This isn’t a slow clap, this is an iconic rhythm you’ve definitely heard before.
Today we’re going to talk about the Son Clave rhythm and what makes it so cool.
It’s a lopsided 5-beat rhythm but still feels completely natural and danceable in regular 4/4 – and its uniquely winding and hypnotic pulse has helped it conquer the world of contemporary music far beyond its Afro-Cuban roots.
The last 70 years of modern music has so ingrained the Son Clave beat into the sound on radio waves around the world, that it’s unlikely that many musicians who use it today would even realise its origin or wonder why they might have been drawn to using it. It has permeated everything from old school Rock’n’Roll like Bo Diddley, or Dr. John, to present day Hip Hop Snoop Dog, to R’n’B Beyoncé, Drake and so much more.
A Son Clave back beat is incredibly versatile in lots of different musical styles yet always gives a track a groove that stands out. If you feel you just can’t seem to break out of defaulting to four to the floor beats when you’re making music, then this odd numbered hypnotic 5-beat rhythm will freshen up the feel of your 4/4 beats.
If you divide up two bars of 4/4 into its beats (“1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and…” and repeat this twice), only five of these notes are ever played or emphasized in a Son Clave beat – 3 long beats in the first bar, and 2 fast beats in the second bar.
1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and | 1 and 2 and 3 and 4
Try count it, and clap the Son Clave over the top. (PRO-TIP:It can help to think of it as three slow, two fast beats: “slowwwww, slowwwww, slowwwww, fast-fast”)
To see how versatile the Son Clave can be in modern musical contexts, listen to the kick drum, bass and piano rhythm in the iconic hit “Rosanna” by Toto. Frequently referenced as a prime example of a halftime or “purdie” shuffle it’s surprising to hear a Son Clave in there too!