This article is about the rhythmic pattern.
For the musical instrument used to play it, see Claves.
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The five-stroke clave pattern represents the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms.
The clave pattern originated in sub-Saharan African music traditions, where it serves essentially the same function as it does in Cuba.
In ethnomusicology, clave is also known as a key pattern, guide pattern, phrasing referent, timeline, or asymmetrical timeline.
The historical roots of the clave are linked to transnational musical exchanges within the African diaspora.
For instance, influences of the African “bomba” rhythm are reflected in the clave.
In addition to this, the emphasis and role of the drum within the rhythmic patterns speaks further to these diasporic roots.
The clave is the foundation of reggae, reggaeton, and dancehall.
In this sense, it is the “heartbeat” that underlies the essence of these genres.
The rhythms and vibrations are universalized in that they demonstrate a shared cultural experience and knowledge of these roots.
Ultimately, this embodies the diasporic transnational exchange.
In considering the clave as this basis of cultural understanding, relation, and exchange, this speaks to the transnational influence and interconnectedness of various communities.
This musical fusion is essentially what constitutes the flow and foundational “heartbeat” of a variety of genres.
Clave is a Spanish word meaning 'code,' 'key,' as in key to a mystery or puzzle, or 'keystone,' the wedge-shaped stone in the center of an arch that ties the other stones together.
Clave is also the name of the patterns played on claves; two hardwood sticks used in Afro-Cuban music ensembles.
The key to Afro-Cuban rhythm
Just as a keystone holds an arch in place, the clave pattern holds the rhythm together in Afro-Cuban music.
The two main clave patterns used in Afro-Cuban music are known in North America as son clave and the rumba clave.
Both are used as bell patterns across much of Africa.
The contemporary Cuban practice is to write the duple-pulse clave in a single measure of 4.
It is also written in a single measure in ethnomusicological writings about African music.
Although they subdivide the beats differently, the 8 and 4 versions of each clave share the same pulse names.
The correlation between the triple-pulse and duple-pulse forms of clave, as well as other patterns, is an important dynamic of sub-Saharan-based rhythm.
Every triple-pulse pattern has its duple-pulse correlative.
Son clave has strokes on 1, 1a, 2&, 3&, 4.
Rumba clave has strokes on 1, 1a, 2a, 3&, 4.
Both clave patterns are used in rumba.
Some Havana-based rumba groups still use son clave for yambú.
There are three main branches of what could be called clave theory.
Cuban popular music
First is the set of concepts and related terminology, which were created and developed in Cuban popular music from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries.
In Popular Cuban Music, Emilio Grenet defines in general terms how the duple-pulse clave pattern guides all members of the music ensemble.
An important Cuban contribution to this branch of music theory is the concept of the clave as a musical period, which has two rhythmically opposing halves.
The first half is antecedent and moving, and the second half is consequent and grounded.
Ethnomusicological studies of African rhythm
In 1959, Arthur Morris Jones published his landmark work Studies in African Music, in which he identified the triple-pulse clave as the guide pattern for many pieces of music from ethnic groups across Africa.
The 3–2/2–3 clave concept and terminology
The third branch comes from the United States.
An important North American contribution to clave theory is the worldwide propagation of the 3–2/2–3 concept and terminology, which arose from the fusion of Cuban rhythms with jazz in New York City.
Only in the last couple of decades have the three branches of clave theory begun to reconcile their shared and conflicting concepts.
Thanks to the popularity of Cuban-based music and the vast amount of educational material available on the subject, many musicians today have a basic understanding of clave.
Contemporary books that deal with clave, share a certain fundamental understanding of what clave means.
In addition to these three branches of theory, clave has in recent years been thoroughly analyzed mathematically.
The structure of clave can be understood in terms of cross-rhythmic ratios, above all, three-against-two (3:2).
Godfried Toussaint, a Research Professor of Computer Science, has published a book and several papers on the mathematical analysis of clave and related African bell patterns.
The most common clave pattern used in Cuban popular music is called the son clave, named after the Cuban musical genre of the same name.
Clave was initially written in two measures of 4 in Cuban music.
When written this way, each cell or clave half is represented within a single measure.
Three-side / two-side
The antecedent half has three strokes and is called the three-side of the clave.
