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La Clave

A “key” common denominator to “Latin (-American)”, “Afro-Cuban”, and “Caribbean” (dance) music is la clave. The “clave” is a 5-beat syncopated pattern played over 2 measures of music. There are two versions of clave: “forward” and “reverse” – “3-2” and “2-3”.

3-2 Clave: beats 1, and, 4; 6, 7

[1 and 2 and 3 and 4; and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8]

2-3 Clave: beats 2, 3; 5, and, 8

[1 and 2 and 3 and 4; and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8]

People don’t usually dance to pianos, flutes, trumpets, trombones, or many other instruments in bands; they mostly dance to the sounds and rhythms of the bass, percussion, and “la clave”. The clave (rhythm) can be played on drums, two sticks, a cow bell, bass guitar, or by clapping hands.

Even when the clave cannot be clearly heard, it is usually implied. Whether you dance “on 1″, “on 2”, or “on” any other count, what is “key” is to listen for and to the clave and stay on beat!

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