Pro Tips for Latin Style Drumming - by Preston Fulcher
is an instrument AND a rhythm. Claves are two wooden sticks
that are played by striking the two together, there are many
different types of claves (i.e. rosewood, and now even synthetics.)
- It is
impossible to place too much emphasis on the clave rhythm
when dealing with latin music. Songs are often entirely arranged
around this rhythm and therefore each musician and not just
drummer should be completely familiar with it.
is a big difference between being aware of the clave in the
song, and playing "IN" clave.Ultimately, the idea
is to "internalize" clave.
- A typical
latin rhythm section would include three percussionists. A
Bongocero (bongo player), Conguero (conga player), and a Timbalero
(timbale player). Each percussionist plays a vital role in
the groove as well as the dynamics of a band. These three
musicians stay in constant sync. with each other.
- A Bongo
player has two jobs, to play the bongos throughout the verse
or "down" sections of a song, and to play a rock
solid bongo bell, a.k.a campana* pattern during choruses or
"up" sections of the piece.
- The standard
rhythm for bongos is an eighth note phrase called, martillo.
With emphasis on "1" and "3" A good bongocero
can improvise freely within the martillo pattern.
take the campanero (bongo bell player) for granted, for in
a latin group he or she may be the only person outlining tempo
with emphasis on "1" and "3"! If you're
ever lost in a piece of latin music, look for this person.
- A Conga
player carries the bulk of the groove by typically playing
a straight 8th note pattern that repeats known as tumbao.
One places emphasis in the conga tumbao with a slap on beat
"2" and open tones on beats "4" and the
- The Timbale
player is most closely associated with the "drummer"
of the band. His job is to hold time and to set-up band figures
- A typical
timbale set-up consists of two, single headed drums (macho/hembra)
a high-pitched cha-cha bell, wood block, a lower pitched mambo
bell, and generally a cymbal.
- A contemporary
or "new-school" approach to timbales may also include
a bass drum, floor tom, snare, additional pedals, and eventually
the entire drum-set, but always surrounding the primary instrument,
is a standard time-keeping pattern that is associated with
the congas, bass, and sometimes timbales in latin music.
have many different forms and names too long to list. They
should be studied according to their geographic origin with
certain respect paid to their tonal qualities as well as musical
roles in any particular genre .
- A typical
cowbell has many different pitches with two important ones
to be kept in mind. The mouth of the bell, witch creates the
lowest pitch, and the neck, producing a higher pitch. It is
played either with a cowbell beater (standard for bongo players)
or a drumstick.
a.k.a. tumbadoras posses a wealth of different tones created
with a "near" standard of technique, here are some
that all congueros should know; the closed slap, open slap,
open tone, muffled tone, bass, and the heel-tip technique.
With many variations on each.
all latin drums are tuned in a circular motion and not point
be afraid to crank down your bongos when tuning them. Too
often do people confuse the sound a bongo should make with
congas. They should be able to pierce above all of the drums
with your finger-tips.
using skin heads ALWAYS tune down after each use. This prolongs
the elasticity of the head and allows for many more years
of playing time.
companies offer synthetic heads, there are many pros and cons,
so try what works for you. One important "plus"
for synthetic heads, is that you don't have to tune them down
after each use.
- For many
people that play latin percussion in America, it is important
to grasp the big picture so as to promote a well rounded understanding
of latin drumming. There truly is a life-time of information
to be acquired just from scratching the surface and one should
pace themselves when studying this wide spectrum of music.
- If ever
watching a latin rhythm section, you may notice that the three
percussionists "change gears" together. A timbale
player cues the band into say, the chorus and he begins to
play the mambo bell or cymbal, the conga player takes up a
two bar tumbao incorporating a second drum, and the bongocero
switches from bongos to the bongo
bell. And just like that the dynamic has increased significantly.
practice and only with practice, one can gain endurance on
congas, creativity on the bongos, and finesse on the timbales.
All of which can be attained.
restrict yourself to just one latin percussion instrument.
It is one thing to be an excellent conguero or bongocero or
timbalero, but to be a latin percussionst can mean the difference
between an employable professional and a hobbyist.
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