Salsa > Hearing the Clave and Slap of the Conga

Discussion in 'Salsa' started by KiwiMambo, Aug 16, 2006.

  1. KiwiMambo

    KiwiMambo New Member

    I would describe my timing as "pretty ok". I know where I am in time but still have a layer of numbers on top of the music. I'm trying to reach the next level by feeling the music and dancing to the rhythm of the music rather than numbers on top of music. I started doing African Dance to help with that. The African Dancing is certainly helping, I am starting to hum the timing now rather than count it.

    When dancing on2, the Clave ( 2, 3, 5, 6&, 8 ) and Slap of the Conga ( 2, 6 ) hold your timing. On some songs I do hear the Clave and Slap of Conga. But most songs I cannot. The 1 and 5 seem to dominate. I know where the 2 and 6 are because that follows 1 and 5 which are very audible to me.

    Do any of you hear either the Clave or Slap of the Conga in all songs? If you do, how long have you been dancing/listening to music?
  2. salseiro

    salseiro New Member

    Won't the 1 and 5 always *tend* to dominate?

    Explanation... In those songs where you don't hear the conga / clave and therefore only "hear" the 1 and 5 there still isn't any obvious beat on these counts, but we presumably "hear" them because

    a) that's the start of the bar, and
    b) that's where the chord/harmony changes tend to happen

    which is still gonna be the case for songs with a clear conga / clave beat on 2 & 6, hence 1 & 5 will *always* have a strong pull on us?

    (aside: so many people talk about On1 and On2 and rhythm and congas and claves etc. but never about the change of harmony, which tend to happen on 1 and 5)
  3. MacMoto

    MacMoto Active Member

    I always think some songs are better for dancing on1 while others are good for on2, and this is pricisely because of the emphasis difference. In what I call "mambo feel" music, clave and conga are dominant -- even when you don't necessarily hear these instruments, other instruments follow their pattern. On the other hand, in some songs, the emphasis is so clearly on the 1 beat I feel silly dancing on2 to them and hitting the 2/6 (NB: I'm an originally on1-trained on2 learner, so I may still have a slight on1 bias. I've been dancing/listening to salsa for a little over 3 years, started on2 last year).
  4. sweavo

    sweavo New Member

    The clave is not always present as an instrument, and the conga can sometimes be lost in the mix. So I don't always hear those actual instruments in the song. But there are other ways to hear the clave (the principle rather than the instrument). On a 2-3 clave, the timbales play a ticking sound on the shell of the drum that goes "I don't like carrots, I like potatoes" (see the cascara/palito at so your 2 is on LIKE and your 6 is on PO of potatoes. I've danced while chanting LIKE and PO before when working on musical perception :)

    If the mambo bell is being played, on a 2-3 clave it goes "like to play when I move, this is the bell that I...". 2 is TO, 6 is IS.

    On both these rhythms you can feel that the 2 is stronger than the 6.

    On a 3-2 clave, these are reversed ( "Like potatoes, I don't like carrots, I" and "This is the bell that I like TO play when I move")

    When I dance, I will follow whatever I can hear. As someone already pointed out, unlike a musician, the dancer is free to jump from instrument to instrument, so if you were following the clave and it drops out, jump onto the conga or the cascara.

    One salsero friend who is not particularly musical or interested in the latin music said that the carrots/potatoes thing really helped him key into the music.

    Hope that's a help!

  5. salseiro

    salseiro New Member

    I usually (99%) of the time have no trouble locking on to where the 1 (or 2, or 3, ...) falls in the music, even if only some instruments are playing at the time. I sometimes have trouble though if I can't hear the music clearly, e.g. too much bass.

    Don't forget that non-percussion instruments can also give you the beat (e.g. bass, or piano, which are used in a similar way to the percussion instruments, except, say, when there's a piano solo).

    I think a musical background helps. I listen to (and sing) classical music, where there's usually no percussive beat, tempos change, etc. and you must *feel* the beat (and/or watch the conductor) to get the beat. I think this gives one a very strong focus on where the downbeat falls in the music (i.e. beat 1).
  6. borikensalsero

    borikensalsero Moderator

    Although the conscious layers of salsa are targeted at the one. The subconscious layer is based on the contra-tiempo. The rhythm always plays that timing. Whether I consciously hear it or not my body reacts to the rhythm kept by the congas, initially enabling me to dance on2 without ever knowing a thing about the music.

