.

Sevillanas de Lebrija


Tarantos originate from the eastern Andalusian province of Almería. They represents the agony of the work in the mines. The songs are about anguish, pain and suffering – no hope, only death and misery.

Flamenco Palos Icon - list of all flamenco palos    If you want to learn more, here you will find a complete list of palos from A to Z from Flamencopolis (in Spanish)

Instrumentation in different flamenco palos

Some flamenco palos are better suited for dancing, singing or instrumental versions.

Generally speaking, all of the cante jondo palos include singing and dancing.

All of the cante intermedio palos are accompanied with singing.

Within the cante chico, there are more variations. Rondeñas are mainly to be played in the guitar, usually without singing and almost never with dance. Boleras normally aren’t accompanied with singing, while milongas and zorongos are not accompanied with dance. And yet other palos of the cante chico are definitely made for dance such as bulerías and alegrías.

Certain flamenco genres belong to a category called cantes a palo seco. This means that they are sung a cappella, without instrumental accompaniment. Good examples of those are tonás, martinetes, carceleras, trillás and saetas.

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