Developing implied clave awareness

Discussion in 'Salsa Music' started by azzey, Nov 29, 2011.

  1. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero


    All the instruments (except the Guiro and Maracas whose rhythms interpret the pulse), at some point during Salsa/Timba music, have implied Clave in their rhythm, i.e. the 3 side of a rhythm is more syncopated than the 2 side and they relate in some way to the Clave rhythm ; There are indicators of clave orientation and location within the instrument rhythm itself even though no explicit clave instrument is being played.

    Basic tumbao rhythms on the conga and bass are symmetrical ; The same on both Clave sides (from one bar to the next), so that's not the best place to start. Although sometimes players may add additional accents which imply Clave.

    In my opinion I think it's a good idea to start with instruments and rhythms that are highly syncopated most of the time, like the Cascara rhythm on Timbales, the Montuno rhythm on piano and the Mambo/Timbale bell on Timbales.

    The problem for people listening to a real Salsa track is that there is a lot going on at the same time. It's hard to determine and separate the implied Clave in the rhythms from the strong accented 1, the melody, call-response and the clave instrument under layers of instrumentation. It's hard to know if you're getting it right if you don't have a way to test yourself.


    I've intentionally picked samples which have less of these other indicators (although Clave may be played explicitly now and again for reference).

    The Piano would be an obvious first choice for listening as often it's a very prominent feature of Salsa tracks and most people are familiar with hearing the instrument even if they've never heard Salsa before. However there's a difference in how the Piano is used and perceived in Salsa.

    The Montuno rhythm combines both melody and clave rhythm simultaneously. Even with mature ears the more notes played the more you tune in to the melody, the less notes played the more you tune in to the rhythm. It's human nature, particularly for western ears and those of us not used to poly-rhythms. So that may make it initially more difficult to hear the rhythm on the piano than on the mambo/timbale bell or cascara even though those instruments are often more softly played.

    Try listening to cascara and bell rhythms (without clave at first), count 1 to 8 and tap the rhythm then see if your ear can determine 1 from 5 and 34 from 78. Click on a sample in the middle of playing and then see if your ear can tell Clave orientation/sidedness/1from5.

    Does your ear have a natural tendency to side in a particular direction when the instrument rhythm (e.g. cascara) is played on it's own?

    I would suggest doing these exercise tests before going through the tutorials and filling your head with all kinds of other things you might want to listen for, just to get an idea of the state of your current rhythm appreciation.

    Again, at this stage it's not about understanding consciously what's happening just hearing a difference.

    If you have trouble finding the 1 in each bar use the 2 and 4 on the Timbales drum or the first of the open tones of the conga on 4, 4& to help orientate.

    Rhythm samples

    Roughly in order of simpler rhythms first with more complex variations at the end.

    Cascara with less beats and left hand on 2 and 4 (timbales drum)

    Afro-Cuban Rhythms - Cascara

    Cáscara and conga

    Timbale bell and conga

    Cáscara, conga and piano

    Timbale bell, conga and piano

    Basic patterns of salsa in timbales (features the cascara rhythm, 2-3 and 3-2 cascara versions with and without clave, mambo bell rhythm, 2-3 and 3-2 mambo bell versions with and without clave, then - groove section - putting them together with some variations):

    Cascara and Mambo bell rhythm accents

    Most of the time the cascara rhythm accents all but one of the beats of the Son Clave rhythm and all the beats of the Rumba clave rhythm. The same can be said about the mambo/timbale bell. However there will be rhythm variations that don't hit all these accents in other samples or real Salsa music.

    Applying awareness of rhythms to Salsa music

    Once you have an appreciation for these rhythms, go back to Salsa tracks you know well and listen for the rhythms.

    To start you might want to try this Salsa video by our member Salsa4fun which has a visual for the timbales cascara and mambo bell patterns whenever they're played:

    I think in the above track it's after about 3 and a half minutes in when enough instrumentation drops out for you to clearly hear the cascara.

    This track has very clear Mambo/Timbale Bells and Cascara not to mention it's a great listen:

    Wolf Like Me (Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra)

    Tutorial and further technical information

    For those who are further along in their understanding of rhythms, the following is a detailed tutorial on Cascara and Mambo bell which features and breaks down some of the above samples and gives further exercises.

    Dancing With The Sinners: Core

    Note: I've tried to simplify this first post for dancers (including use of terminology) as much as possible to make it an introduction that anyone can try (it does assume a certain level of awareness of Salsa rhythms though), rather than an all encompassing description that musicians would be happy with (so no mention of Bombo, Ponché, rhythm breakdown etc), including that always annoying use of counts greater than 4&. ;)
  2. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    Nice post. It will take me some time to get around to watching all those links, but I just wanted to mention that back in around 1945 Arsenio started using bass tumbaos that were not clave neutral, i.e. they were different on the 2 and 3 side. I don't know how common it is to use these days. I expect that during a single song there may be tumbaos that are clave neutral and others tumboas that mark the clave direction.
    zorba likes this.
  3. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero

    I did say the "Basic tumbao rhythms". I didn't want people to rely on them always being asymmetrical as that's not always the case.

