Last updated
Percussion instrument
Classification Hand percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.11
(Concussion idiophone)

Claves ( /ˈklɑːvz,klvz/ ; Spanish:  [ˈklaβes] ) are a percussion instrument consisting of a pair of short, wooden sticks about 20–25 centimeters (8–10 inches) long and about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) in diameter. [1] [2] Although traditionally made out of wood (typically rosewood, ebony or grenadilla) many modern manufacturers, such as Latin Percussion, offer claves made out of fiberglass or plastic.


When struck, claves produce a bright, penetrating clicking noise. This makes them useful when playing in large dance bands. [3] Claves are sometimes hollow and carved in the middle to amplify the sound.


Claves have been very important in the development Afro-Cuban music, such as the son and guaguancó. They are often used to play an ostinato, or repeating rhythmic figure, throughout a piece known as the clave. [4]

Many examples of clave-like instruments can be found around the world. [5]


Playing a pair of claves Playingclaves.jpg
Playing a pair of claves

The basic principle when playing claves is to allow at least one of them to resonate. The usual technique is to hold one lightly with the thumb and fingertips of the non-dominant hand, with the palm up. This forms the hand into a resonating chamber for the clave. Holding the clave on top of fingernails makes the sound clearer. The other is held by the dominant hand at one end with a firmer grip, much like how one normally holds a drumstick. With the end of this clave, the player strikes the resting clave in the center. [6]

Traditionally, the striking clave is called el macho ("the male") and the resting clave is called la hembra ("the female"). This terminology is used even when the claves are identical.

A roll can be achieved on the claves by holding one clave between the thumb and first two fingers, and then alternating pressure between the two fingers to move the clave back and forth. This clave is then placed against the resonating clave to produce a roll. [7]

Among the bands to have used claves are the Beatles in their recording "And I Love Her" and The Who in their song "Magic Bus".

Claves are also utilized in the interstitial spaces of the Night Court theme.

Use in classical music

Many composers looking to emulate Afro-Cuban music will often use claves such as Arturo Márquez with Danzón No. 2 or George Gershwin with his Cuban Overture .

Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood is written for five pairs of claves. [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

Tambourine Musical instrument in the percussion family

The tambourine is a musical instrument in the percussion family consisting of a frame, often of wood or plastic, with pairs of small metal jingles, called "zills". Classically the term tambourine denotes an instrument with a drumhead, though some variants may not have a head at all. Tambourines are often used with regular percussion sets. They can be mounted, for example on a stand as part of a drum kit, or they can be held in the hand and played by tapping or hitting the instrument.

Polyrhythm Simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms

Polyrhythm is the simultaneous use of two or more rhythms that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another, or as simple manifestations of the same meter. The rhythmic layers may be the basis of an entire piece of music (cross-rhythm), or a momentary section. Polyrhythms can be distinguished from irrational rhythms, which can occur within the context of a single part; polyrhythms require at least two rhythms to be played concurrently, one of which is typically an irrational rhythm. Concurrently in this context means within the same rhythmic cycle. The underlying pulse, whether explicit or implicit can be considered one of the concurrent rhythms. For example, the son clave is poly-rhythmic because its 3 section suggests a different meter from the pulse of the entire pattern.

Clave (rhythm)

The clave is a rhythmic pattern used as a tool for temporal organization in Afro-Cuban music. In Spanish, clave literally means key, clef, code, or keystone. It is present in a variety of genres such as Abakuá music, rumba, conga, son, mambo, salsa, songo, timba and Afro-Cuban jazz. The five-stroke clave pattern represents the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Latin jazz is a genre of jazz with Latin American rhythms. The two main categories are Afro-Cuban jazz, rhythmically based on Cuban popular dance music, with a rhythm section employing ostinato patterns or a clave, and Afro-Brazilian jazz, which includes samba and bossa nova.

Timbales Shallow single-headed drums with a metal casing

Timbales or pailas are shallow single-headed drums with metal casing. They are shallower than single-headed tom-toms, and usually tuned much higher, especially for their size. The player uses a variety of stick strokes, rim shots, and rolls to produce a wide range of percussive expression during solos and at transitional sections of music, and usually plays the shells of the drum or auxiliary percussion such as a cowbell or cymbal to keep time in other parts of the song.

Bongo drum Type of drum

Bongos are an Afro-Cuban percussion instrument consisting of a pair of small open bottomed drums of different sizes. In Spanish the larger drum is called the hembra (female) and the smaller the macho (male). Together with the conga or tumbadora, and to a lesser extent the batá drum, bongos are the most widespread Cuban hand drums, being commonly played in genres such as son cubano, salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz. A bongo drummer is known as a bongosero.