The consequent half (second measure above) of clave has two strokes and is called the two-side.
However, in the vernacular of Cuban popular music, the term refers to the figure shown here.
The other main clave pattern is the rumba clave.
Rumba clave is the key pattern used in Cuban rumba.
The use of the triple-pulse form of the rumba clave in Cuba can be traced back to the iron bell (ekón) part in abakuá music.
Columbia also uses this pattern.
There is some debate as to how the 4 rumba clave should be notated for guaguancó and yambú.
In actual practice, the third stroke on the three-side and the first stroke on the two-side often fall in rhythmic positions that do not fit neatly into music notation.
Triple-pulse strokes can be substituted for duple-pulse strokes.
Also, the clave strokes are sometimes displaced in such a way that they don't fall within either a triple-pulse or duple-pulse "grid".
Therefore, many variations are possible.
The first regular use of the rumba clave in Cuban popular music began with the mozambique, created by Pello el Afrikan in the early 1960s.
Standard bell pattern
The seven-stroke standard bell pattern contains the strokes of both clave patterns.
Some North American musicians call this pattern clave.
Other North American musicians refer to the triple-pulse form as the 8 bell because they write the pattern in two measures of 8.
Like clave, the standard pattern is expressed in both triple and duple-pulse.
The standard pattern has strokes on: 1, 1a, 2& 2a, 3&, 4, 4a.
The ethnomusicologist A.M. observes that what we call son clave, rumba clave, and the standard pattern are the most commonly used key patterns (also called bell patterns, timeline patterns and guide patterns) in JonesSub-Saharan African music traditions and he considers all three to be basically the same pattern.
Clearly, they are all expressions of the same rhythmic principles.
"68 clave" as used by North American musicians
In Afro-Cuban folkloric genres the triple-pulse ( 8 or 8) rumba clave is the archetypal form of the guide pattern.
Even when the drums are playing in duple-pulse ( 4), as in guaguancó, the clave is often played with displaced strokes that are closer to triple-pulse than duple-pulse.
John Santos states: "The proper feel of this [rumba clave] rhythm, is closer to triple [pulse].”
The cross-rhythmic structure (multiple beat schemes) is frequently misunderstood to be metrically ambiguous.
North American musicians often refer to Afro-Cuban 8 rhythm as a feel, a term usually reserved for those aspects of musical nuance not practically suited for analysis.
As used by North American musicians, " 8 clave" can refer to one of three types of triple-pulse key patterns.
Triple-pulse standard pattern
When one hears triple-pulse rhythms in Latin jazz the percussion is most often replicating the Afro-Cuban rhythm bembé.
The standard bell is the key pattern used in bembé and so with compositions based on triple-pulse rhythms, it is the seven-stroke bell, rather than the five-stroke clave that is the most familiar to jazz musicians.
Consequently, some North American musicians refer to the triple-pulse standard pattern as " 8 clave".
Triple-pulse rumba clave
Some refer to the triple-pulse form of rumba clave as " 8 clave".
When rumba clave is written in 8 the four underlying main beats are counted: 1, 2, 1, 2.
The main exceptions are: the form of rumba known as Columbia, and some performances of abakuá by rumba groups, where the 8 rumba clave pattern is played on claves.
Triple-pulse son clave
Triple-pulse son clave is the least common form of clave used in Cuban music.
It is, however, found across an enormously vast area of sub-Saharan Africa.
The first published example (1920) of this pattern identified it as a hand-clap part accompanying a song from Mozambique.
Cross-rhythm and the correct metric structure
Because 8 clave-based music is generated from cross-rhythm, it is possible to count or feel the 8 clave in several different ways.
The ethnomusicologist Arthur Morris Jones correctly identified the importance of this key pattern, but he mistook its accents as indicators of meter rather than the counter-metric phenomena they are.
Similarly, while Anthony King identified the triple-pulse "son clave" as the ‘standard pattern’ in its simplest and most basic form, he did not correctly identify its metric structure.
King represented the pattern in a polymetric 8 time signature.
It wasn't until African musicologists like C.K.
Ladzekpo entered into the discussion in the 1970s and 80s that the metric structure of sub-Saharan rhythm was unambiguously defined.
