clave salsa

The Best Guide To Listening The Rumba Clave

1. What is a clave and how is it played? 

A clave is a pair of wood stick that are connected to each other to produce a sound. The later is particularly important in Afro-Cuban music such as son, guaguanco, rumba, or salsa. In fact, it’s one of the first instrument you will hear in these kinds of music. Indeed, clave represents the spirit of the songs. It gives a sort of perpetual soul to the music and therefore even in songs that do not have the clave physically present, its spirit still remains present.

1.1. How is it played?

The clave is played in a loop of 5 strokes that form a basic step. The latter is made out of 2 measures of 4 beats each. Therefore, in one basic salsa step for example, you will hear the clave 5 times out of 8 beats/count. 

1.2. Rumba clave versus clave for son

rumba clave versus son clave

1.2.1. Rumba clave

■ The pattern 2/3 means that on an 8 counts/beats you will hear the clave twice on the first measure, then 3 times on the second.
■ 3/2 on the other hand has the clave 2 times on the first measure, once in between both measures then two times on the second measure.

1.2.2. Son clave

■ The pattern 2/3 has the clave twice on the 1st measure and 3 times on the 2nd one.
■ For the 3/2 rhythm you will hear the instruments 3 times on the first measure and twice on the second.

CHECK-OUT THE VIDEO BELOW to see how it looks in practice.

2. What is the clave rhythm and why is it important?

As I mentioned earlier the clave is like the soul of the music. It represents one of the key liaisons between the song and the dancer. That’s why, whenever you try and learn salsa for example, your teachers will try and teach you to recognise the clave patterns. And if you watch some rumba videos, you will see how the musician himself synchronise his feet to the movement of the clave. In some Son moves, the dancers matches every stroke of the clave.
Since the clave functions in some kind of looping motion, once you can identify the clave in a song, you will always dance to the right beat. The reason why many dancers struggle to develop their skills is because they cannot clearly detect the rumba clave and mainly moves in a guessed world.

2.1. Why is it important

The importance of the rumba clave in particular lies in the fact that it sets the tone of the overall song. Like an introductory speaker at a movie premiere it announces what is coming and sets the mood right so that the participants get into the proper motion and mind set.

3. Why you must develop your musical ears with the rumba clave?

I define musical ears as the ability to recognise the patterns of a song, any song really, and in turn translate that pattern into appropriate movements. Without this skill, you quickly get lost and are unable to coordinate your movement properly. 
A lot of students want to rush into dancing salsa and neglect completely that aspect of the dance system. To take an analogy; it’s like wanting to drive a car without understanding the rules of the road. You might get away a few times without accidents, but you will eventually crash the car.
In order to develop your musical ears, you need a tool, the rumba clave; and a system. The system should take you from baby steps all the way to full independence. That’s why I have developed a 
5-level musical hearing system that uses the rumba clave as its base.

4. Focus first on songs where you can hear the rumba clave clearly

There are music styles that are heavy on the rumba clave. Such songs are Rumba, but also salsa. Groups like Los Muñequitos De Matanzas are the perfect types of groups to listen to if you want to recognise the rumba clave.

4.1. Choose music rich in the rumba clave

Salsa steps are based on the rhythm and patterns of the track. Since a song is the continuation of 2 sets of measures of 4 beats each, therefore it is also the perpetuation of 8 beats.
The key instruments dancers are asked to recognised are the conga, clave, tumbao etc… but since these instruments can be drowned by other instruments, how can you effectively train you ears?
That’s when rumba quicks in. Indeed, the best types of music that are heavy on clave are rumba.

4.2. Street rumba

Start with song such as portrayed in this video. That will tremendously help you identify clave during a salsa song.

4.2.1. How does the rumba clave translate into salsa steps

This simple step is ideal to coordinate your perception of the clave with your feet. 

Train this step often as it will help you tremendously. As simple as this step looks, it requires balance, counter balance, the use of arms, legs and core, with the core being the centre of command.
Now that you have followed these advices, you can start seeing how you are developing your musical ears. Most salsa teachers do not know this simple trick. From that point onward you must blend with the clave player. In this second video you can see the clave player is not being distracted by the different instruments played around him. You should have the same attitude since it is the multitude of instruments that create confusion in dancers.
Do this for 2-4 weeks everyday, then move to the next kind of music.
For more on the other levels to develop your musical ears click

4.3. Transition to salsa songs

After a while your ability to identify the rumba clave in a song will improve. From there you can appreciate salsa songs more and understand that some of these songs are less complicated than they seemed at first.

5 Basic salsa steps you can do right now using the rumba clave rhythm

5.1. In position

This basic step is similar to the one we spoke about earlier. The only difference is that it is danced in the same position. The key movement happens in the hips and shoulder. Although its relatively easy to learn, it nevertheless requires you to recognise where the clave pattern is and how to move accordingly. 

basic standing in place movement that follow the rumba clave

5.2. Cuban salsa step

This step borrows from Son dancing. It’s a great basic step that coordinate all the steps with the clave strokes. I use it to help you develop a sense of coordination between arms and legs. It’s basically a walking step on an 8 beat count.

Son salsa dance steps man with rumba clave beats
Son salsa dance steps woman with rumba clave beats

The man moves forward as the lady moves backward. It’s a basic walk forward and backward motion while your arms move in synchronisation.

5.3. Leg backward move

This step is an open arms step, where the lead leg goes behind the supporting leg. In this motion both partners open their body. The man uses his right arms behind the shoulders or hips of the female, and the lady uses her left arm on the male equivalent’s body part. And they use.

basic salsa dance step man- using the rumba clave beats
basic salsa dance step woman - using the rumba clave beats

The man moves forward as the lady moves backward. It’s a basic walk forward and backward motion while your arms move in synchronisation.

5.4. Basic salsa step

It is the simplest one of those shown so far and the most widely known. But now that we have the unfair advantage of understanding how our body should act, it’s easier to implement this step. Basically, you imagine a rubber on both side (front and back) of your body is trying to pull you to the centre.

basic salsa step man
basic salsa step woman

As you move forward, the rubber calls you back, and as you move backward the rubber calls you back to centre.

5.5. Cuban salsa step

couple salsa dance

As the man’s left leg goes backward, the lady’s right does the exact opposite. The man left arms hold the lady’s right, forming a W shape between the two arms.
Using these locked arms, they pull each other back to the centre (2,3)
And they push each other back with the man’s right palm and the lady’s left palm. So that their corresponding leg go backward.

Use these 5 basic salsa steps to train your body and ear connection.

6. Key takeaway

Clave is a key instrument in many afro-Cuban music since it is used to connect the dancers, musician and music together. That’s why you can observe in such dances as rumba the band changing the rhythm of their song if they see the dancer improvising moves as the music goes along. In order to develop this skill, the dancer must understand where in the song is the clave and with what speed it is played. Indeed, there is not just one clave speed. Some songs have faster clave beats other have slower. Therefore, if you want to dance on the rhythm of this instrument, you need to listen to rumba very often. Then, as you move to other forms of music you will realise that you have developed a pretty astute earing level. Other styles of afro-Cuban dances will then become easier for you to deal with. 

7. Discover new, untapped materials

Be the first one to check-out all the exciting info I put out on Salsa, Zumba, Bachata and other afro-Cuban dances. I have many thrilling programs that will transform and challenge you. These life-changing and great VIP programs can take you from novice to master in less than 3 months. They are badass and will definitely introduce new muscles to your body.

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