The answer to Latin jazz: anticipated chord change on last beat provided by Ulf Åkerstedt raises another question: I have written a son bass line, and I realize I have a rumba clave on the drum set. Is this something legal, or is there a specific bass line pattern for the rumba clave?

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    In my book anything is legal as long as you feel that it sounds and/or feels good. However it would be really interesting if someone knowledgable in latin music would elaborate on this. :-) Commented May 20, 2012 at 8:32
  • @UlfÅkerstedt: if you posted this as an answer rather than as a comment, I would be able to accept it. Commented May 23, 2012 at 6:43
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    That is very kind of you. However I'm thinking there actually might be 'rules' for latin that I don't know of. For example, when arranging jazz there are situations where you want to avoid having one instrument or section starting a note on a down beat if another instrument or section started a note on the preceding syncope (I believe due to the risk of it sounding like sloppy playing, rather than two different rhythmical note values, if the syncope is very delayed). Commented May 23, 2012 at 23:29

2 Answers 2


A lot of salsa tunes use rumba clave instead of son and the bass tumbao is used the same in both. However, it doesn't match quite as well because the last beat on the three-side of the rumba clave occurs on the 'and' of 4, whereas the bass tumbao usually plays the anticipated note on the 4. Of course, the bass can emphasise the 4+ as well if desired.

I agree with @Ulf that anything is legal, since this is music! But if you want to sound more authentic then it's worth getting the rhythms right I think. As I said in another answer, the Salsa Guidebook by Rebeca Mauleon is a fantastic resource and well worth buying if you're interested in playing latin music.

  • I was offered Rebeca Mauleon's book for my birthday by my brother who was following this thread. Well I guess I have some homework to do now... Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 6:44

There's actually some disagreement on that actually... People do it all the time... play clave in "afro-Cuban" or any & every "Latin" "style", usually if they're that vague about it... everything just starts sounding "Latinish".

I used to play in Caribbean bands all the time and there's a big difference in how those drummers & percussionists differentiate styles from one another as compared to the Jazz guys. I have definite memories of them saying there is no clave in Cuban music... of course you have to realize that they are differentiating between African "bell patterns" & Brazilian clave (the instrument... wooden stick form). While related and similar... the patterns don't fit exactly the same (or are even in the same time signature)... and you don't use the same instrument. (But what the heck do I know... I'm a guitarist) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clave_(rhythm)

Cuban folkloric musicians do not use the 3-2/2-3 system. Many Cuban performers of popular music do not use it either. The great Cuban conga player and band leader Mongo Santamaria said: "Don’t tell me about 3-2 or 2-3! In Cuba we just play. We feel it; we don’t talk about such things."[44] "In Cuba we don’t think about [clave]. We know that we’re in clave. Because we know that we have to be in clave to be a musician."[45] According to Cuban pianist Sonny Bravo, the late Charlie Palmieri would insist: "There’s no such thing as 3-2 or 2-3, there’s only one clave!"[46] The contemporary Cuban bassist, composer and arranger Alain Pérez flatly states: "In Cuba we do not use that 2-3, 3-2 formula . . . 2-3, 3-2 [is] not used in Cuba. That is how people learn Cuban music outside Cuba."[47]

Oddly... it's obviously inherent somewhere in the music (well... not in Boleros apparently, and some other "folkloric" styles...), but it's obviously in Songo...

The Clave and the Backbeat

It took me awhile to remember the name of the groove/style this is called, but it's Songo... That's a great site by Kevin Moore called timba.com... it is a veritable encyclopedia of the history of Cuban music since the 40's, it's divided into 3 parts, the roots of Timba I, II, and III, the only reason I mention this is because sub-navigation on the site is on the right of the page, I found it confusing at first, but he's got the complete development of Cuban grooves notated in a really neat "contextual" way.

They start in the 40's and trace every example of the evolution of Cuban music with a basic notation and links to music examples as well as a complete tracing of the evolution of "Drum Set" in Cuban music beginning with Changuito.

Changuito's contributions to Cuban music can't be overestimated. He was one of the first Cuban drumset players to combine aspects of jazz and funk drumming with traditional Cuban comparsa, batá and timbal rhythms. He used the drum kit both melodically and polyphonically and was a master at spicing up slower rhythms with double-time variations. In addition to his performances and recordings, he's also been the musical padrino to generation after generation of students at Havana's Escuela Nacional de los Artes (la ENA), teaching timba giants such as Tomasito Cruz, Alexis "Pututi I" Arce and many others.

