Clave & the Clave Rhythm Stream: Core
Before we get
underway, here's a word to the wise:
You see, learning about clave is much anticipated amongst the most intelligent, committed, and ambitious of dancers. They understand clave's relevance in the music, and therefore in dancing. The urgency they feel, to find meaning in the rhythm immediately is often a hindrance. In looking at the details, they get so immersed that they lose perspective of the complete rhythm.
The practices below are designed to help you side-step that pitfall - as long as you free your mind from expectation. Learning and internalising clave is a process of weeks, not days, so take your time and you will be amply rewarded for your patience.
Now I hope you're
Actualising the Clave
Personalising the Clave
The rhythm will resolve itself into a pattern consisting of two close-together strokes, and three evenly-spaced slower strokes. Something like:
click-click, click click click
or the other way around,
click click click, click-click
(Don't be concerned if the clave pattern remains unresolved, the next practice will soon clear that up.)
Resist the temptation
to find your place in the rhythm, like where the "one" should
be. For now, just accept the clave as it is - a rhythmic stream in which
you are floating freely and un-anchored.
4.1. Clave rhythm stream
To help you resolve and understand the two parts of the rhythm stream more clearly, we're going to enlist your Latin Basic for help.
Play the track: tumbao_with_clave_154bpm.mp3 (4.2 Mb)
Paying attention to the conga pattern only, begin dancing the Latin basic.
Once you're comfortably into the flow of things, start listening to the clave.
You'll discover that on one half of the basic the clave will sound twice, and on the other half the clave will sound thrice. You'll find yourself doing one of two things:-
Thing 1: stepping
forward on the 3-side and back on the 2-side; or
So if you found yourself doing Thing 1 above, you would've been dancing in 3-2 clave; if you found yourself doing Thing 2, then you would've been dancing in 2-3 clave.
As you can gather, a single clave phrase spans two bars (or measures) of music and salsa's basic steps and dance patterns reflect this. Whether you dance in 3-2 or 2-3 depends solely on where you decide to enter the clave stream: on the 3-side or the 2-side respectively. (See below)
4.2. Entering the clave rhythm stream on 2-side or 3-side
in the stream
The terms "forward", "reverse" and "direction" are commonly used when describing clave, but it is important for you to be aware that these words are neutral i.e. they have no positive or negative connotations attached to them - the forward direction is no more "correct" or "better" than the reverse direction.
For that reason, I prefer to use the word "orientation".
Traditional percussionists would start by teaching clave in the 3-2 orientation, but I encounter more success introducing the 2-3 clave first. Also, the 2-3 orientation predominates in salsa as of this writing. The take-home message is that you should be fluent in both orientations of the clave phrase.
Now let's proceed
to get the feel of clave orientation deeper ingrained.
orientation you're in relative to the forward step
Notice that you're always stepping forward on the same side throughout the track. This feature of clave functions as a rhythmic compass, helping dancers back into partnership dancing after performing solos or "shines". (See Extras.)
Also notice that
the 2-side and the 3-side each have distinct feels.
Aim to be ambidextrous - able to enter the clave stream and dance in either orientation at will.
Ask yourself, "Does the Latin basic feel different in the different orientations?"
Get a feel for each side of the clave e.g. how does the turn in the Single Right Turn feel on the 3-side as compared to the 2-side? That will help you with the next stage, which is to increase your feel for the effect of clave orientation on the entire basic.
As a general rule, the clave feel tends to be less pronounced at the extremes of the tempo range; dissipating at lower tempi and compressing at the higher tempi.
You could get a better understanding of this phenomenon using the salsa walk instead of the basics.
You can do so by: holding still for one bar of music, or dancing an even number of steps in one bar e.g. stepping on pulse (2 steps), or stepping on every beat (4 steps).
This practice is especially useful in reducing your reaction time to orientation changes in the music, particularly live music. It also provides valuable insight into how salsa musicians reorientate in the clave stream.
Why would you
The next exercise begins your development as a polyrhythmic dancer, blurring the distinction between dancer and drummer in the finest Afro-Cuban tradition.
Perform the Cucaracha basic to the conga tumbao, ignoring the clave for the moment.
Once in the flow of things, start listening for the clave and determine your orientation.
Keeping your legs moving to the cucaracha, start clapping the clave. Apart from developing rhythmic independence, this is a good test for how well you've naturalised the basic. If your basics are rock solid, you'd just need to concentrate on the clave rhythm and leave your feet to get on with their thing.
If your clave timing is spot on, the sound made by the clapping of your hands will mask perfectly the sound of the clave on the track.
exercise using all the salsa basics until you can maintain clave even
whilst switching basics including salsa walks.
Figure 4.3. Son 2-3 clave relative to tumbao moderno and step rhythm
On the 2-side:
On the 3-side:
The bombó is probably the most important beat in the clave phrase (for reasons that will become clear soon). It's also quite challenging to align correctly, however if you've been playing the clave 3-side with three even strokes, your bombó should be very much in place. If you have doubts or would like an exercise to ensure the stability of your bombó, there's one waiting for you in Extras.
Using any "tumbao moderno without clave" track that you're comfortable with, dance the salsa walk and play clave. This is a great test of your command of clave and rhythmic independence.
Variations of this exercise to develop your independence and feel for clave simultaneously are:
Identify tracks in your collection where clave is played. Most of them will be son clave, so pick those.
Clap to it. Dance while playing it. Absorb it until you can feel the push and pull of the clave stream sweeping you along the course of the song.
Enjoy it, and
we'll talk more about the ebb and flow of clave in the next tutorial.
©1999 Salsa & Merengue Society