    If you learn to feel yourself through the music you'll soon realize that you are "forced" to delve a bit deeper into the layers of the music. I say "forced" because the "earthly-est" element in salsa is percussion (which opens up an array of religious and cultural implications that unconsciously entice a reaction in the body whether we are aware or not of them) The first element of understanding is always the conscious as it is the most obvious, so that is what we initially hear, and with numbers try to explain. But the more you learn about a subject the more you realize that there are rules controlling the actions on the top, those are considered subconscious rules that all conscious action must follow. The numbers then won't mean a thing, and the top will only be details that give abstract, linear meaning.

    You are trying too hard to hear it, as you've noticed, it sometimes "can't" be heard. Instead feel yourself, chances are you'll feel the strong beats at first, but if you become calm enough you'll feel the less apparent beats seemingly stronger than the loud ones. It will get to the point that you'll notice how the clave and the congas not only drive the melody, but your body's reaction.

    The many times will come when all you’ll feel is the clave and conga. They’ll jump at you as if they were the sole instruments in the band. It won’t matter if the song is new, old, fast, slow, romantic or aggressive they’ll be controlled by the rhythm… then it is purely up to you in how you want to consciously react to a song.

    Some folks must go through a conscious understanding of subconscious rules in order to feel their effect, others don't.

    Don’t take it as on2 is the way to dance, rather use everything you know to give meaning to your dancing. Whether it is on1 or on2 the music can be danced in any given form.

    You meditate, don’t you? If you do, bring those elements into salsa and see this less than palpable post gain meaning.
  7. sweavo

    sweavo New Member

    Wow Boriken, you have a great way of expressing some transcendental stuff!
  8. Sabor

    Sabor New Member

    very much agree with both Macmoto and Boriken's takes..
  9. africana

    africana New Member

    kudos to you, time and practice helps :)

    I always hear the clave whether audible or implied, and from there I can extrapolate the conga. The bass guitar helps a lot with that, in fact I got some friends of mine dancing on2 and always keeping time by paying attn to the bass first (because they couldn't hear the conga or clave). And over time, they could see how the clave sets up the tumbao rhythm

    I guess I've been listening to music all my life LOL, salsa ~5-6 years, dancing on2 ~3 years, but I have always had good timing prior to dancing.

    interestingthe timing of this topic cos I seem to have be spending a lot of time lately in conversations, listening, analyzing, and with my clave sticks for demos :)
    I've discovered that hearing the clave does confuse a lot of people who learning to dance on2, the syncopation don't make sense to them. I didn't realize this before, and I'm often at a loss to explain how I use the's so fundamental to my dancing, but hard to explain, least of all in writing
  10. africana

    africana New Member

    btw, I think getting the right count down is good, knowing where the 1 or 2 or 5 or 7 is, that's great especially in the classroom. But dancers need to delve deeper - the numbers might be enough for followers and leaders - but dancers need more, to feel, to interprete, to be -musical-
  11. amo_dile_que_no

    amo_dile_que_no New Member

    I'm just learning on2 and I do OK until I'm coming out of a shine or if I stop stepping (bad habit). Sometimes I have a hard time picking out the conga if it is not real explicit. I have heard others mention the bass as well. Could you expand about that in regard to how it relates to the tumbao (or the count)? Any help is appreciated.
  12. africana

    africana New Member

    ok lemme try to explain ;)
    I think what makes the bass easier to follow is that it can start off on the first beat, the down beat, which is easy for most folks to pick out. so it's 1-2, 5-6...1-2, 5-6 (dum-dum, ,dum-dum) And in between there's the conga slap on 3 (pa) that finishes out the first dum-dum, and on 6 that finishes out the second dum-dum. It feels like the first bass segment is taking you up, and the second one brings you back down.

    that's how it's possible to seamlessly connect to any direction of the basic step, no matter how random the shines or freestyle, at the start or finish :)

    Try just doing wieght shifts from side to side, "riding" the bass.

    the clave + conga + bass establish that tumbao, there's usually at least one of those, or another instrument that imitates their sound. Like sometimes the cowbell or bongo.

