The role of instruments in salsa

Discussion in 'Salsa Music' started by El Conguero, Aug 2, 2010.

  1. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    Hi all,

    Well, some1 asked 4 it so I'm doin' it - this is a place to post questions, comments etc. about the roles of different instruments used in salsa music. Despite claims by PR, NY & Cuba at the origin of salsa, the music has spread throughout the US and Latin America and the instruments/roles can vary.

    So, if you got questions or think u can answer them, here's your chance. :)
  2. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    I could talk forever about trumpets and brass instruments in salsa music but don't want to bore anyone to death. I'd be happy to take a stab at anyone's questions. I have some experience playing salsa music with some pretty good musicians.

    I would like to hear from the percussionists, which are the heart of latin music. I see and observe what the timbal, conguero and bongocero does on stage but I don't really know much about the patterns they play.

    I'll say one thing though, I do love a conguero like Eddie Montalvo who does not showboat and solo much but damn if he doesn't make a band swing. And some timbaleros are very "busy", throwing in lot's of fills, but the ones that just play straight time for the most part and give the music that swinging feel is what I dig most. I love the way a bongocero switches to cowbell when the montuno/coro/soneo kicks in and the way they lead in the mambo or moña (I'm thinking Conjunto Clasico there).
  3. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    Percussion in typical salsa / son montuno

    As a conguero I gotta say I agree about timbaleros who do a lot of fills, though I have to admit I tend to do that myself on congas lol. Any time it's overdone, it's too "busy" and is probably closer to Timba (see my other topic about that).

    Anyway, as far as who's doing what, you're right about the bongocero. I think that's pretty cool too, because the mambo bell on the timbales fits in very nicely with the cencerro or bongo bell.

    As far as congas go, they are usually playing what's called a "marcha" or "tumbao". If you're interested in learning that, there's a guy named Nate Torres whose tutorials on YouTube helped me get started.

    Timbales are not exactly a strength of mine. I can play the basic "cascara" pattern and also the mambo bell pattern, but haven't learned much in the way of fills / soloing yet. I'm glad u like the guys who hold the straight-on beat cuz that's about all I can do :)

    One thing about timbales in particular though is the patterns depend on the clave. Technically, all the percussion and (from what I'm learning) even the piano & bass depend on clave also. Clave is a whole other post, so I'm not gonna bore any1 either, but it's basically a rhythm with a 2 side and a 3 side (ppl will usually say 2-3 or 3-2 clave) and which comes first will tell pretty much the whole percussion section what to do. :)

    Anyway, I'm interested in the trumpet / brass section. It seems to me like the saxophones (or are they trombones?) fill in the piano montuno and the trumpets just accent certain points in the song... is that pretty close 2 how it is or am I way off here? :)
  4. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    I give a rhythm and timing workshop for dancers based around the cascara, tumbao, martillo, campana, mambo bell and clave. It's forced me to think about the relationship between the instruments and the pulse as well as their relationship to clave. Of course all instruments must conform with both, but I regard the martillo, campana and tumbao as more on the pulse side of the equation and the mambo bell & cascara on the clave side of the equation. I tell the dancers, if the tumbao and campana are the river, flowing steadily, the role of the timbalero is to splash and stir the water. The river continues regardless but is given colour and excitement by the stirring.

    Interestingly, in our band the roles just switched as our conguero has got more confident --- the rhythm section has started accelerating and I now find I (timbales) have to hold the band back using the bombo (the second stroke of the 3-side of the clave) and the ponche (beat 4)

    Our band has 2 alto sax, trumpet and trombone. Putting the 2 sax together they sound great doing figures like the violin from a charanga orchestra. They don't have the punch of the trumpet or trombone so IMO they are more suited to padding with arpeggios than playing accented figured. The trumpet and 'bone are great for percussive accents.
  5. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    Ditto, I have got a lot from Nate Torres, but one thing that has to be said about his videos is a lack of reference to clave, from what I've read/seen elsewhere, mostly from the percussion greats of Latin music, being in clave is as important as staying in time and should be learnt and practised from day 1, in pretty much all of the percussion instruments (except possibly maracas). It's what I'm trying to ingrain in myself anyway, apparently singing the clave whilst practising is a good method; I'm just starting to try this, although it's a bit of a challenge, to say the least.

    The forum that I recommended the other day has a lot of clave info (amongst other things).

    Talking of Nate Torres, I'm about to check his guaguanco variations vid if I can prise myself away from sf.
  6. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    In reference to clave and dance, I know (my idol) Tito Ortos was a salsa musician prior to becoming a dancer, and I recall somebody on this forum commenting that they had danced with him and one of his attributes was a strong sense of clave. Coincidence?
    Marcos likes this.
  7. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    I'm not trying to swell Sweavo's ego here but credit where it's due and all that, when I heard his band (a few months ago) his timbales skills were low key yet very authoritative and tasty, pretty much what you have described here as your preferred style.

    How about we form a band The Salsa Forums All Stars?, there must be a few promoters on here who are happy to organise a world tour for us. I'm not up to the same level as the rest of you as a musician but I can DJ too, I'm also good at carrying things and I can write the press releases.

    I'm off to find my passport.
    Marcos likes this.
  8. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    There have been some very interesting discussions here about clave, a whole other topic for discussion...

    I would LOVE to hear Sweavo's band! How? Recordings?

    Salsa Forums All Stars World Tour? Absolutely! First stop, Festival Latinoamericando in Milan, Italy.

