The clave rhythm in salsa music.


Aug 3, 2004
should I get into Gag? instrumentation? Let's put that aside for the moment.

But we should mention the "palos" (the word often refers to the musical genre but specifically the drums used in what I like to call the "rhythms of the saints.")

Also in Argentina the tango is played not with an Acorde?n but with a slightly bigger version called the bandone?n ( i realize we are concentrating more on music from the Caribbean but it is well to know the difference)

Finally, for salsa one of the important rhythmic elements is the "clave" beat which is played on two sticks called "claves." Essential to the music. The claves clack out the syncopated beat that makes salsa so special. There are four types, two of which are most important to salsa: the 3:2 son clave and the 2:3 son clave. Also in the course of a song the clave may in fact change up. There are two ways of doing this. the "New York" style is simply to join one pattern to the other by cutting off one of the two sides of the clave. If you are in 3:2 for example to shift to 2:3 you would go 2:3, 2:3:2, 3:2. However Juan formental of Los Van Van came up with what he calls "clave license" which does not drop out any sequence: 2:3, 2:3, 3:2, 3:2. Ruben Blades' song "todos Vuelvan" has no less than five clave changes. Amazing.

I have been meaning to post my findings about the clave on one of the salsa threads here, because there is controversy regarding its role in determining the dance steps (which my research now leads me to conclude is all hogwash, but I am waiting to hear from a musicologist friend who knows a bit about it). That will come soon.