A repetitive two measure pattern, the clave has become a universal rhythm whose influence extends beyond Cuba to North American Jazz and even Rock n' Roll ("Bo Diddley beat"). Although "clave" generally refers to the rhythms and music found in Cuba (African in origin), a variation of the clave rhythm is found in Brazilian music as well. However, Brazilian music and rhythms are not built around the clave to the extent that Afro Cuban music is.
The two most popluar Cuban clave rhythms in 4/4 are the son clave and rumba clave. Both are two-measure patterns that contain three notes in one measure and two notes in the other. The order of the measures may begin with either the "3" side or the "2" side, hence the terms "3-2 clave" and "2-3 clave." The sole difference between son clave and rumba clave is the placement of the last note of the "3"' side of both rhythms.
In son clave rhythm, the last note of the "3" side is on beat 4, while in rumba clave rhythm, the last note of the "3" side is on the + of 4. Keeping in mind the difference between son and rumba clave and the order of 3-2 or 2-3 clave rhythms, there are only four possible combinations: 3-2 son, 3-2 rumba, 2-3 son and 2-3 rumba. Knowledge of all the grooves, the piano montuno (the familiar Salsa piano ostinato rhythm), melody, experience of other ensemble musicians, listening skills, and even a possible indication on sheet music determine the specific clave rhythm of a song. The main consideration is that all musicians playing the song agree on the order of the clave (2-3 or 3-2) rhythm and the type of clave (son or rumba). Even in Cuba musicians often disagree on whether a song contains a 2-3 or 3-2 clave rhythm.
However, it is extremely important that all musicians ultimately agree on what type of clave to play so that the rhythms throughout the ensemble will not clash. The examples below cover all four combinations of the two most popular clave rhythms in 4/4 as well as the 6/8 clave pattern. In addition to the name of the rhythm, claves are also an instrument-two round, hand-held, machined-smooth pieces of hardwood typically about seven inches long and an inch wide (commonly made out of rosewood, though sometimes mahogany, and in northwest Mexico occasionally ironwood) that are struck together to create a loud, sharp sound. Claves are often played incorrectly, with those playing them wrapping their hands all the way around them and holding them tightly. This greatly muffles the sound when the claves are struck together, reducing both sharpness and intensity, resulting in a medium volume "clank" rather than the sharp, loud "crack" that one obtains by holding playing claves correctly cupping them loosely in the hands, with as much of the surface unobstructed as possible; when held correctly, the player's hand should go no more than about halfway around a clave, with the bottom clave resting in the cup of the hand rather than being held firmly.
By Eric Starg. Eric uses drum sets by Mapex Drums, Pacific Drums and Gibraltar Drum Rack. Eric is a member of Drum Solo Artist where he is answering drum related questions, and helping drummers with tips and advices.