Latin Music: A Primer


 "The more you immerse yourself in this world the more you will know that good rhythm is the key." -- Rebeca Mauleon


I came across this excerpt from the introduction to The Latin Real Easy Book, published by Sher Music Co. from one of my Jazz magazines. I thought of you and hope you find it interesting.


"Anyone who loves music, studies it and plays it for a living knows there are no shortcuts to learn. Only life-long commitment and lots of practice to get better. If you are new to Latin music, you probably have already discovered that there are a number of differences when it comes down to how this music is "felt" as well as played.

Photo Credit: xandert

THE BASS - First of all, bass players need to feel comfortable with the idea that, in Cuban-based rhythms, the foundation is mostly syncopated, unlike the typical walking bass feel in jazz. Most of the rhythm section in Cuban music - and therefore in salsa and Latin jazz - puts the main accents of their respective patterns on beats 2+ and 4 (what we often refer to as the tumbao for the bass and the montuno for the piano).


Photo Credit: xandert
THE PERCUSSION SECTION - The percussion instruments are an entire world unto themselves, with many styles often containing very subtle differences within the individual rhythm patterns. So the musician really needs to have a solid command of Cuban rhythms such as guaracha, mambo, cha-cha-cha, guajira, bolero, son, son-montuno and so on. Within the Salsa and Latin jazz family of rhythms there are also Puerto Rican styles (cumbia and vallenato) and so many others. brazilian music itself contains a seemingly number of regional styles - from samba and bossa nova to partido alto, forro, coco, maracatu, baiao, chorinho and more. And often what distinguishes all of these rhythms can be as subtle as what one particular drum pattern is doing. Really, every musician interpreting this music should have a reasonable understanding of these rhythms - whether they play percussion or not!

Photo Credit: clarita


THE IMPORTANCE OF CLAVE - As most of you may also know, Cuban-based music relies on the concept of the clave to serve as an anchor, not only for how all the rhythm patterns are "stacked up," so to speak, but also how the arrangement is structured. In many of the tunes in this book, you will sometimes notice that the clave direction is specified several times within the song; this is because there are moments in an arrangement where an odd number of measures in a phrase will naturally "shift" the clave's direction beginning on the next musical phrase. This idea of "three-two" versus "two-three" has its roots in the West African music that is the foundation for most of the music in the Carribean and Latin America, and it stems from the principle role of how rhythm literally shapes the melody. Until you understand what you are hearing when these clave changes occur, you'll be missing a big piece of the puzzle. More information is available in the author's book.

The Salsa Guidebook

Hear and Play offers a valuable music resource that you might be interested in. It's called Salsa Piano101

All the best,




"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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