Hello and welcome to my Latin Music 101 page. This page is intended for those who want to know the musical fundamentals of Salsa, Brazilian or Latin Jazz music. We’ll start out by discussing CLAVE. All music is felt in a pulse, much like your heart has a steady regular pulse. When you run or exercise the pulse “picks up” until you stop in which case it “slows down” to it’s original pulse.
You may have heard musicians shout out a count before starting a song such as “One, Two, Three, Four!” These are pulses of 4 beats comprised of ONE measure. In actuality, the first beat gets the strongest emphasis and is kind of like “Home Plate” to let the musicians know where the first beat occurs in the measure. The 3rd beat is also strong but not as strong as the first because remember, we need that “Home Plate” first beat to let us know where we are as the music plays. Most music you hear nowadays is usually made up of this 4 beat/pulse pattern in all tempos (speed or duration) while some music like Polka or Marching Band music is felt more as a 2 Pulse rhythm.
In Salsa music there is an underlying 2 measure (or 2 Bar) rhythmic pattern called “CLAVE” that is the basis for it’s characteristic “Swing”.
There are 3 distinct forms of clave: The first two are Three Two (3-2) or “Forward Clave” and Two Three (2-3) or “Reverse Clave” each named because of the location of the beats in each bar. The third clave beat is Rumba Clave which is similar to the 3-2 Clave but with the last beat ending on the “And” of beat 4. These 4 beat measures are counted as “One and two and three and four and”.
This form of counting is universal for mostly all genres of music that use a common 4 beat rhythm.
Here is an example of a 2 bar (2 measure) phrase in “Reverse Clave” or 2-3 Clave:
Here's the “Rhumba Clave” similar to the Forward 3-2 Clave but with the beat on the "and" of 3 in the first bar:
Here is an example of a 2 bar (2 measure) phrase in “Forward Clave” or 3-2 Clave: