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Salsa: Ear Training

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Dancing to Montunos: Introduction

There is a collection of instruments that occupies a special place in salsa. As instruments of rhythm, they deliver a vital percussive pattern; as instruments of melody, they deliver the chord progressions that underpin the vocals, brass and other melodic instruments.

These instruments are the piano, guitar, tres and violin, and the rhythmic progressions that they interpret have come to be known as montunos in the case of the keyboard instruments, and guajeos in the case of stringed instruments. This tutorial will make reference to the piano and the montuno, but you should take that to include guitar, tres and violin, and the guajeo.

The piano is an instrument that is capable of delivering a large number of notes over a single clave phrase, a fact that has significant impact upon how the montuno is perceived. There is a musician's adage that goes:

'The greater the number of notes played, the more the listener
tunes in to the melody.'


'The fewer the notes played, the more apparent the rhythm.'

In recognising this very human shortcoming, our approach is deliberately to emphasise the tuning your ear to rhythm over melody, and then to understand its salient features. Having established a firm foundation, we go on to appreciate how you, as a dancer, might interact with the montuno.


1999 Salsa & Merengue Society