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Encyclopedia > Claves

Hand percussion Image File history File links Question_book-3. ... Image File history File links Claves. ... A musical instrument is a device constructed or modified with the purpose of making music. ... Hand percussion is a term used to indicate a percussion instrument of any type from any culture that is held in the hand. ...

Playing range

Single note The playing range of a musical instrument is the region of pitch in which it can play, i. ...

Claves(pronounces Clar-vays) is a percussion instrument (idiophone), consisting of a pair of short (about 20-30 cm), thick dowels. Traditionally they were made of wood, but nowadays they are also made of fibreglass or plastics due to the longer durability of these materials. When struck they produce a bright clicking noise. Claves are sometimes hollow and carved in the middle to amplify the sound. “Percussion” redirects here. ... An idiophone is any musical instrument which creates sound primarily by way of the instrument vibrating itself, without the use of strings or membranes. ... There is a disputed proposal to merge this article with glass-reinforced plastic. ... For other uses, see Plastic (disambiguation). ...

Claves Image File history File links Clave_pattern. ...

Clave pattern

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Claves are very important in Afro-Cuban music, such as the Son and Salsa. They are often used to play a repeating rhythmic figure throughout a piece, known as the clave, of which there are several different variations, each used for different styles of music. The Caribbean island of Cuba has been influential in the development of multiple musical styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. ... Son is a style of Cuban music which became popular in the second half of the 19th century in the eastern province of Oriente. ... Salsa music is a diverse and predominantly Caribbean rhythm that is popular in many Latino countries. ... Clave (pronounced clah-vay) is a rhythmic pattern or timeline which has its roots in West African music and was developed in Cuba. ...

Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood is written for five pairs of claves. Stephen Michael Reich (born October 3, 1936) is an American composer. ...



A clave is, both as instrument and as rhythmic pattern. This term originated in Cuba, and applies to (among other things) "a musical instrument derived from diverse versions of rhythm sticks [found throughout the musical world]." Thus begins Fernando Ortiz's in-depth look at the evolution of one of the world's simplest instruments, the clave. (The plural form "claves" is also commonly used to refer to the instrument.) micheal holloway is a f****** d1** s***** Fernando Ortiz (1881 - 1969) was a Cuban ethnomusicologist and scholar of Afro-Cuban culture. ...

Around the turn of the twentieth century in Cuba, the clave was described by certain musicologists as "a musical instrument consisting of two round sticks made of hard, polished, resonant wood, played by striking one against the other, and used to maintain the beat and accompany the guitar in popular song interpretation in particular, although they are often heard in orchestras."

While similar idiophones exist in various cultures (Ortiz notes the traditions of Spain, China, Japan, Africa, Indochina, Siam, Mexico, and the Polynesian Islands), he affirms that the clave is an instrument native to Cuba, and that its creators were Creoles (a mixture of black and white cultures), but not aboriginal. Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ...

The word "clave" is obviously Spanish, and is derived from the small wooden dowels used in various types of construction, also called "clavijas." "Clave" also means "clef" and "key," both in the literal musical sense of the word, as well as that which is relevant, important or perhaps indispensable. Many musicians and musicologists will certainly attest to the clave's importance on a multitude of levels, and one often finds that new-comers to the world of Afro-Cuban music become obsessed with the clave and its role within the musical structures.


Playing a pair of claves
Playing a pair of claves

The basic principle when playing claves is to allow at least one of them to resonate. The usual technique is to hold one lightly with the thumb and fingertips of the non-dominant hand, with the palm up. This forms the hand into a resonating chamber for the clave. Holding the clave on top of finger nails makes the sound more clear. The other is held by the dominant hand at one end with a firm grip, much like how one holds normal drumsticks. With the end of this clave, the player strikes the resting clave in the center. You can link to a video here [1] Image File history File links Metadata No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links Metadata No higher resolution available. ...

