The songo was developed in in the 1970’s and associated with the Cuban group Los Van Van. Essentially, the Songo pattern is a funkified mambo or rumba and very drummer friendly. It’s a two-bar groove (if counted in 2) that lines up nicely with the traditional 2/3 clave pattern. For most of us rock, funk, jazz, blues, and R&B drummers, the songo is just a fun linear groove to dig into. There are many variations of the songo, and in this lesson I’m going to break down the one I get the most mileage out of.

While there certainly are incredible drummers with a firm grasp on Latin drumming who did grow up with a Latin background, 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. Here is part four of four from this month’s focus of “Working Drummer’s Latin Grooves.” The goal is that these will get you through a gig and will also take away some of the mystery of Latin drumming.

The basic groove is a linear pattern (Ex. 1).

latin songo drumming lesson

Ex. 1

The notated hi-hat of course can be moved to other surfaces such as ride bell, cowbell, side of a floor tom, rim of a drum, woodblock, etc. The bass drum plays our standard tumbao part creating a syncopated pattern. The snare drum helps create the funk feel with the sparse accents and nifty ghost notes. Many drummers add another accent on the last note of the pattern, but I feel this added note takes away from the outline of the 2/3 clave and also creates too much repetition. That said, I will throw it in once in a while as the last few beats of the pattern is my go-to spot to add small fills and variations.

Let’s look at how exactly the Songo lines up with the 2/3 clave (Ex. 2).

latin songo drumming lesson

Ex. 2

A variation I like to add is a drag or in bar one coming off of the snare into the bass drum (Ex. 3).

latin songo drumming lesson

Ex. 3

Another fun addition that is not too taxing is to add one extra note on the hi-hat/ride pattern (Ex. 4). This eliminates the linear effect but is an easy change to help change up sections within a tune.

latin songo drumming lesson

Ex. 4

Similar to samba, the songo is a groove that drummers tend to practice at tempos that are not realistic to actual Latin tunes. With that being said, please take time to practice this groove (and all grooves) at various tempos; challenge yourself and play them slow. If you can play them slow you’ll really start to get what they are all about. If you want to learn more, take advantage of the internet and do your own discover. Start going down the rabbit hole of these styles—it’s a winding and seemingly endless journey.

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

Lesson: Funky Street Samba (Working Drummer’s Essential Latin Grooves Part 3)

Lesson: Samba Variations (Working Drummer’s Essential Latin Grooves Part 2)

Lesson: Mambo 2:3 Son Clave (Working Drummer’s Essential Latin Grooves Pt 1)