Developing an ear for clave

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Developing an ear for clave

Postby KidCuba » Thu Oct 17, 2013 5:01 pm

Every serious rumbero, and I make that distinction as it is the musical style I spent the vast majority of my time studying, has told me you have to be able to play within clave.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Over several year, I have made strides in really hearing clave while playing rumba. I usually practice to a clave track and metronome, and in recent months after learning it from one of Yagbe Onilu's student - I have started practice playing clave with my left hand on the the shell of the conga, while playing the main notes to a part on the drum with my right hand.

What sort of exercises do you incorporate into your studies to further develop your sense of clave?
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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby jorge » Thu Oct 17, 2013 8:11 pm

Here are a few suggestions that have worked for me. Play with experienced Afrocuban rumberos who have excellent timing (not all do) every chance you get. Play clave or cata in every rumba you can possibly get to. If you can make it to the Humboldt Afrocuban summer workshop, the evening rumbas there are great with outstanding Afrocuban drummers and singers, one week there will help your clave a lot. Listen carefully to the clave as you play whenever you play drum parts. Concentrate when you play and try to always lock in with the cata so they sound like one instrument. Practice cata at home until your timing is perfect, accents are right and you don't cross the clave, waver, speed up, slow down or drop a beat. Practice with a metronome in addition to practicing with recordings of great rumba groups. Use the metronome when you are practicing clave on the side of the drum and a drum part with the other hand. Dance and sing while you play clave and keep the timing steady. Try to only play with excellent cata players and lock in so the coincident beats are real clean and don't sound like flams. You don't need to play loud, just with perfect timing. Record sessions with you playing clave or cata and listen back to hear how you sound to others. Playing too much with people whose timing is not excellent or who play off clave can do damage to your own timing and clave. You sometimes have to do that, but a partial antidote is practicing cata and clave at home a lot with really good recordings. Try to get yourself invited to rumbas with Lazaro Galarraga, Orestes Vilato, and other outstanding LA rumberos as much as you can and concentrate and play clave really clean when you play with them. That may help get you invited back. When there is a Cuban rumbero in town, like Cusito or Lali, try to hook up with them and play with them whenever you can. Don't underestimate how important clave and cata are in the rumba, or how hard it is to get it to sound right. Once your clave is really good and solid, your other playing with clave will be much easier to achieve. Try to never cross the clave, and to always hear it as you are playing other parts. You won't be able to hear every beat of the clave clearly if your playing is off clave.
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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby KidCuba » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:45 am

Jorge,

Excellent suggestions, all of them.

Playing clave and kata, and I would even saying singing in clave or singing coro in clave, with players better than yourself goes a long way. Having had a few of those opportunities, those experiences have improved my understanding, playing, and practicing.

I used to be crazy for every rumba, but now I try to play with guys better than me as much as possible - and just practice and practice if I don't have access to them. I also have learned to play with guys who are at my level but serious about improving.

The metronome has been a big part of my routines, since you first mentioned it a while back. I thought it would make me a more robotic player, but it has allowed my timing to improve and free up my playing.
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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby JohnnyConga » Fri Oct 18, 2013 10:06 pm

If Clave doesn't come naturally to you ..you have to learn to 'internalize" it...with repetition...
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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby Marcus » Mon Oct 21, 2013 2:56 pm

Been doing the clave on my feet--slowly but that certainly gets the pattern internalized. The short bell is really tough with the 2 double strikes however and have not been able to do that yet.

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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby guarachon63 » Wed Oct 23, 2013 3:43 pm

Jorge wrote:
You don't need to play loud, just with perfect timing.


Can I just re-iterate this? And that it applies not only to clave and guagua but to all the drums too?

Make your open tones clear and right in the pocket - all that manoteo stuff should be barely audible, you can bring it all up a bit in the montuno and the contrast will be even more effective than if you start out with the volume on 10 and then go to 11.

If you are on the other drums don't get carried away with licks and "conversations" - don't do them just for the sake of doing them, put them in just the right spot for the song and leave space for the quinto. And if you are on the quinto, leave space for the singer.
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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby jorge » Thu Oct 24, 2013 1:28 am

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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby Marcus » Thu Oct 24, 2013 3:22 pm

Been working on the short bell foot pattern along with a simple HtThtTHtThtT, (dominant hand upper case). I was able to do the first 5 strikes, xx.x.xx

Interesting is that the foot pattern alternates because with 5 strikes you end on with alternate feet, also works the same for the normal 7 strikes of the short bell. I can only do the first 5 strikes and only for two comples clave cycles, but that is enough right now. By the weekend I will be able to do the complete package--slowly!

High speeds are not my plan but to internalize the clave I need to work it as a coordination issue and then I own it at moderate speeds and eventually working to performance speeds.

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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby KidCuba » Sat Oct 26, 2013 3:28 pm

Playing at an appropriate dynamic is crucial, and maybe the hardest to learn and teach to new players.

I still get excited to be in front of the drum at a rumba and want to let all my ideas flow from hours of practice, but restraint is key.

The less you do, the better your floreos sound when you unleash them in small spurts.
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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby congamyk » Mon Nov 18, 2013 5:02 am

I teach my students not to think of clave as a rhythm.
I teach them to sing it as a static melody until memorized.
Then I have them sing it while I play clave, if it doesn't match up, we start over.
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Re: Developing an ear for clave

Postby windhorse » Sat Apr 19, 2014 4:01 pm

A fun thing to work on is changing your left hand instrument when playing the kata pattern. Like the kata for right and bell for left hand. This gives a whole new texture which is a real mind game if you move back and forth between kata and bell while holding the timing just right. Also, when playing in a long jam that has gone on long enough, see if you can change the clave/kata from 4/4 into 6/8 and get the rest of the musicians to follow, without losing the downbeat,, and maybe back again later. People will be all smiles if you can pull it off, and maybe not so thrilled when it crashes. I see it as a small test of the group's cohesiveness and ability to listen and feel the parts deeply. Be careful! :x
Also, one of my favorite practices for the past 5 years has been to play a lower note in the left hand hockets with a higher tone in the right playing the 6/8 bell pattern. The left hand will be playing an offset rumba clave, and it's a fun mind game to hear the left as the "on-beat" and switch back again to the right hand as the "on-beat" without missing a hit. This takes much practice, but it's such a mind expander that I couldn't resist sharing! :shock:
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