The Cascara: Let This Rhythm Get Under Your Skin

salsa percussion 101 Sep 01, 2019

by Mike Bello

You're dancing to the tumbao rhythm of the conga and you have a fairly good idea where to begin.

The problem is, because of the nature of the tumbao's one bar rhythm, you're not really sure which side of the clave you're on.

Well, do really need to know that?

The answer is a simple no.

But, if you want to know how to tell which side of the clave is being presented in much of the music then this little segment will get you on the right track!

By this point, if you don't already know, then you're wondering, "What in the world is the cascara?"

The cascara (a Spanish word translated as skin, peel, rind, husk, or shell) rhythm is a two bar, 10 count pattern typically played on the palitos in rumba but has been a rhythmic staple in much of the son-based salsa tunes and primarily played on the outer, metallic "shell" of the timbales.

The great thing about this rhythm is that, when it is utilized in a song, it is presented almost from the beginning.

Getting a feel for this rhythm will quickly lock you into the direction of clave, something the tumbao rhythm doesn't do until usually the montuno section of the song (about two minutes into contemporary salsa songs).

Something very important though, needs to be noted: This rhythm is typically presented on the timbales and not every salsa group has timbales as part of their ensemble.

One such example is a conjunto (roughly pronounced: cone-hoon-toe).

Traditionally, the conjunto is minus timbales yet there are many instances when there may be a timbalero performing with the group.

There are five notes in each bar and, like the clave rhythm, are asymmetrical in their delivery.

In the following table (fig. 1), you will see how the cascara lines up with the clave for only four out of the five notes.

The ponche (pronounced pone-chay), the last note on the three side of the clave, is the only note that does not correspond with the cascara.

This is primarily due to the cascara's inherent relationship with the rumba clave which has the ponche displaced one half of a beat later (the and of 4, or 8, on the three side of the clave).

The Count

1

and

2

and

3

and

4

and

5

and

6

and

7

and

8

and

2-3 (Reverse) Son Clave

 

 

*

 

*

 

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Cascara

*

 

*

 

*

*

 

*

*

 

*

*

 

*

 

*

3-2 (Forward) Son Clave

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

 

*

 

*

 

 

 

Cascara

*

 

*

*

 

*

 

*

*

 

*

 

*

*

 

*

 

fig. 1

Take note that the above table has certain notes in the cascara rhythm in red.

They represent the accents of the cascara.

This means that those notes are typically struck harder and sound more pronounced than the others.

Notice, also, that notation of the rhythm begins in 2-3 (reverse) clave.

This was done because most of salsa music is in 2-3 clave.

If you can play these notes on one hand and the clave on the other you will immediately feel how they work together.

If you're serious about learning and applying this rhythm then try the following:

  1. Mark time by tapping at a relatively moderate tempo with either hand, or foot, counting from one to eight. Allow yourself to be aware of the "and" counts.

  2. Now, with your free hand, tap out the cascara pattern. If this proves to be difficult at first then try vocalizing the count while tapping out the cascara pattern.

  3. When you feel comfortable doing both, which may take some time, try tapping out or vocalizing the clave rhythm while doing the cascara rhythm.

NOTE: It may be a good idea to also have instruction from a musician versed in the Afro-Latin rhythms. 

Use what you know about dancing on2 to line up with the cascara rhythm.

Also listen to the tumbao rhythm to see how it lines up with the cascara to assist you with comprehending and feeling both rhythms with the clave.

If need be, refer my pdf Tumbao - The Dancer's Connection To The Clave.

Get ahead of the power curve by listening practicing and utilizing the cascara as a way to totally take rhythmic control of your dancing.


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To get a complete breakdown of all of the rhythms in salsa music then purchase enrollment in the highly acclaimed course, "
The Facts You Should Know About Salsa Music, Rhythm, Phrasing & Timing."

 

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