In many Caribbean music forms, clave is the rhythmic foundation from which all other rhythms and melodies are structured. Commonly written as a two-measure, five-note phrase, a 3:2 clave has three notes in the first measure; a 2:3 clave is flipped so the second measure has the three notes. Clave has two distinct forms: rumba and son. In rumba clave the third note of the first measure is displaced by an eighth- note (Ex. 1). In son clave, the third note of the first measure is played on the 4 (Ex. 2).  

To better understand and pick up the feel of the clave, we have applied it here to the drum set in multiple ways. First, the 3:2 rumba clave is used as an accent pattern on the snare drum, with the rest of the eighth-notes filling in as unaccented hits. Start by simply using an alternating sticking pattern to play the two measures (Ex. 3). For more variation, change the sticking so each accent of the clave is alternating (Ex. 4). The unaccented notes become a combination of singles and doubles. This sticking will take four measures to resolve. Once you’ve mastered these patterns, try moving the accents to the drums and cymbals for even more variations.  

Next, apply clave to the bell of the ride cymbal (it can also be played on a woodblock or cowbell). Play a basic quarter note groove of bass drum, snare, hi-hat, and high mounted tom underneath it (Ex. 5). For more advanced playing you can add a syncopated bass drum, snare, and tom-tom part derived from the Cuban music style of songo, while continuing to play clave (Ex. 6). Don’t forget that all of these patterns can be played beginning with the second measure to create a 2:3 clave feel. 

Finally, change the pattern to 3:2 son clave and apply it to the bass drum (Ex. 7). Add a quarter-note hi-hat pattern with a syncopated snare part and the groove becomes New Orleans second line–inspired. To spice that beat up add ghost notes on the snare, plus syncopated and open hi-hat parts (Ex. 8). 

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 Canopus Drums. brianandres.com