Why does it seem to be so much more difficult learning Latin drumming than other styles? Is it because the tempo and rhythms are so different from that of other styles of music? Or is it due to the lack of models for Latin music in typical pop culture radio stations and albums? Either way, if you don’t listen to a lot of Latin music, you’re bound to find it more difficult learning Latin drumming than you might have expected.
The biggest problem is Latin drumming emphasizes more voices than traditional rock drumming or pop music would. In a basic drum kit, you have your classic toms, bass drum, high hat, ride cymbals, and snare. This setup is fine for pop music. Latin music drumming, however, incorporates often unused accessory instruments like wood blocks, timbales, bongos, cowbells, congas, and other voices that create a totally different feel than rock drumming normally would. If you’re not familiar with the use and sound of these instruments, learning Latin drumming is going to be a bit more difficult for you, but not impossible.
There are a few patterns that you must learn when learning Latin drumming. Before diving into the music, practice these Latin grooves to familiarize yourself with the sticking. Remember to start slow and work your way to higher patterns. Here are some patterns and instruments you need to be familiar with when you’re first learning Latin drumming.
Pronounced “klah – VAY” this term literally means “the key” in Spanish. It tells you a lot about what this rhythm means to the music. This word actually has two meanings. The Claves is an instrument consisting of two wooden blocks hit together to make a sound. The second meaning, the most commonly used, is a two-bar rhythmic pattern used to spice up drum beats. The pattern is 5 notes with two beats played in the first bar and three beats in the second bar (also can be reversed.) This pattern is seen often in Latin music and if you’re learning Latin drumming, you need to familiarize yourself with the different types of Claves. Salsa, Bossa Nova, Latin, Afro-Cuban, and Samba styles all have a little bit of rhumba clave in them. Although you might only be thinking of drumming with your hands now, it’ll pay off to learn this rhythm.
Bongos are actually two drums, joined together with a block of wood. They are similar to the conga drums, as they are both played with the hands and made using real animal skin, but the bongos are smaller, and shallower. Around 1900 these instruments arrived in Cuba, and are now popular in Latin music the world over. The rhythm of this instrument is driven by a sharp, steady pulse and the drummer is often called upon to play solo riffs.
These are the instruments that you loved in elementary school. They are gourd-like instruments with dry seeds loose inside that make a rattling sound when you shake them. They are often made from leather that has been dried and stitched. Maracas are played in pairs, and shaken in time with the beat, off-tempo, upbeat, or arrhythmic to make the spicy Latin sound.
This beat is characterized by a syncopated 2/4 rhythm that has long dominated one of the most popular music genres in America and other parts of the world. It’s most likely played with the bass drum or tan-tan, a small hand drum from Brazil.
Bossa Nova is a type of samba, played with jazz instruments and sung with softer voices. For Bossa Nova, you want to flip one of the sticks so the butt is hitting the drum.
The best way for a beginner who is learning Latin drumming to really get a feel for the rhythms is to visit a band playing that type of music or to buy a video or online system that can walk you step by step through the parts. Video instruction helps especially if the learner doesn’t read music. Once you start learning Latin drumming you will be the center of attention at parties and be on demand for Latin bands just starting out. There are plenty of other elements to Latin music and other Latin instruments, but now you have a foundation upon which you can build. So take this foundation and continue to learn more as you work towards learning Latin drumming techniques.