Clave Directions

Clave Directions

3-2 or 2-3?

We have set a nice foundation for understanding how the clave time line functions. Now it is time for a few basic guidelines that you use when playing the music and following charts.

We have all heard the terms 3–2 clave or 2-3 clave right? Well if you haven’t, let us clear the air on what this means exactly. Usually when you get a chart or a song you want to play, the first thing the arranger or band leader will discuss, is the direction of the clave. That’s where this term comes into play. Why does he do this? Because the whole structure of the song revolves around this rhythm. It is the skeleton of the song if you will. All the piano parts, vocals, horn parts as well as percussion parts follow the direction of the clave. So you have to make sure that you understand which direction everyone is playing. Or else you will be what is known as “cruzado”. Which means crossed or backwards. Being “cruzado” is an absolute no-no for the drummer or percussionist. So…Lets analyze some clave patterns.

If you take a look at the examples below, you will see the clave rhythm. And you will also see numbers above each note. The numbers describe which direction the clave is in. For example…

clave workshop part 3

In 3-2 clave you will notice that the first measure has 3 notes. And in the second you have 2 notes. What direction is that then? 3-2! When the order of the measures are reversed, as in the second example, you will see that now the first measure has two notes and the second measure three notes. So…when some syas to you, this song is in 3-2 clave, the clave direction will be 3 notes in the first measure of the music, and 2 notes in the second measure. This direction layout applies to all claves. Whether they are rumba or son clave.

Now what is Son and rumba clave? Those 2 words refer to the types of music that the clave rhythm is applied to. This explanation, history and descripton of the 2 styles is too long to get into here. My advice is to go here

Research the music. It is the only way to know what the differences are. Start to listen to and research the music!!

Using 4 part counting (1 e and duh 2 e and duh) The basic difference between the son and rumba clave we can see right away. Look at the “3” part of the son clave. The third note is on & of 2. And now the Rumba clave. Rumba clave has the 3rd note on the duh of 4. It is a small variation, but one that makes a huge impact on the grooves. My suggested practice routine is to count out loud. Tap your foot on half notes (1 2)  and clap the clave with your hands. Follow the examples in the tabs and slowly let yourself get used to how the rhythm feels.

More next time and stay in Clave!

Con Amor

Phil M.


PS….they say now that 3-2 is the only Clave. Its the music that moves around it. The clave never moves:-)

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