Conga Cuban drum

The conga, also known as tumbadora, is a tall, narrow, single-headed drum from Cuba. Congas are staved like barrels and classified into three types: quinto, tres dos or tres golpes (middle), and tumba or salidor (lowest). Congas were originally used in Afro-Cuban music genres such as conga and rumba, where each drummer would play a single drum. Following numerous innovations in conga drumming and construction during the mid-20th century, as well as its internationalization, it became increasingly common for drummers to play two or three drums. Congas have become a popular instrument in many forms of Latin music such as son, descarga, Afro-Cuban jazz, salsa, songo, merengue and Latin rock.

Cajón Box-shaped percussion instrument

A cajón is a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru, played by slapping the front or rear faces with the hands, fingers, or sometimes implements such as brushes, mallets, or sticks. Cajones are primarily played in Afro-Peruvian music, but has made its way into flamenco as well. The term cajón is also applied to other box drums used in Latin American music, such as the Cuban cajón de rumba and the Mexican cajón de tapeo.

Timba is a Cuban genre of music based on Cuban son with salsa, American funk/R&B and the strong influence of Afro-Cuban folkloric music. Timba rhythm sections differ from their salsa counterparts, because timba emphasizes the bass drum, which is not used in salsa bands. Timba and salsa use the same tempo range and they both use the standard conga marcha. Almost all timba bands have a trap drummer. Timbas also often break the basic tenets of arranging the music in-clave. Timba is considered to be a highly aggressive type of music, with rhythm and "swing" taking precedence over melody and lyricism. Associated with timba is a radically sexual and provocative dance style known as despelote. It is a dynamic evolution of salsa, full of improvisation and Afro Cuban heritage, based on son, Rumba and mambo, taking inspiration from Latin jazz, and is highly percussive with complex sections. Timba is more flexible and innovative than salsa, and includes a more diverse range of styles. Timba incorporates heavy percussion and rhythms which originally came from the barrios of Cuba.

Afro-Cuban jazz is the earliest form of Latin jazz. It mixes Afro-Cuban clave-based rhythms with jazz harmonies and techniques of improvisation. Afro-Cuban jazz emerged in the early 1940s with the Cuban musicians Mario Bauzá and Frank Grillo "Machito" in the band Machito and his Afro-Cubans in New York City. In 1947, the collaborations of bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and percussionist Chano Pozo brought Afro-Cuban rhythms and instruments, such as the tumbadora and the bongo, into the East Coast jazz scene. Early combinations of jazz with Cuban music, such as "Manteca" and "Mangó Mangüé", were commonly referred to as "Cubop" for Cuban bebop.


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Machito Latin jazz musician

Machito was a Latin jazz musician who helped refine Afro-Cuban jazz and create both Cubop and salsa music. He was raised in Havana with the singer Graciela, his foster sister.

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Jazz drumming

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In music, a cross-beat or cross-rhythm is a specific form of polyrhythm. The term cross rhythm was introduced in 1934 by the musicologist Arthur Morris Jones (1889–1980). It refers to when the rhythmic conflict found in polyrhythms is the basis of an entire musical piece.

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A guajeo is a typical Cuban ostinato melody, most often consisting of arpeggiated chords in syncopated patterns. Some musicians only use the term guajeo for ostinato patterns played specifically by a tres, piano, an instrument of the violin family, or saxophones. Piano guajeos are one of the most recognizable elements of modern-day salsa. Piano guajeos are also known as montunos in North America, or tumbaos in the contemporary Cuban dance music timba.

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  1. "Claves – Instruments of the world". Retrieved 2020-09-23.
  2. "Claves | musical instrument". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-09-23.
  3. Blades, James; Brett, Thomas (2013). "Claves". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2240531 . Retrieved 2020-09-23.
  4. Godfried T. Toussaint, "A mathematical analysis of African, Brazilian, and Cuban clave rhythms," Proceedings of BRIDGES: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music and Science, Towson University, Towson, MD, July 27–29, 2002, pp. 157–168.
  5. Shepherd, John (2003). "Claves". Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. 2. pp. 352–355. ISBN   978-0-8264-6322-7.
  6. Klöwer, Töm (1997). The Joy of Drumming: Drums & Percussion Instruments From Around the World. Binkey Kok. p. 72. ISBN   90-74597-31-9. OCLC   38453581.
  7. Karl Peinkofer and Fritz Tannigel, Handbook of Percussion Instruments, (Mainz, Germany: Schott, 1976), 142.
  8. Steve Reich, Writings about Music, New York University Press, 1974.