I spent the first 18 years of my life in New Jersey, listening to Led Zeppelin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Doors. Eventually, I got hip to great drummers like Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Terry Bozzio, and Bill Bruford. I did not listen to much Latin music (like Samba, Mambo, Afro Cuban), but then I moved to Miami to study jazz at the University of Miami. It was there I learned of the magic of Latin music and drumming.

In Miami, I would hear music from young Cuban children who understood guaguancó and other Cuban rumbas as easily as it was for me to understand John Bonham and rock and roll. While there certainly are incredible drummers with a firm grasp on Latin drumming who did grow up with a Latin background, such as Dave Weckl, the late Chuck Silverman, David Garibaldi, Will Kennedy, and Peter Erskine, to name a few, I chose to simply develop enough Latin chops to get by on a gig, sound fairly authentic, and not completely make a fool of myself.

I would never say I was an authority on Latin drumming by any means, but by living in Miami for 13 years I ended up learning mostly through osmosis. When I teach samba to my students at Musicians Institute I preface by stating, “I AM FROM NEW JERSEY!” So, with that said, I am proud to present this set of “working drummer’s Latin grooves.” These will get you through a gig and will also take away some of the mystery of Latin drumming.

Mambo 2:3 Son Clavé

The mambo is an excellent groove to learn simply for the coordination involved. Learning a few variations of mambo will heighten your ability to subdivide and play syncopated rhythms, and enhance your overall time feel. Also, if you are more of a rocker or R&B drummer it would behoove you to have at least one mambo “go-to” pattern in the event you are on a gig that asks for it. We are not going to go all the way down the rabbit hole on this one, but let’s start with the 2:3 son clavé mambo pattern.

We start with the right hand cascara pattern. The cascara is an overlaying, two-bar repetitive pattern. Play on the ride bell or cowbell (Ex. 1).

Ex. 1

This example is in cut time (2/2, two half notes to every bar), therefore the cascara is counted as follows (Ex. 2).


Ex. 2

Next, add the one-bar repetitive bass drum pattern (Exs. 3-4).

Ex. 3-4

The key to locking these two parts together is to understand that the bass drum pattern is free-standing except where it aligns with the cascara pattern on the ah of beat 1 (the & of beat 2 if you are counting in 4/4) in the second bar of the pattern (Ex. 5). Spend time getting this together before adding the upcoming clavé pattern.

Ex. 5

Once you have those two parts gelling, add the two-bar clavé pattern with a sidestick sound (Exs. 6-7). This particular pattern is the more traditional 2:3 Son clavé pattern. The 2:3 denotation is simply describing how many times the clavé is played in each bar (twice in bar 1 and three times in bar 2).

Exs. 6-7

Now put all three parts together (Ex. 8). Notice that the only place all three limbs align is on the ah of beat 1 (the & of beat 2 if you are counting in 4/4) in the second bar of the pattern.

Ex. 8

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.

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