Bertsularis always improvise on a known tune and create their work as they sing.

Most improvisers throughout the world create verse accompanied by music, like in Cuba, Mexico, Colombia and Majorca. In the Basque Country, there is no musical accompaniment.

This tune must adapt to the subject given (sad, joyful tune, etc.). But must above all it must correspond to the structure imposed by the rhythm.

In our example, the rhythm imposed is Zortziko handia. This means that the verses, in all 4, must be composed of 18 syllables with two compulsory caesura after the fifth and tenth syllables.

Manex  gaztea lerden ederra  eskuan  mizpir  makila
John, a young slender and handsome man, with a medlar stick in his hand

Ma-nex  gaz-te-a  /  ler-den  e-de-rra  /  es-ku-an  miz-pir  ma-ki-la
1      2      3     4  5  /   6      7     8  9    10  /    1   2    3       4    5       6    7   8        

But when bertsularis improvise they do not count the number of syllables: they know that the melody they have chosen will naturally lead the rhythm imposed. This is why it is essential to choose the right melody.

As a general rule, each note of the melody corresponds to one syllable. However, sometimes this rule is broken, either for musical reasons or because of the verse, or simply when necessary.

Words and music

In order to make words fit in with the melody, improvisers will sometimes take the liberty of using their imagination by:

removing a syllable at the beginning or end of a word:

  • "mazte" instead of "emazte" (woman)
  • "itxur ederra" instead of "itxura ederra" (beautiful appearance)

or adding a syllable at the end of a word:

  • "hortarikan" instead of "hortarik" (from that)
  • "Senperereren omena" instead of "Senpereren omena" (the reputation of St-Pée).

Possible ways of making a melody fit in with the rhyme of a verse or vice versa:

  • when the text is too short, a syllable can be sung over two notes
  • when it is too long, ornamentation notes are added.

Each melody has its own function and melodies have developed over the ages and according to the functions of the verse. New melodies are regularly created.

The Xenpelar improvisation library has listed the different melodies in its repertoire and provides this long list when we choose the theme of love ...