Learning The Clave and Cascara Rhythms :)

Im not posting as often as I used to , I guess in the winter its nicer to stay in in the evenings and work on the computer, whereas now I like to go out and Jam music and dance in Barcelona!

When I was with the Scallywags I started playing the shaky egg: 

They are great percussive toy and work well in bands as they have a high frequency so can be audible when played alongside lots of instruments.

Now I am in Spain I am looking into Latin percussion. I’ve had a few lessons on the congas, but after a while they hurt my hands, and as I am a saxophonist my hands are quite precious and cannot handle being bashed on drums for hours on end.

So now I have acquired myself some Clave: Here is a example of a selection of Clave, where you just use two and hit them together to make the beat.


Ive Been practising these rhythms:

The Son 3-2 and 2-3 and the Rumba .


This is how you correctly hold the Clave to get full sound (Its surprisingly loud when play them fully!) The Clave is audible  when played alongside a band with amplification.

It is common in Latin music for the Clave rhythms to be also used by vocalists and horn sections, and even the whole band sometimes with all play the Clave rhythm with their instruments for example in a break or and ending. I like the Clave because it brings a bit of a swing in the music, the syncopation of the rhythm helps drive the music whilst giving in depth and a danceable style.

I have also been learning the Cascara rhythm which my friends say is very useful for understanding the placing of horn parts as well. The Cascara is also 2 bars long, with more syncopation. The arrows are accents, and this is something I am coming to now, as you play the rhythm you give more emphasis to the accents. Sometimes you can simplify the rhythm to just playing the accents. This could be done for example when the music is decrescendo (music is quieter) and one instrument or voice has a solo part. The rhythm section might want to simplify their beats in order not to crowd the singer or horn player.

The magic and also difficult part of learning Latin music, coming from a Western culture is the syncopation. I have come across syncopation before in Jazz, Bossa Nova and Latin books and also whilst playing in Ska and Reggae bands. However in Latin the syncopated notes are more frequent and unlike SKA and Reggae is not used regular just on the off beat. For example there maybe there will be 3 off beat notes and then a whole phrase afterwards all on the off beat. I am learning some songs with Calle Sol that the sax melody is all on the off beat. This is very challenging as for years Ive anticpated the 1 beat and then the following on beats.. however now its time to practice syncopation with the masters!


Latin music also uses faster paced music, for example 130bpm. There for accuracy and delicacy is important when playing Latin music.

Here is a video of my playing the Clave and Cascara



Because i cannot play it very loud in my house it is hard to get a good consistency with sound, however its a start to learning the rhythms and keeping them consistent.

Try it for yourself.