From Drum Magazine’s October 2017 Issue | Text, Music, And Video By Brian Andres

One of the most important rhythms found in West African and Cuban music is the repetitive five-note pattern we call clave. Understanding this foundational rhythm is fundamental to being able to understand numerous styles of music whose rhythmic structures, arrangements, and even improvisations are based on the clave pattern, from bembe to guaguanco, or mambo to Mozambique. Clave can be felt and played in both triple and duple meter.


In this lesson, clave is in a triple meter feel, written as one measure of eighth-note triplets in 4/4 time (Ex. 1). As with most drumming techniques, I’ve found the best way to master this five-note pattern is to first practice it on a practice pad or snare drum.



In Ex. 2, I fill in the rest of the triplets in the measure using ghost notes and reverse the sticking in Ex. 3 for a left hand dominant version of the same measure.



Once you have reached a solid level of comfort with each of those single-measure phrases individually, you can create a two-measure phrase (Ex. 4) by simply changing the sticking of the last note of the measure to whichever hand is playing the accents. However, remember to continue to play the last note as a ghost note. You will now find yourself alternating the clave pattern between right hand dominant and left-hand dominant in each measure.


You can create a nice four-measure phrase by combining the previous examples. In Ex. 5, you have two measures of right hand dominant accents followed by two measures of left hand dominant accents. As you continue to practice these patterns, you should find yourself beginning to internalize the clave.


When you’re ready to transition these phrases to the drum set, you can begin by putting the accents onto the ride or crash cymbal and add a bass drum to each accent (Ex. 6). This is just one of many ways to experiment with these patterns as you become more comfortable with clave.


Brian Andres performs with numerous Latin, Caribbean, and African ensembles in the San Francisco Bay Area and leads the critically acclaimed Latin jazz group The Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel. He is a Bosphorus Cymbals artist and a Regional Artist Endorser for Sakae Drums. Find more information at www.brianandres.com.