The writings of Victor Kofi Agawu and David Locke must also be mentioned in this regard.
Any or all of these structures may be the emphasis at a given point in a piece of music using the " 8 clave".
The example on the left ( 8) represents the correct count and ground of the " 8 clave".
The four dotted quarter-notes across the two bottom measures are the main beats.
All clave patterns are built upon four main beats.
The bottom measures on the other two examples ( 2 and 4) show cross-beats.
Observing the dancer's steps almost always reveals the main beats of the music.
Because the main beats are usually emphasized in the steps and not the music, it is often difficult for an "outsider" to feel the proper metric structure without seeing the dance component.
Kubik states: "To understand the emotional structure of any music in Africa, one has to look at the dancers as well and see how they relate to the instrumental background" (2010: 78).
3–2/2–3 clave concept and terminology
In Cuban popular music, a chord progression can begin on either side of the clave.
When the progression begins on the three-side, the song or song section is said to be in 3–2 clave.
When the chord progression begins on the two-side, it is in 2–3 claves.
When clave is written in two measures (right), changing from one clave sequence to the other is a matter of reversing the order of the measures.
Chord progression begins on the three-side (3–2)
Guajeos are a seamless blend of European harmonic and African rhythmic structures.
Most guajeos have a binary structure that expresses clave.
Kevin Moore states: "There are two common ways that the three-side is expressed in Cuban popular music.
The first to come into regular use, which David Peñalosa calls 'clave motif,' is based on the decorated version of the three-side of the clave rhythm."
The following guajeo example is based on a clave motif.
The three-side (first measure) consists of the tresillo variant known as cinquillo.
Since this chord progression begins on the three-side, the song or song section is said to be in 3–2 clave.
Moore: "By the 1940s [there was] a trend toward the use of what Peñalosa calls the 'offbeat/onbeat motif.'
Today, the offbeat/onbeat motif method is much more common."
With this type of guajeo motif, the three-side of clave is expressed with all offbeats.
The following I–IV–V–IV progression is in a 3–2 clave sequence.
It begins with an offbeat pick-up on the pulse immediately before beat 1.
With some guajeos, offbeats at the end of the two-side, or beats at the end of the three-side serve as pick-ups leading into the next measure (when clave is written in two measures).
Chord progression begins on the two-side (2–3)
A chord progression can begin on either side of the clave.
One can, therefore, be on either the three-side or the two-side because the harmonic progression, rather than the rhythmic progression, is the primary referent.
The following guajeo is based on the clave motif in a 2–3 sequence.
The cinquillo rhythm is now in the second measure.
This guajeo is in 2–3 clave because it begins on the downbeat, emphasizing the onbeat quality of the two-side.
The figure has the same harmonic sequence as the earlier offbeat/onbeat example, but rhythmically, the attack-point sequence of the two measures is reversed.
Most salsa is in 2–3 clave and most salsa piano guajeos are based on the 2–3 onbeat/offbeat motif.
Going from one side of clave to the other within the same song
Bauzá was a master at moving the song from one side of the clave to the other.
The following melodic excerpt is taken from the opening verses of "Que vengan los rumberos" by Machito and his Afro-Cubans.
Notice that the melody goes from one side of clave to the other and then back again.
A measure of 4 moves the chord progression from the two-side (2–3) to the three-side (3–2).
Later, another measure of 4 moves the start of the chord progression back to two-side (2–3).
According to David Peñalosa:
Tito Puente learned the concept from Bauzá.
Tito Puente's "Philadelphia Mambo" is an example of a song that moves from one side of clave to the other.
The technique eventually became a staple of composing and arranging in salsa and Latin jazz.
According to Kevin Moore:
Cuban folkloric musicians do not use the 3–2/2–3 system.
Many Cuban performers of popular music do not use it either.
The great Cuban conga player and bandleader Mongo Santamaría said, "Don’t tell me about 3–2 or 2–3!
In Cuba, we just play.
We feel it, we don’t talk about such things."
In another book, Santamaría said, "In Cuba, we don’t think about [clave].
We know that we’re in a clave.
Because we know that we have to be in clave to be a musician."
The contemporary Cuban bassist, composer and arranger Alain Pérez flatly states: "In Cuba, we do not use that 2–3, 3–2 formula... 2–3, 3–2 [is] not used in Cuba.