    Indeed, there are many examples of asymmetrical Bass tumbao tresillo variations from Son Montuno, Cumbia, all the way to modern Timba. e.g. tracks by Los Van Van like Agua.
    zorba likes this.
  4. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    ok :)
  5. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero

    Also when I said "All the instruments (at some point during Salsa/Timba music) have implied Clave in their rhythm" I implied about the Bass etc. :)

    It's quite hard to write a general article that works for everything, you have to be so careful with your wording. ;)
    zorba likes this.
  6. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    And I'm watching you like a hawk ;) LOL

    No, I think you do a lovely job of explaining things. YOu take a lot of time to really look for ways to help people with their questions. :cheers:
  7. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero

    LOL. Thanks. :D

    If you or anyone else has anything to add go ahead so we can get a conversation going on the topic... In the mean time I'm just waiting for questions from MMaatttt or whoever.
  8. tocatimba

    tocatimba Shine Officer

    Great stuff! I knew that somehow you could get the clave from some instruments but I never knew how. Thanks!

    Super beginner question number 1: From the timbales you can get the "implied clave" of either 3-2 or 2-3 but you can't really tell if its son or rumba, right? Can you tell from any of the instruments playing impied clave?

    Super beginner question number 2: How does knowledge of whether it is 3-2 or 2-3 affect your dancing? If it is son or rumba clave does that affect your dancing?
  9. Guiro and maracas don't :)
  10. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    Could one say that güiro has "implied chachacha" ;)
  11. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

  12. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero

    Thanks. Happy to be corrected ; haven't gotten around to learning the Guiro and Maracas in detail yet.
  13. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero

    I found this great explanation on the melody and implied Clave:

    Gibbs, Beth, "Exploring Cuban Music through the Choral Arrangements of Electo Silva" (2010). Open Access Dissertations. Paper 379.

    Which gives further detail on this quote by Emilio Grenet:

  14. I don't think it needs corrected. I was more pointing out trivia than saying you had an error in your work. Hence the :) I didn't see anything worth correcting in the post. It's got a ton of info that help explain the concept.
  15. Since both of these are academic sources, I have to offer a counter. The first one plays on the romantic vision that Cuban composers automatically write in clave and what comes out just magically comes out clavefied. That's simply not correct. Boleros are clave-free to the extent that it's difficult to find a strong/weak or tense/release dyadic relationship in the measures. Even if we limit it to son, the assertion that there is a dyad is true, but the idea of being automatically clavefied is demonstrably false. Whether one considers them exceptions to the rule or facts standing in the way of a rule, the examples of songs that defy normative clave logic are significant.

    The second quote picks up the same dyad concept but makes an absolute statement how it's present in all Cuban music (possibly what you bracket as "Cuban" is a bit more qualified in the original?). Again, this is false whether it's because of exceptions or because there isn't a pattern to be seen. There are MANY examples of odd measured phrases in Cuban music and this is not simply present in the music of "modern" composers such as Milanes or Cuban jazz but also in tambores every day.

    As I mentioned first, these aren't things I would expect out of blogs or casual forum posts, but since they're from academic sources I expect a bit more accuracy from them.
  16. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    Also quijada.
  17. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero

    Have not had time to get back to this thread until now. The original post was a bit of a rush and there were a lot of things I would have liked to change or add but didn't get the time.

    First off, added the above sample track to the original post.
  18. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero

    Added this section explaining why my first choice is the Cascara and Mambo/Timbale bell and not the piano.

  19. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero

    It's a good party trick. As a dancer I don't think it's that useful to be able to identify which clave and direction is being used while actually dancing (heresy I know), as long as you can reliably find the 1 and other beats (from call-response, pulse, melody, phrasing, instruments etc) and are comfortable no matter which clave is being used.

    What's more important I think is the ability to perceive and respond to the rhythms of the instruments and obviously they will be affected by Clave rhythm. Being able to correctly identify rhythms will involve awareness of Clave whether consciously or unconsciously. Dancing to a count is mechanical. Dance to the rhythms is real dancing in my opinion.

    The difference between Son and Rumba clave is that the ponché (the last stroke on the 3-side of the clave) is shifted by a half beat. It may not sound like much but it has a subtle influence on rhythms.

    On paper some basic instrument rhythms may look the same but subtle clave influences often bleed through in how people play.

    I don't perceive any difference with the cascara rhythms per se with a Son clave and Rumba clave but Timba songs (where Rumba clave is most often employed) uses all kinds of variations of the standard cascara pattern anyway so it would be hard to separate the arrangers choice from whether it's rumba.

    Also sometimes cascara can play a clave neutral pattern like the Maracas which makes it useless to find direction as well. Or the cascara varies so often it makes it really hard to tell clave from it.

    Personally yes but I do it on a track by track basis. Through lots of experience listening to Salsa and Timba.

    The easiest and only absolutely reliable method is if the jam block or other instrument is playing Clave rhythm explicitly.

    After that I often first pick it up with some conga breaks/Bloques.

    Rumba clave based music is rhythmically more propulsive and causes the dancer to anticipate the rhythm. I often found when I was first learning to dance to Timba that it's very easy to hit the 8& instead of the 1. You may have seen Cuban teachers do this ; because they're dancing to the rhythm and not a count as such.


    If you dance just to the count it doesn't affect it at all. If you are a musical dancer and dance to the rhythm as well, then because the 3-side is more syncopated (uses the &'s mostly instead of the main beats) that will lead naturally to expressing those syncopations.

    Some good instructors who are musical themselves when they teach shines one side of the shine is more syncopated than the other.

    Of course. If the rhythms change, so does my feel and how I want to reflect the music.
  20. azzey

    azzey El Sabroso de Conguero

    Hohoho. :D

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