Understand the base of salsa music

The Clave

The importance of the clave rhythm is crucial in salsa so a detailed depiction of it will be provided. Only the most dedicated salsa teachers will implement clave training to their students. This demonstrates not only good timing but also Latin music cultural awareness. Each of the above mentioned Cuban dances are polyrhythmic meaning they have separate rhythms within rhythms. There are many clave rhythms and those predominantly used for salsa are the son clave 2/ 3 or 3/ 2 time signature, the rumba clave 3/ 2 signature or the afro Cuban 6/ 8 clave with 4/ 4 time signature.

3-2 Rumba clave

2-3 rumba clave

2-3 son clave

3-2 son clave

6/ 8 clave

6/ 8 clave played in 4/ 4 triplets

The normal composition of a salsa song and rhythm is based around core instruments of trumpet, bongo, conga, double bass, piano, campana or timbales, guiro, cowbell and clave. More modern salsa orchestras use saxophone. In danzones and son music, violins were played at certain times.

The music hasn’t changed much since the 19 th century style of salsa music apart from the rhythm, which has speeded up and a few more instruments have been included. Originally, son, which came before salsa, used just bongos, a tres guitar, maracas and claves. Arsenio Rodriques added congas to the orchestra and gave it a more rounded feel according to T he Rough Guide To Cuban Music . When salsa went to New York, more instruments were added such as to make salsa sound jazzier . Later in the 60s radio DJs and MCs speeded up the music by playing the 78 records at 45 speed, although this was nothing new because the original danzon is supposed to increase in tempo. The music of danzon is very important to understand the base of salsa because a danzon has all the sections that establish salsa music. Danzón is both elegant and virtuosic music (and dance). A danzón, in its original form, does not feature any improvisations, unlike most other popular Cuban genres. A danzón has the following typical structure (which stems from European rondo): Rondeau (music) — Medieval and Renaissance form. (Wikipedia ) Danzón Overview).

Cuba’s national dance ( danzón ) is the product of centuries of evolution and transformation, from its roots in the French contredanse to its spawning of the mambo and the cha-cha-chá. Considered part of Cuba’s classical music lineage— and one of the primary ancestors of popular music on the island, the danzón represents a bygone era yet remains connected to its musical family throughout the Americas.

In 17th-century France and England, court dances were common practice among the social elite. The French contredanse and the English country-dance both became primordial influences in Cuban culture as Europeans went west to the Caribbean. In Cuba, the contredanse became the contradanza criolla (Creole contredanse), and by the late 18th century the style was adopted and the word “criolla” was dropped. The first instrumental group to play contradanzas was the orquesta típica , consisting of woodwinds, brass, strings, the tympani and the Cuban gourd scraper known as the güiro . A signature element in the music is a five-note rhythmical pattern called the cinquill o (National Geographic online).

A Breakdown of Danzon Musical Rhythm:

  • An introduction or paseo (A), usually 16 measures.
  • The theme or principal melody (B), featuring the flute, thus often referred to as parte de (la) flauta (” flute part”).
  • A repeat of the introduction.
  • The trio (C), featuring the strings, thus also called parte del violín (” violin part”).
  • This could either be a clichéd ending (there are a few standard danzón endings), another repeat of the introduction, or a combination of both.

The classic form is thus ABAC or ABACA. A danzón-chá or danzón-mambo typically adds another part (D), an open vamp in which soloists can improvise, creating an ABACD or, more commonly, ABACAD.