That is how people learn Cuban music outside Cuba."
In non-Cuban music
Controversy over use and origins
Perhaps the greatest testament to the musical vitality of the clave is the spirited debate it engenders, both in terms of musical usage and historical origins.
This section presents examples from non-Cuban music, which some musicians (not all) hold to be representative of the clave.
The most common claims, those of Brazilian and subsets of American popular music, are described below.
A widely used bell pattern
Some writings have claimed that the clave patterns originated in Cuba.
One frequently repeated theory is that the triple-pulse African bell patterns morphed into duple-pulse forms as a result of the influence of European musical sensibilities.
"The duple meter feel [of 4 rumba clave] may have been the result of the influence of marching bands and other Spanish styles..."— Washburne (1995).
However, the duple-pulse forms have existed in sub-Saharan Africa for centuries.
The patterns the Cubans call clave are two of the most common bell parts used in Sub-Saharan African music traditions.
Francis Kofi and C.K.
Ladzekpo document several Ghanaian rhythms that use the triple or duple-pulse forms of "son clave".
He states that this pattern is also found in the high-pitched boat-shaped iron bell known as atoke played in the Akpese music of the Eve people of Ghana.
There are many recordings of traditional African music where one can hear the five-stroke "clave" used as a bell pattern.
Popular dance music
Cuban music has been popular in sub-Saharan Africa since the mid-twentieth century.
To the Africans, clave-based Cuban popular music sounded both familiar and exotic.
Congolese bands started doing Cuban covers and singing the lyrics phonetically.
Soon, they were creating their original Cuban-like compositions, with lyrics sung in French or Lingala, a lingua franca of the western Congo region.
The Congolese called this new music rumba, although it was based on the son.
The Africans adapted guajeos to electric guitars and gave them their regional flavor.
The guitar-based music gradually spread out from the Congo, increasingly taking on local sensibilities.
This process eventually resulted in the establishment of several different distinct regional genres, such as soukous.
The following soukous bass line is an embellishment of clave.
Banning Eyre distills down the Congolese guitar style to this skeletal figure, where clave is sounded by the bass notes (notated with downward stems).
Highlife was the most popular genre in Ghana and Nigeria during the 1960s.
This arpeggiated highlife guitar part is essentially a guajeo.
The rhythmic pattern is known in Cuba as baqueteo.
The pattern of attack-points is nearly identical to the 3–2 clave motif guajeo shown earlier in this article.
The bell pattern known in Cuba as clave, is indigenous to Ghana and Nigeria, and is used in highlife.
The following afrobeat guitar part is a variant of the 2–3 onbeat/offbeat motif.
Even the melodic contour is guajeo-based.
2–3 claves are shown above the guitar for reference only.
The clave pattern is not ordinarily played in afrobeat.
Guide-patterns in Cuban versus non-Cuban music
There is some debate as to whether or not clave, as it appears in Cuban music, functions in the same way as its sister rhythms in other forms of music (Brazilian, North American and African).
Certain forms of Cuban music demand a strict relationship between the clave and other musical parts, even across genres.
This same structural relationship between the guide-pattern and the rest of the ensemble is easily observed in many sub-Saharan rhythms, as well as rhythms from Haiti and Brazil.
However, the 3–2/2–3 concept and terminology are limited to certain types of Cuban-based popular music and are not used in the music of Africa, Haiti, Brazil or in Afro-Cuban folkloric music.
In American pop music, the clave pattern tends to be used as an element of rhythmic color, rather than a guide-pattern and as such is superimposed over many types of rhythms.
In Brazilian music
The structure of Afro-Brazilian bell patterns can be understood in terms of the clave concept (see below).
Although a few contemporary Brazilian musicians have adopted the 3–2/2–3 terminology, it is traditionally not a part of the Brazilian rhythmic concept.
Pattern 1 is known in Cuba as son clave.
Bell 2 is used in afoxê and can be thought of as pattern 1 embellished with four additional strokes.
Bell 3 is used in batucada.
Pattern 4 is the maracatu bell and can be thought of as pattern 1 embellished with four additional strokes.