    I'm not sure about "fill in the piano montuno" part but it's much more than that. The brass/winds in salsa generally provide plenty of short punches, stabs or accents, as you suggest, often supported by the timbal player. But horns also provide a lot of melodic enhancement to the arrangement, particularly in the introduction and ending to the song, which is often instrumental only (no vocals). Trumpets, trombones and saxophones also provide the excitement during the mambo and moña sections, which are interludes between vocal/coro sections.

    The most common horn setup in salsa music is two trombones and two trumpets but there are plenty of other variations, including alto, tenor and baritone saxes. In the mambo and moña, there is often a "call and response' theme, with trombones starting and trumpets answering.

    Often times, a baritone sax will double the bass line in salsa music (Willie Rosario and Bobby Valentin are good examples of that).

    That's all I got, for now.
  9. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    well, this topic has taken some interesting turns already! :)

    Yes, clave could be another topic by itself and it's essential to salsa music. I suppose this would be a place to go into detail, but I think I'll find a good youtube vid so any1 interested can *hear* the clave.

    As far as an SF all-stars anything - I gotta say I love the idea. I'm kinda broke right now so could just fly halfway around the world with my congas (tho I'd love to). I do though think we should re-visit the idea of recording together, passing around an mp3 or something. I did that with a local friend of mine (a rocker who wanted congas :/ ) and it works just fine. Besides it costs nothing - from there, who knows? :)

    Anyway, thanks for your explanation of the horn section. I noticed what you mentioned about the instrumental parts. I've actually been working on an arrangement with piano, trumpet, bass and now probably a trombone or two. But what exactly do the strombones do? I mean, do dhey play "punches" or accents too?

    Thanks again,
    "El Conguero"
  10. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    Just to digress and return to one of your previous posts Sr. Conguero, and I don't know if this is of interest to you: I once saw a list of salsa tunes with Christian/related lyrics, the list was by Edie Salsa Freak, I think on her website, I thought I'd mention it as that's the direction I believe you said you're working in in your solo projects. If you're interested you can probably still find it online, it contained just artist and song title not lyrics, but I'm sure many of the songs are easy to locate.
  11. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez


    Enjoy! This is a live recording from like our second or third gig ever. The horns are out of tune because the venue was hot then I opened the door and got a freezing gust of wind past the horn section :) I learned my lesson about that, that gig!

    Also me singing, and screwing up, Rumbon Melon www.!/video/video.php?v=383475690788
  12. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    Very nice swingin' band! Nice work, sweavo.
  13. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    Well thanks DJ Yuca. I haven't heard of that site but i'll look it up. That person might have some songs on her list that I haven't heard yet (yeah right, lol).

    btw I've been meaning 2 tell u i love the nickname - yuca is awesome just about any way you cook it - mucho sabor lol :)

    But back on topic, you mentioned a "call and response" part of the song; what exactly do you mean? I have heard that term b4 but not sure where in the song that would be. My guess is towards the end or during the mambo/moña.
  14. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    awesome vid!

    Hey! Nice work Sweavo! That must've been one awesome gig, because that sounded great! It looked like ppl were enjoying themselsves dancing too! :)
  15. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    Now we're talkin'! This is why I joined this forum.

    Call and response is a musical term that transcends almost all styles of music, from classical to gospel, Indian to jazz... it happens when one or more instruments make a musical statement and that statement is responded to in a logical and musical way. In salsa, you hear this alot during the moñas. For example, the trombones would play a two-bar phrase (one pass of the two measure clave pattern) and the trumpets will respond in the third and fourth bars. Then it's repeated several times. It's a very simple but effective technique.
  16. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    Thank u once again - I had figured it was ppl and not instruments (lol, yes I'm that tired) but now it makes sense. I can hear that already as I'm listening 2 my favorite tunes.

    Anyway today I finished the percussion part of a song I've been working on and I'm practicing the piano - but when it comes time 2 do trombones & trumpets i'lll keep this in mind. But 4 now I'm just gonna listen 2 more good music, to hear more examples. (As if I needed an excuse) :)
  17. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    I noticed recently that on Edwin Bonilla's Candela CD he plays all the percussion himself, and unless he's got amazing footwork I presume he overdubbed. I know none of you is on his level musically speaking (no offence and you're welcome to correct me if I'm wrong), my point is that there is nothing wrong with overdubs so your idea sounds good to me, I suggest you three go for it.

    Personally I don't have recording equipment or decent quality instruments, in the words of Jerome K. Jerome: 'I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours'.
  18. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    Thanks for the kind words!

    If someone came up with a guide, like an mp3 or midi file, then we can hand that around and people can play along to it and video / record themselves. It won't be the same as playing together but could be fun to see how our influences meld together in the finished recording.
  19. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    DJ Yuca, that's how almost all salsa albums are recorded, overdubs. Been that way for a long time. It's not the whole band in one room like back in the 60's or 70's. It's done in layers, starting with a click track and then individuals or groups of instruments lay down tracks. You'll hear three trumpets for example but only one person listed as the trumpet player -- one guy playing three parts. I recorded trumpet on this album from last year ( www .;;376 ), but I never even saw the percussionists, piano player, bass player, vocalists, etc. in the studio -- only the other two horn players when we recorded our parts as a horn section.

    Of course, most albums are recorded on very expensive pro audio equipment with a good engineer -- that's why albums sound so great. Passing around an audacity file on the internet using limited home setups won't yield the same results by any means, but it could be fun.

    And you're right, Edwin Bonilla is a top shelf pro!
  20. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    Look forward to giving that a listen. I think it's sad that albums are done in this way now... just another step in distance away from the awesome power of the palladium orchestras of the day. touches on the disjoined nature or modern recording.


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