Origins of the Clave

Alejo Carpentier cites that claves were commonly in use by the seventeenth century in Havana, and Ortiz notes that the origins of the clave as instrument reflect a people's necessity for musical expression from within the horrors of slavery and prison life early on in Cuba's history, where often the only hope or joy rested in song and dance. Alejo Carpentier y Valmont (December 26, 1904 – April 24, 1980) was a Cuban novelist, essay writer, and musicologist who greatly influenced Latin American literature during its famous boom period. ... This article is about the capital of Cuba. ...

The clave in Cuban music was born in Havana, of the marriage between the rhythm sticks used by African slaves and the tejoletas (stone pestles) used by white Andalucian indentured servants. A mulatto birth was created from within the prison cells [and labor camps], where [for a moment] blacks and whites forgot about their hard work, their pain and suffering, even without musical instruments&endashno drums, no guitars - far away from their miserable lives in servitude.

In the various studies concerning African music and instruments, there appears to be no instrument which resembles the claves, nor is there any immediate "ancestor." Ortiz affirms that it was the Cuban Creole (or mulatto), who combined the elements of Spanish-derived peasant music and African-derived drumming, resulting in a "transculturation," and the development of the clave instrument in the new Creole musical forms. Transculturation is a term coined by Fernando Ortiz in 1947 to describe the phenomenon of merging and converging cultures. ...

Perhaps the most prominent role of the clave in its early stages of development (in Cuba's popular music) is featured in the music of the white peasant culture, referred to as guajiros (who are descendants of Spanish farmers), in the genre known as música campesina (peasant music), a direct descendant of Spanish peasant music. Here, in yet another musical culture born from the lower classes of society, there are no African-derived drums or polyrhythms, only the presence of the clave as a reminder of the humble and often painful origins of another sector of the Cuban population. Following these beginnings, the clave went on to "penetrate popular music throughout Cuba, by way of a 'mulattoization' and total transculturation."

The term claves also refers to particular choral ensembles developed in nineteenth century Cuba (in Havana, specifically), which performed various styles of ambulatory street music (for carnival and other popular festivals) in which the clave instrument was also used. From this genre there developed a style known as clave, interpreted by folkloric ensembles also called coros de clave.

The Physical and the Spiritual

The claves do not have specific pitches, and the resulting sound may vary while the instrument is being played. Anyone who has tried to play a pair of claves for the first time knows that the "correct" sound takes some time and practice to produce, and that like riding a bicycle is never forgotten, once learned. What appears to be an elementary instrument at first may provide more work than bargained for, but once the true sound is unlocked, the results are remarkable.

It is important to note here that the traditional style claves are usually quite high-pitched, and that recent innovations in clave-making have brought forth more variety, including hollow-sounding, lower-pitched claves, which are more commonly used in Salsa ensembles as well as in folkloric groups.

Mystical references

Ortiz ventures into the spiritual nature of this Cuban instrument. Those claves made from the medullar portions of the hardest native wood are, he says, made "de corazón" (from the heart). This wood is "the spinal column of the tree and the clave is nothing if not a bone from that tree, as the bark is its dried skin. This is why playing the clave and the little sticks extracted from the innermost part of the plant is like magically reviving the tree spirit."

This mystical view could certainly be applied to many of the sacred as well as secular instruments which were re-invented or newly-created by enslaved nations throughout the Americas. Many descendants of African slaves who struggled to preserve the traditions of their ancestors set out to replenish the spiritual void in their lives, and were able to assimilate and adapt to their new surroundings with remarkable ingenuity, creating a new family of Afro-Antillian instruments and musical styles even more complex than those of their predecessors.


Ortiz, Fernando. Los Instrumentos de la Música Afrocubana. 1952-1955. Reprint. Madrid: Editorial Música Mundana Maqueda, 2000

Related article

  • Palitos
  • "How to hold and play claves (video)"

  Results from FactBites:
Claves (258 words)
Clave is the Spanish work for "keystone" or "key" which indicates that the clave rhythm is the basis of authentic Latin rhythms.
One clave (often called the male) is normally rested in a loosely cupped hand and struck with the second clave (often called the striker or female).
The male is typically held in the left hand with right-handed performers and lays between the fingertips and the heel of the hand.
  More results at FactBites »



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