The Cuban clave in the Cuban music

Jan 11, 2020


If we talk about the Cuban clave, we talk about Cuba.

Although simple in appearance, to dominate the syncopated rhythm of the Cuban clave is an art that can be learned though, it runs in the blood of Cuban naturally.

We heard it almost before birth, through the music that we listen from our mother and resides in many lullabies and children’s songs. Our parents teach us, shaking our hands to the beat of 3-2 clave in Cuban music or passing through TV or radio. It is compulsory education in kindergartens and reaffirms after at the primary school´s music appreciation classes.

But, at this point, it is not necessary. The child in this island, has heard many times the clave in Cuban music that knows it from memory. So it is not surprising that if you want to know if someone is Cuban or not, simply asks him to make the Cuban clave.

The origin of the Cuban clave

To talk about the Cuban clave, it is essential to refer to the instrument of the same name. The claves (plural) are two cylinders of hard and solid wood that make up a minor percussion instrument. Both claves are approximately 2 cm in diameter and about 25 cm long.

Their sound comes from hitting one of them, sustained over in the hollow of the hand, with the other as a drumstick. They are used to mark the rhythm in music, and even though their harmonic possibilities are minimal, its importance within any group is indisputable.

The origins of this instrument are predominantly African, but their early appearance in the shipyards of the island to mark the pace of work has made all the experts match its ancestry as afrocuban.

Queen of Compass

When talking about the Cuban clave as a rhythm, this amalgam and guides the sound of other instruments. No matter if it is at the more traditional or more modern genres like salsa or trova: the clave is the compass bearing.

There are two main types of claves. The most used is 3-2 or clave of son, which is used in the son, the son montuno, guaracha and salsa. The first part consists of three heavy blows, followed by two weaker.

However, this scheme can be reversed to give way to other Cuban clave, 2-3, used in genres such as mambo. This type is called rumba clave or black clave, and is used in the rumba, guaguancó, yambú, conga and columbia. It is also much used in Afro-Cuban jazz and timba.

In the same musical piece both types of claves may appear.

It is not simple task

The Cuban clave in music is not as easy to carry as you think, especially when they start to add up other percussion and melodic instruments to a musical piece

Although in Cubans it is innate, the foreign musician must learn to play it correctly. If you are interested in this instrument and its way of playing, be sure to visit us at Havana Music School, where our teachers will teach you all it secrets.


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