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Salsa Timing & Percussion

Salsa is played in common time, that is four beats in every bar. The music is played in two bar phrases, thereby forming an eight-count.



As yet the most robust criterion for defining a piece of music as salsa music is that it should obey the clave. Translated it means the "Key", the key to Salsa. The clave is a rhythm that is played by striking one wooden stick against another. The sticks are called clave too. The clave (rhythm) comes in two flavours: 2-3 and 3-2. The 2-3 clave has two beats in the first bar of the phrase, and three beats in the second bar: beats 2, 3, 5, &, 8 (where & is equidistant between beats 6 and 7). The 3-2 clave is the converse. Musicians and singers alike should obey the clave, playing notes or stressing syllables to highlight most or all of the clave beats. They should do this even if no clave rhythm actually being played, performing to an imaginary beat.


Bass Rhythm

An eight-count is usually played on a tall narrow drum called the conga. In the diagram a chachachá rhythm, played by a number of percussion and bass instruments (including the conga) is used in the example. The chachachá rhythm is quite common, but is by no means the only one. The first beats of every bar, numbers 1 & 5 of the eight-count, are louder as represented by the larger dots. Occasionally beats 1 & 5 can be differentiated from each other as well. The second beat of every bar, numbers 2 & 6, usually bears an accent caused by striking the conga skin sharply. The fourth beat, numbers 4 & 8, is a clear “double tap” (two syncopated beats) played on a different conga resulting in a different tone, as represented two dots off the line. The double tap is part of the signature rhythm of the chachachá that lends the rhythm its name. This would be counted 4-& also 8-& as in Cha Cha Dancing On2.


Percussion layers

The beats of the eight count are usually determined by a number of percussionists playing in together using smaller instruments. This includes non-percussion instruments assuming a percussive role; a percussion instrument like the conga can skip beats, with other instruments filling in the gaps. The non-percussion instruments would be playing on an imaginary beat. The cooperative role of the musicians are a reflection of the African roots of the music. Consequently, listening to the music as an entire piece instead of any one particular instrument is the most reliable way of deriving timing.


Salsa Timing Music for Salsa Dancers

• Learn the essential percussion sounds in Salsa music

• Practice to On1 timing that will help you keep in time

• Training songs with & without the On1 count

• Cha Cha percussion, practice music


Salsa Latina Timing Music MP3's

Percussion Essentials for dancers we have included this Free with

our Salsa beginners online course  BUY Now ...available here >


Salsa & Cha Percussion for Dancers

referring to the diagram below....

Line 1. Congas - Tumbao Muntuno, this is the same in Cha & Salsa

Note: (4&) and also (8&) are the cha cha steps

Line 2. Cowbell - For Salsa is on the down beat 1-3-5-7

Note: for Cha usually hits on 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 (every beat)

Line 3. Salsa Steps for On1 Salsa, stepping on 123 & 567

Line 4. 2-3 Clave, hits on 2-3 & 5-6.5-8

Line 5. 3-2 Clave, hots on 1-2.5-4 & 6-7

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