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Salsa: Ear Training

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Using the Slap stroke accent: Core

Listening Practice
Listen again to the track:

tumbao_without_clave_144bpm.mp3 (4.2 Mb)

and pay particular attention to the sharp dry “crack” sound of the slap stroke (To hear the slap stroke on its own, play the sample: conga_slap.wav, 106 kb). The slap stroke tends to decrease in prominence as tempo increases (listen to the other “tumbao_without_clave” tracks). The more relaxed you are in listening to the pattern, the easier it is for you to tune in to the slap stroke at higher tempi.

Rhythm Principles
You learned to step in between pairs of open tones in the previous tutorial, but how do you know if your group of three steps is being taken at the right time?

  • Could you be taking them too soon after the double open tones? This would leave a more “space” before the next set of double open tones.
  • Could you be taking them too late after the double open tones? This would leave less “space” before the next set of open tones.
  • Is there a way of making the “spaces” at either side of the steps equal in duration?

The short answer is “yes”.

The two rhythmic markers in the tumbao moderno are the double open tones, and the slap stroke. As you have already learned, the double open tones are a negative marker i.e. you should not step while they sound. Conversely, the slap stroke is the positive rhythmic marker i.e. you should step while it sounds.

It helps if you think about the slap stroke as a “rhythmic anchor”: it prevents your (group of three) steps from drifting too close to either set (preceding or following) of the double open tones. You do so by calibrating your second (middle) step with the slap stroke. Timing your second step to coincide precisely with the sound of the slap allows your dancing to be more fault-tolerant. Variances in step duration are distributed across two sets of double open tones (i.e. the nul beats), where they cause the least disruption (see Extras).

Salsa Practices
[Using the “tumbao_without_clave” tracks.]
In the following exercises, it is crucial that you listen for the slap stroke and time your second step to coincide precisely with it. Unless otherwise mentioned, you should always practice two versions of the exercise: with emphasis on your second step, and without emphasis. Emphasis simply means employing a stronger weight change when taking a step; this does not mean that the step should be any more abrupt, just stronger.

Exercise 2.1
Solo, take three pedalling steps on the spot.

Exercise 2.2
Solo, perfrom salsa walks by substituting the three static steps with three travelling ones. The walks can be taken in any direction, and you can choose either to pause or “step through” the open tones.

Exercise 2.3
Solo, all seven basics from the Salsa: Level One tutorials. Here's a reminder of the verbal cues (steps to emphasise are in bold):

  • Side-Close-Side-(open tones)
  • Back-And-Close-(open tones)
  • Turn-And-Close-(open tones)
  • Front-And-Close-(open tones), Back-And-Close-(open tones)
  • Back-Cross-Side-(open tones)
  • Side-And-Close-(open tones)
  • Turn-Turn-Turn-(open tones), Back-And-Close-(open tones)

Exercise 2.4
Solo, practice the contents of Exercises 2.1 - 2.3 all jumbled up. Remember to include rotations and circular movement in the walks.

Exercise 2.5 - 2.8
Partnered, as in Exercises 2.1 - 2.4 except one person emphasises the second step, the other does not. The latter should try to detect the emphasised step and synchronise his/her second step to it accordingly.

The partnered exercises are crucial because it develops:

  1. a greater awareness of your partner's movement;
  2. an enhanced sensitivity to your partner's timing; and
  3. your ability to negotiate and compensate for timing differences in a partnership.

Reminder: when you have mastered this content, practice it with the addition of the teaching points from the previous tutorial.


1999 Salsa & Merengue Society