Afro-Cuban Clave

Afro-Cuban Clave

We have been discussing some Latin styles of music in the past couple months. Lets take a minute to talk about something that is very important in Latin music, the clave. First, claves are an instrument and second, the clave is a pattern played.

The claves are two pieces of wood or cylindrical sticks that are struck together. They are played by placing one stick in one hand. The key here is to not grip onto it but let it sit in your hand and form a cup below. The cupping underneath forms a resonance chamber in your hand. If you were to grip onto the clave you would choke the sound and resonance. The other hand holds the other clave and strikes the one being cupped.

In Afro-Cuban styles of music there are four clave patterns. There are two in 6/8 and two in duple meter, 4/4 or 2/2. The names of the patterns are the Son Clave and the Rumba Clave. The Son and Rumba claves are written in 6/8 as well as in duple meter, which gives us the total of four patterns. The 6/8 meter clave patterns are the predecessors to the duple meter claves. The clave patterns are two measures in length and are very similar to each other. In Afro-Cuban music there are several types of music that are son styles and several that are rumba styles.

Following is the Son Clave in 6/8 and then in 2/2.

This is the Rumba Clave in 6/8 and then in 2/2.

Both of these patterns have two sounds in the first measure and three sounds in the second measure. This is called 2-3 Son Clave and 2-3 Rumba Clave. If you start the pattern in the second measure then you would have three sounds in the first and 2 sounds in the second. That would be called 3-2 Son Clave and 3-2 Rumba Clave.

The clave is the instrument that helps lock everything together. Each instrument in the ensemble has a pattern that is played that will line up with the clave. It is called “playing out of clave” if your part doesn’t match the correct clave, 2-3 or 3-2. Which clave is played when, you ask? Well, it depends on the style of music, the arrangement, and sometimes the melody. Also, in traditional arrangements of music, the clave doesn’t change direction. Changing direction means changing from 2-3 to 3-2.

The clave is often a mystery to newcomers and some may not even know that it exists. The clave is important to the music and there are other clave patterns that exist in different genres. The Son and Rumba Claves are with in the Afro-Cuban styles of music. Get comfortable with playing the clave patterns and then start listening to music and identifying which clave is which. You will be able to do recognize them before you know it!

– Meg Thomas

Meg Thomas Bio
Meg Thomas Headshot B-W 3.5MBDrummer and percussionist Meg Thomas has performed in musical realms that range from rock to calypso, avant-garde to spoken word, Latin-jazz to punk, and dance ensembles to percussion ensembles. Her drum and percussion set-ups range from the traditional ideas to unique set-ups that incorporate a vast range of percussion instruments. She received her degree in Music from Millikin University and she founded and runs the Chicago Women’s Drumming Group. Meg is a Vic Firth Private Drum and Percussion Teacher and teaches lessons out of her studio in Chicago. She plays recording sessions, performs with an array of bands and ensembles, and has toured the U.S. and Europe. Meg won a Drummie in Drum! Magazine’s 2010 Drummie Awards as runner-up “Rising Star Percussionist,” was named “Musician of the Month” for January 2013 by the Chicago Music Guide, and is endorsed by Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, Evans Drumheads, LP Percussion, PureSound Percussion, and Humes & Berg Cases.

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