    But sometimes the bass rhythm is not like I described...they change too

    I feel like I'm missing something above...let me listen to a song and maybe find the mistakes here LOL
  13. amo_dile_que_no

    amo_dile_que_no New Member

    Thanks, Africana. I thought the conga slap was on the 2. Was on 3 (pa) a typo? If not I might need more explaining. :confused: Thanks though, I'll try to start listening for the bass too. If what you thought was missing comes to you i'd appreciate it.
  14. africana

    africana New Member

    ahh yeah! mistake the pa happens on 2, the 3 follows "automatically" if you're dancing on2

    kum-kum pa(2-3) kum-kum-pa(6-7)

    ok this counting is hard...but let me get to my ipod then i'll come back and correct hhehe!

    Edit: anothe thing is that dancing "in" the music makes it feel like your body and feet are PART of the music, such beats are no longer separated out, they feel together, one causes the next. does that make sense? that's why i find it challenging to count out or write out timing
  15. amo_dile_que_no

    amo_dile_que_no New Member

    Yeah, I never count when I'm out dancing. But, I do find it helpful as a point of reference when I'm learning something.
  16. africana

    africana New Member

    Ok the bass timing I wrote seems wrong: but I'm finding it hard to attach #s

    I'm listening to "Quitate La Mascara" from Ray Barreto's Salsa Caliente de nu Ny
    listen to the bass and tell me what you hear, I doubt it's whole #s since it is connected to clave & conga

    with sounds I hear
    bass: dum-dum (step)2 dum-dum (step)6
    conga: kum-kum pa ( step 2-3) kum-kum pa (step 6-7)
    The clave is not audible but it's very strong, also the cowbell imitating it a bit

    Edit: in the following song, the 1 falls right on the second bass "dum", of dum-dum. that's why it's easy to pick out :) and the 5 is on the second set of "dum-dum"s
    (LOL wish I could write music)

    but yeah try moving side to side on2, by listening to the bass
  17. KiwiMambo

    KiwiMambo New Member

    Wow Boriken, you sure have a way with words. Thanks!

    I can relate to everything you said. Both you and Africana talked about delving deeper into the layers of music. That is where I am heading! Once in a while now, when dancing, I get into a meditative state. It's a new and weird feeling. I feel less physically connected with my partner but I feel more connected to the music which gives me a different feeling of connection with my partner. Right now I only experience that state a little. I'm sure in time it will be for the entire song. When I was in DC, I noticed for the first time that the really advanced dancers have a sense of smoothness that comes with executing to the rhythm of the music. It's something that extends beyond just having a physically light and smooth lead.

    What I love about African Dance is the first thing they stress is feeling and moving to the rhythm of the music. In my first class, I'm having trouble and my instructor does the move next to me and says "stop thinking, stop thinking, your counting, your counting; feel the drums, they are already counting for you". I just smiled and thought, hey that's why I'm doing this class :)

    We kind of have it backwards in Salsa don't we. We are so focused on intricate turn patterns we lose sight of the music. It's only after 3 years where I can execute these intricate turn patterns without thinking much that I realize, hey I'm not dancing to the rhythm of the music.
  18. KiwiMambo

    KiwiMambo New Member

    That's the stage we all need to get to. My African Dance instructor is like that. She sometimes trys to count to break something down then she messes it up. Says "I can't count, all I hear is drums in my head". Saturday is live drum class and Tues is more of a learning break down explanation class. On Tues she normally hums the beat. I really like it she hums the beat. It really does make it easier and less sterile than numbers. Maybe Salsa instructors should hum the beat rather than use numbers.
  19. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member


    Are you serious ? you never count ?-- how in gods earth do you stay with any rythm without a mental count ? -- the very separation of any given movement in dance ,any orchestra leader etc. are counting in beats and bars ,q and s or any other method you wish .It may be sub concious ( the way its supposed to be ) otherwise, how do your motor skills know how to propel you ?. And are not the very things people here are saying related to counting, which becomes imprinted (hopefully ) in your dance execution .
  20. africana

    africana New Member

    sorry, we're discussing -real- salsa, the strongly afrocuban type

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