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A pair of claves
This is how the lower bar is held.
Hollowed out African claves

Claves , tonewoods or bars , also known as rumbah woods , are percussion instruments from the group of counter-strike idiophones that are used in pairs . The two round wooden sticks of the same length, which are mainly used as rhythm instruments in Latin American music, produce a dry sound with almost no reverberation.

The claves originally come from Africa and have gained in importance especially in Cuba . In Cuban music you almost always hear the claves - be it son , rumba , salsa or salsaton. In Colombian or Puerto Rican salsa, the claves are played less often, but are a typical feature of Cuban salsa.

These are prismatic rods with a circular or flatter cross-section and 18 to 30 cm in length, which, when hit against each other, produce a high-pitched sound. Hardwood and - possibly fiber-reinforced - plastic are used as material.

To play, a wooden stick lies roughly horizontally on the hand that is open upwards and rests on the ball of the thumb or several fingertips in two places - ideally near the vibration nodes at around 20 and 80% of the length. The second wooden stick is held loosely between the thumb and 1 to 2 fingers of the second hand for about 20% of its length and is rotated horizontally by about 60 ° compared to the first piece of wood. To produce the sound, the end of the second wood is now whipped from above on the middle of the first wooden stick. Sound emanating from the vibrating rods is reflected by the hands, which also form resonance spaces for the air in their curves.

In their origins, the claves were long wooden ship's nails that were used as percussion instruments. Hence the name (Spanish clavo , "nail"). Claves is often incorrectly translated as “key”, which is not true in this context.

Despite their simplicity, claves are fundamental to various styles of Latin American music , especially son, salsa and bossa nova , as they form the rhythmic framework for this music ( clave ), according to which all other (percussion) instruments are based. A variant from Puerto Rico is called Cuá.

The playing (beat) of the clave is typical and there are seven basic types of rhythms that can be created with the claves. 6/8 Clave (origin), 2/3 Son Clave, 3/2 Son Clave, 2/3 Rumba Clave, 3/2 Rumba Clave, 2/3 Bossa Nova Clave, 3/2 Bossa Nova Clave. 2/3 means two strokes in the first 4/4 and three strokes in the second 4/4. The beats are played on whole and half notes, which in turn differ according to son, rumba or bossa nova. The clave has evolved and in Latin jazz clave rhythms in 7/4 or 10/4 time have emerged. The best known rhythm is 3/2 Son Clave because it starts on one in the beat.

However, in salsa the 2/3 son clave is mostly heard (starts on two). It is difficult for a layperson to tell the difference during a piece of music, especially when the clave is not being played. The whole rhythm structure is based on the instructions of the clave. The congas, for example, are played entirely to the rhythm of the clave. A professional congalero thinks in time with the clave and plays the rhythm of the congas.

Tonewoods have a long tradition in a wide variety of cultures. For example, the Australian Aborigines use eucalyptus wood for their clapsticks .

Audio file / audio sample Audio sample claves ? / i


  • Si vienes del extranjero y tu lo quieres bailar, lleva el ritmo de las claves - "If you come from afar and want to dance it (the Son), feel the rhythm of the claves."
  • sin clave y bongó no hay son - "Without a clave and bongo there is no son ."

Web links

Commons : Claves  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , p. 179.