He Said she said / Call and answer type phrasing

He Said she said / Call and answer type phrasing.


In Afro Cuban music, timbaleros (timbal players) call their timbales “macho y hembra” which means “male and female” (the smaller drum being the male). The interplay between them can get almost as complex as their human counter parts; However, in this instance, you get to say who has the last word! (haha).

I have heard people say that since timbales have no bottom heads, when done playing they are packed away with the smaller drum inside the larger one.  Thus defining their gender. What’s interesting is that the relationship in the phrasing is also somewhat sexualized. The macho, higher pitched drum, is used for sharper, more aggressive sounds.  And the hembra for more mellow sounds. This type of thinking, giving human qualities to instruments and the sounds, in my opinion helps to create very deep bonds between the players and the instruments used in the music.  This train of thought leads us to our workshop. Melodic phrasing and “call and answer” phrasing. Using our High and Mid toms with the snare as sound sources, we will learn more about these relationships and how to express them on the Drumset.


The timbalero usually has only 2 drums and plays standing up. On the Drumset of course, we have the Bass drum and hi hat. So it takes a bit more focus on coordination to get things going. All the exercises use basic phrases that we studied in previous issues.  In cut time, we will play downbeat and upbeat phrases. Hand to hand (Right – Left)  Our hi hat and bass drum play a basic Afro Cuban pattern.  Exercises 1 and 2 give us this set up. Remember that the snare notes should be ghosted – (played softly). Exercises 3, 4 and 5 are what I call – 3 bar melodic cycles -. The name comes from the way the tom melody spreads out over 3 bars. Exercise 3 uses downbeats to express the phrase. And exercises 4 and 5 use upbeats.  Exercise 3 and 4 use high to low phrases and exercise 5, low to high. I have heard this motif used many many times in the music, when a timbalero or conguero take a solo for example. Piano players and horn players us it in their rhythmic interplay as well.  Rhythmically, it’s very important to get a hold of these concepts and internalize them. When practicing these exercises, you should always keep in mind the repeat bars. Why? Because you ultimately must play “in clave” and the clave rhythm is a 2 bar phrase. Repeating a 3 bar melody gives us 6 bars:-) which puts your phrasing in clave. Train your ears and the body will follow.

Download the PDF below

He said she said Hi tom -mid tom and snare

Again if you have any questions feel free to drop me a line here.

Toca con Sabor!

Phil M.


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