Rules and forms
Improvisation, before it achieved its current state of perfection,
underwent several developments, all linked above all to rhyme.
Andoni Egaña and Sustrai Colina
The "bertsu" is a development of the "kopla". It developed from two
rhyming verses with rhythm to verses with 4 or 5 lines and the best
bertsularis sometimes play a risky game: the so-called 9 point verse with 9
Here we will explain how these different "forms" of verses are
Our aim here is to show the most common "forms" from the point of view of
the rhythm of the "bertsu", although it is not possible to dissociate the
rhythm chosen from the tune.
Ditxolari and koplari
A question of rhythm
A question of rhyme
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You will be accompanied throughout this site by improvisers. During your
visit: click on their photos to discover what they have to say.
"Sung mass was also held during the week, and I used to sing to accompany
the priest. I took great pleasure in doing this because at that time I
I found it easy to learn church hymns, although I didn’t understand what
I was singing because everything was in Latin. Later on, I became interested
in Basque songs.
I learnt some of them from my shepherd friends, but mostly from copies
collected here or there. Most of them were given to me by my aunt Mariana.
This is how I learnt many Basque songs.
Sometimes I even hummed away to tunes amongst my sheep. They also seemed
to appreciate my singing.
Behind the songs, writers … Then I began to think that someone was behind
these magnificent songs and I even learnt that they were called
I found this astonishing and difficult to believe because I didn’t think
that I had such a talent.
I was fascinated by the thought of these mysterious characters"
"What I enjoy is singing as myself because most of the time we’re asked
to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, sometimes we have to pretend we’re
people who are the exact opposite of ourselves.
I’ve lost count of how many roles I’ve had to play: restaurateur,
teacher, parent, footballer, pelota player, writer …
Someone like Jose Agirre, I mean a 75 year old improviser has enough
experience to do that, but we’ve much less experience, the roles which we’re
given are sometimes totally foreign to us.
Of course we can use our imagination, but it seems artificial, and it’s
not something that’s easy to do. That’s why I believe that when we have to
sing as ourselves, it’s an opportunity that enables us to express what we
"When I was small, I wanted to be a pelota player. I hardly realised that
it was even possible to become an improviser.
Afterwards, you begin to think that you could be a improviser, you try to
understand the talent of others, and you have a certain admiration for them.
Then your turn comes when you are standing alongside those who you admired,
and they even become your friends. We saw all of this.
This was the case with Joxe Agirre, who’s 75 years old and still an
improviser. You discover who they really are and you admire them even more.
When you go to a village with this figure, this symbol, you’re surprised to
see how humble they are, and that they’re always ready to help you.
It’s an incredible chance to be able to meet such figures. This is also
the case of Andoni Egaña, three times champion, an unrivalled theoretician,
an enlightened and innovative improviser and a forerunner, but who, when
he’s sat at a table with you, is just one amongst you.
There are great lessons to be learnt from these meetings"
"My father, and above all my grandfather, were very fond of
improvisation. When I was 9 or 10 I began to take improvisation classes,
which at that time were organised by Jexux Arzallus.
At the age of 12 Amets Arzallus and I went to classes in Oiartzun. But
after several years we stopped going there and the teacher from Oiartzun
came to Hendaye. That’s how we created a new group in Hendaye. It almost
feels like I was born knowing how to improvise. I know that’s not the case,
but it’s the impression I have.
I actually decided that I enjoyed improvisation when I was 16, when I
realised that I couldn’t do everything: dance, drama, music, improvisation
and pelota. When it came to the crunch, I realised that if there was one
thing I really didn’t want to give up, it was improvisation. From that time
on I think that I accepted it more easily.
I’m convinced that it’s the people, the group that makes you stay …
because it’s not easy when you’re young. Not many of us were improvisers,
few girls, and the group got smaller.
I think that today things are easier. There are more groups, and
improvisation is encouraged more.”
"I acquired a taste for improvisation when the ikastola (Basque-medium
school) in Bayonne opened a class. I was in CM2 (10-11 years old) and we
were only a small group. From then on, I’ve always continued. Karlos
Aizpurua was our teacher.
I must admit that in the beginning I was pushed by my mother, but
afterwards, I realised that improvisation enabled me to learn many things.
Also, it was something new, and it was a change from usual activities like
football or pelota.
When the improvisation schools got off the ground, we met outside lesson
time for an hour a week with Karlos Aizpurua as our teacher. Then I attended
to high-school in Cambo and there, a new group was set up: there were a few
of us from the Lycée in Bayonne, others came from inland in the Basque
At present there are five of us, four boys and one girl. In the
beginning, there were more of us, simply because some left. Improvisation is
not everyone’s cup of tea"