I can't find the page link right now... I was reading this a few months ago and there was a mention of tumbao figures up to 4 measures in length (I’ll look for the source, I think there may have been an example)

My previous comment earlier...

"So while you find it in "North American" Afro-Cuban Jazz (they talk all about that on the Wiki page)... I can't recall ever hearing it in a traditional Cuban music setting... Bell? Oh Ya! lots of that... just a simple quarter-note cowbell pattern rocks & I've heard more complex bell patterns as well... but 3-2/2-3 clave with actual "claves", nope; now a college jazz combo playing that way? of course... every time (see Latinish), but actual traditional Cuban players? You know... it's been such a long time, dredging my memory I remember a drummer playing it on a jam block on a kick drum pedal... It always seemed to come in somewhere in the mix, it was rare someone got dedicated to that singular role."

Is kind of an outsider's view of the topic... but reducing a Cuban drum groove to just the clave itself doesn't really represent the bigger picture of what's going on.

As a funny somewhat related story... a friend of mine spent a month studying in Brazil at a couple different Samba "schools"; I remember his comment that they didn't even think of any of the rhythm’s starting on "1", or that there was even anything called "1" in music... 4/4 what??? cut what time??? I guess my point is that trying to identify these things from a reference point of "Western" or "European" concepts of time signature really cloud the issue and can lead to fundamental misunderstandings concerning the nature of another culture's music.

Oh... see how you like just a quarter note guagua rhythm, something has to be "on the beat" if you want something else to sound "off the beat". (Kind of like trying to add "altered notes" to a tri-tone sub... it's already altered... if you alter it again... it just ends up diatonic in the end.)

The most basic songo bell pattern is an embellishment of the Matanzas-style cáscara pattern for guaguancó, traditionally played on a guagua (hollowed piece of bamboo).[4] In both patterns the right hand (lower notes) plays the four main beats, while the left hand plays offbeats. The right hand is typically played on a closed hi-hat, woodblock, or cowbell. The left hand is typically played on the snare rim, snare, cowbell(s), or toms The left hand portion of the pattern is expressed in a wide variety of melodic motifs, and timbres. [See: "Songo Patterns on Drum Kit" (Changuito)].

On the pages describing the grooves on the Timba site you’ll see it notated in context…

  • I agree that Cuban musicians don't talk about clave, but that's because they've all grown up just feeling it. It's definitely there though and even if no one is actually playing the pattern, all of the other instruments are aware of it. There's even a word, cruzado, that means playing against the clave (either accidentally or deliberately)
    – tinyd
    Commented May 26, 2012 at 12:23
  • Oh, I agree, I was just trying to point out the little I know about specific distinctions of where the "clave" (I was some what referencing the link... i.e. the same heritage extending back to african bell patterns)and how the clave is played and what type of instrument it would be played with. For instance would you want to play a stylisticaly different Brazillian Clave pattern (with wooden claves vs bell/bells) for a traditional Cuban sound or for that matter if you were trying to play in an African style? Functionally all three are respectively playing the same role in the groove. Commented May 27, 2012 at 6:08
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    I think that it all comes down to how authentically afro-cuban he wants the music to sound. If the answer is 'quite a lot' then getting the clave and other patterns right is important. Just about all percussion patterns in cuban music fit around the clave, as does the piano montuno. The bass tumbao in its simplest version is a 1-bar rhythm that is the same across both bars of the clave, but any additional embellishments will fit the clave. Other instruments and vocals also should also base their phrasing around the clave.
    – tinyd
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 13:58
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    I kind of interpreted his questioning of "is this legal" to be exactly that... what goes with what? in a traditional sense. For example, he's basically asking what a traditional Rhumba bassline is as his last question... I would think we need to point out the different meanings of Rumba/Rhumba, Afro-Cuban Vs. Folkloric Cuban Vs. African Vs. Ballroom Vs. Flamenco... some are son based, some aren't; just as pointing out the various different uses of the word "clave" (instrument Vs. pattern)... in other words, even though we are talking about the same thing; I might refer to it as a bell pattern Commented May 30, 2012 at 20:12
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    I agree 100% with you that there are lots of other fun variations that borrow from Cuban, Brazilian and African traditions. But his question about 'legal' to me implied that he wanted to get it right from an authenticity point of view. He specifically asked about how a rumba clave fits with a tumbao bass line so I think he's aware of the differences. My other point was just that if you're playing Cuban music, the chances are that the music is 'in clave', either son or rumba, and being aware of the relationship between the clave and the other instruments is very important.
    – tinyd
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 9:34

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