Afro Cuban Clave Essentials

Understanding the Afro Cuban Clave

Afro Cuban Clave Essentials and any discussion of Afro Cuban Musical Style (Salsa) always centers around the “Clave”. With distinctions being made between Son Clave and Rumba Clave patterns. Initially, I thought they were talking about a pair of hardwood sticks used to make a hollow sound when struck together. And even though actual “Claves” often play the “Clave” – There is much more to understanding the term and how it is applied to developing simple, stylistically accurate and essential Latin rhythms and patterns to play on drum set.

claves-imageClave is a Spanish word meaning ‘code,’ or ‘key,’ as in key to a mystery or puzzle. It is the underlying rhythmic pattern used as the source for all melodic and rhythmic organization. In the traditional 2 measure phrase, the Clave is commonly identified as being either 2-3 or 3-2. This number arrangement simply refers to the number of notes played in each of the measure. The two primary types in simple common meter are Son and Rhumba.

2-3 Son Clave

Afro Cuban 2-3 Son Clave

3-2 Son Clave

Afro Cuban 3-2 Son Clave

2-3 Rumba Clave

Afro Cuban 2-3 Rumba Clave

3-2 Rumba Clave

Afro Cuban 3-2 Rumba Clave

Between these two patterns, Son is much more common than Rumba. Also, notice that there is a very slight difference between the two. It is from these underlying rhythmic patterns that the music is organized. This includes the drum set patterns in all the various Afro Cuban styles.

General Tips:
  • When the ride or bell pattern (Cascara, Mambo, Campana, etc.) plays “TWO AND” that is the 3 side measure of the clave.
  • When the ride or bell pattern (Cascara, Mambo, Campana, etc.) plays only beat “TWO” that is the 2 side measure of the clave.
  • Listen to the rhythm of the melody in two bar phrases to determine if it favors 2-3 or 3-2.
  • Listen for whether the down beat is more prominent in measure 1 or measure 2. The measure with the prominent down beat is frequently the 3 side measure of the clave.
  • NEVER “reverse” (change the order of) the pattern. ALWAYS maintain the 2 measure structure and order throughout the entire piece.
  • Occasionally, the Musical Form (Verse, Chorus, Bridge etc.) will have an odd number of measures to change the Clave order for phrases in the proceeding musical section. NEVER reverse the Clave.

You may also want to see: Clave with Meinl Pedal Mount and Salsa Foot Clave Exercises