Seek and Ye Shall Find...the Clave!

salsa perccussion 101 Sep 06, 2019

By Mike Bello

Take at least one minute each day to listen, really listen to salsa music for ways to connect your dancing.

Pick a salsa song to listen to on YouTube, iTunes, Spotify (whatever you have available) and just listen.

Listen to the way the song is arranged.

Try to differentiate each segment.

Establish a way to anticipate what comes next.

Even if it’s to the same song.

Keep repeating it until you know every aspect of the song.

If you can anticipate what comes next then you certainly will have less problems with making your personal dance connection work.

Okay, so it’ll take you more than a minute for that song but do it at least once a day.

Do not casually listen, I mean study the darn thing!

Since the dancer’s most accessible and useful tool in connecting to the clave is the tumbao, spend lots of time recognizing, vocalizing and actualizing that most essential rhythmic element!

There are many different rhythms available in the music that you can use like a roadmap to help you fine tune your dancing.

One of those rhythms is the cascara.

The cascara rhythm, typically done on the side, or shell, of the timbales, quickly gives the listener the opportunity to know how the clave is being utilized in the song.

Since the cascara, like every other rhythm in the music, is being played in direct relation to the clave you then have a pipeline to the clave as well.

I had a conversation with a dancer from the California Bay area about this very same rhythm.

He mentioned the difficulty of "hearing" the direction of the clave through the tumbao (2-3 [or reverse] clave direction as opposed to 3-2 [or forward] clave direction).

Well, for most songs, the direction of clave (by using the tumbao rhythm) won’t be heard until about 2 - 3 minutes into most songs. The rhythm isn’t "speaking" the clave until two drums are played.

But, the cascara, when timbales are used in the ensemble, is typically played from the beginning of the song.

There is definition of the clave during its presentation and one can definitely know the direction of the clave.

That’s what’s so cool about all this salsa/mambo stuff.

It’s all right in front of us all.

We just have to know how to recognize what’s in front of us!

The really cool thing about recognizing and maintaining these, and other, rhythms is the fact of their traditionalism.

Traditionally speaking, every aspect of rhythm and arrangement in salsa music is adhered to.

That means that you can pretty much "bet the farm" on how every element of a salsa tune can be presented!

This can seem pretty tough but think about learning how to read or speak another language.

You need to recognize and understand letters, words, sentences and more to make things out intelligibly. The same kind of thing applies here.

So, maybe one minute isn’t enough for daily practice but five minutes still won’t hurt your time budget!


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