CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: Afro Cuban Clave - technique and recommendations

Monday, July 11, 2011

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Afro Cuban Clave - technique and recommendations

..Congarranza checks in to ask what I look for in a set of Rumba Clave.

If one knows the sound you are looking for, you can find many clave that will work, but most of the mass market hardwood clave are usually way too bright and high pitched for my taste.

The well worked odd ball set above is a Maple receiver and a Black Walnut striker, sounds fine, but using a Maple striker with it, for example, would make it too bright for my ear.

You never know what you might find, some really cheap ones sound great.. just have to try them out, and know what sound you are looking for (old rumba tracks, for me)

I look for a set in Black Walnut, a medium hard wood, with the side cut in the 'receiver'. I like the relative size of the two, the striker nice and light to play, but has enough weight to make a really nice and fat tone with projection.

There are ones with side cuts on the market that I don't particularly favor; made of softer wood, and the 'receiver' is more lengthy, pictured here with red background. The Black Walnut set on the red satin background are more favorable, for me.

The one on the African Elephant print is a set in Walnut I purchased from Rienhardt - long extinct and legendary Mombiza Percussion in San Francisco. He snuck them in from Cuba himself, so I know they use Walnut of some kind down there.

Rienhardt had such wild stories about importing these Clave, and what he went through to get this set up here to my waiting hands... adds to the enjoyment of how nice they sound..

A friend of mine, just for fun, made Clave from a bunch of different kinds of wood.. I mean a bunch.. some 15 types or so..

After playing them all, the Purplehart sounded the best to my ear, also a medium dense wood. (picture is not a set of clave, just an example of the wood)

In general, I do like like the side cut and the hole drilled through the middle - adds to the projection and full sound one needs to cut through a whole rumba in full motion.. with some 10-30 peeps singing and playing. You want projection so everyone can hear you, but you want an earthy, midrange tone, as opposed to a ear piercing high pitch.

But one also has to have the right technique, and having good technique for this instrument is crucial to the whole rumba:

When first picking up a set of Clave, make sure you use the striker to strike, and the receiver to hit, if you follow. If they both are the same size, switch sticks till you find the one that makes the lowest sound when struck, and you are playing the right one.

To play the Clave with the sidecut, hold the 'receiver' in your weak hand with your finger tips along the back of the sidecut of the Clave. It should feel very comfortable and balanced.

Then put your thumb on the high side of the other side of the sidecut, if you follow.. leaving space above and below your thumb for the sound to escape. Your fingers and thumb should be on the bottom half of the clave's circumference (looking at it from the end), so as not to hammer your fingers when you strike. (only have to do that a few times to self correct your technique!)

Again, it should feel really secure and comfortable.

Strike the clave exactly in the middle, and opposite the sidecut.

With the right technique, the sound will be dramatically better, more resonate, full, earthy, woody, with projection and sustain.

As always, adjust your technique to get the sweetest sound with the least effort.

Hope that helps,


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