Bossa nova pattern
The so-called "bossa nova clave" (or "Brazilian clave") has a similar rhythm to that of the son clave, but the second note on the two-side is delayed by one pulse (subdivision).
The rhythm is typically played as a snare rim pattern in bossa nova music.
The pattern is shown below in 4, as it is written in Brazil.
In North American charts it is more likely to be written in cut-time.
Jobim later regretted that Latino musicians misunderstood the role of this bossa nova pattern.
Other Brazilian examples
The examples below are transcriptions of several patterns resembling the Cuban clave that is found in various styles of Brazilian music, on the ago-gô and surdo instruments.
Legend: Time signature: 4; L=low bell, H=high bell, O = open surdo hit, X = muffled surdo hit, and | divides the measure:
- Style: Samba 3:2; LL.L.H.H|L.L.L.H. (More common 3:2: .L.L.H.H|L.L.L.H.)
- Style: Maracatu 3:2; LH.HL.H.|L.H.LH.H
- Style: Samba 3:2; L|.L.L..L.|..L..L.L|
- Instrument: 3rd Surdo 2:3; X...O.O.|X...OO.O
- Variation of samba style: Partido Alto 2:3; L.H..L.L|.H..L.L.
- Style: Maracatu 2:3; L.H.L.H.|LH.HL.H.
- Style: Samba-Reggae or Bossanova 3:2; O..O..O.|..O..O..
- Style: Ijexa 3:2; LL.L.LL.|L.L.L.L. (HH.L.LL.|H.H.L.L.)
For 3rd example above, the clave pattern is based on a common accompaniment pattern played by the guitarist.
B=bass note played by guitarist's thumb, C=chord played by fingers.
The singer enters on the wrong side of the clave and the ago-gô player adjusts accordingly.
This recording cuts off the first bar so that it sounds like the bell comes in on the third beat of the second bar.
This is suggestive of a pre-determined rhythmic relationship between the vocal part and the percussion and supports the idea of a clave-like structure in Brazilian music.
In Jamaican and French Caribbean music
The son clave rhythm is present in Jamaican mento music, and can be heard on 1950s-era recordings such as "Don’t Fence Her In", "Green Guava" or "Limbo" by Lord Tickler, "Mango Time" by Count Lasher, "Linstead Market/Day O" by The Wigglers, "Bargie" by The Tower Islanders, "Nebuchanezer" by Laurel Aitken and others.
The Jamaican population is part of the same origin (Congo) as many Cubans, which perhaps explains the shared rhythm.
Just as likely however is the possibility that claves and the clave rhythm spread to Jamaica, Trinidad and the other small islands of the Caribbean through the popularity of Cuban son recordings from the 1920s onward.
Experimental clave music
The clave rhythm and clave concept have been used in some modern art music ("classical") compositions.
"Rumba Clave" by Cuban percussion virtuoso Roberto Vizcaiño has been performed in recital halls around the world.
Another clave-based composition that has "gone global" is the snare drum suite "Cross" by Eugene D. Novotney.
Odd meter "clave"
Technically speaking, the term odd meter clave is an oxymoron.
Clave consists of two even halves, in a divisive structure of four main beats.
However, in recent years jazz musicians from Cuba and outside of Cuba have been experimenting with creating new "claves" and related patterns in various odd meters.
Recommended listening for odd-meter "clave"
Here are some examples of recordings that use odd meter clave concepts.
- Dafnis Prieto About the Monks (Zoho).
- Sebastian Schunke Symbiosis (Pimienta Records).
- Paoli Mejias Mi Tambor (JMCD).
- John Benitez Descarga in New York (Khaeon).
- Deep Rumba A Calm in the Fire of Dances (American Clave).
- Nachito Herrera Bembe en mi casa (FS Music).
- Bobby Sanabria Quarteto Aché (Zoho).
- Julio Barretto Iyabo (3d).
- Michel Camilo Triangulo (Telarc).
- Samuel Torres Skin Tones (www.samueltorres.com).
- Horacio "el Negro" Hernandez Italuba (Universal Latino).
- Tony Lujan Tribute (Bella Records).
- Edward Simon La bikina (Mythology).
- Jorge Sylvester In the Ear of the Beholder (Jazz Magnet).
- Uli Geissendoerfer "The Extension" (CMO)
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clave (rhythm).