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Rhythm Sense


Expressions
A Break in Movement
Son Phrasing (Part 1):
Son and Mambo
Son Phrasing (Part 2):
Starting Son, and Clave
Son Phrasing (Part 3):
Son Montuno
Zarabanda: A Context for
Rhythmic Anticipation
Transformations:
Merengue to Salsa
Back To Dance Online
Son Phrasing (Part 2): Starting Son and Clave

In Part 1, we learned to dance a new step rhythm played in agreement with the tumbao moderno. We also learned that where we perceive the start-point to be, changes the way we interpret a rhythm.

We will now go one step further and learn how to dance to the son clave. This is crucial as the clave is the universal constant in son. We will also identify the key points of interaction between the agreement step rhythm and clave, and how to initiate the dance cycle.

Prerequisites

Practice Tracks
Begin with the conga tumbao moderno and clave tracks, and then to those including piano. These can be found in the Index of Tracks page of the Ear Training tutorial series.

Like in the previous tutorial, Trio Matamoros, Compay Segundo, Septeto Nacional and artists from the Golden Age of Son still provide the best learning context. Your favourite mid-tempo salsa pieces will also be required.
 

1 – Son clave and step rhythm interactions
Dance the son basic step using the agreement step rhythm, to any track containing tumbao moderno and son clave. Gradually tune-in to the clave as you dance:
 

 
figure_3_1_dance_rhythm_agreement_with_tumbao_moderno_and_clave

Figure 3.1 Dance rhythm in agreement with tumbao moderno with son clave
 

Listed below are the key interactions between the dance rhythm and clave in order of increasing complexity. Mastery of the items in sequence builds, step-by-step, a framework that eases the learning of subsequent items.

  1. On the 2-side: the first two steps of the step rhythm coincide with the clave.
  2. On the 3-side: the last step lands on the clave ponché.
  3. On the 3-side: the first clave beat acts as a 'call' to which the three dance steps respond.
  4. On the 3-side: the first step occurs before the bombó. Align it strictly with the slap stroke of the conga, and feel the bombó sound shortly thereafter.
  5. On the 3-side: the second step happens just after the bombó, resolving the rhythmic tension.
  6. On the 3-side: the first step, the bombó and the second step collectively cause rhythmic smearing (see Ear Training: More Tumbaos).
     

2 Remember your phrasing
Now's a good time to remind yourself of son and mambo dance phrasing, this time to clave, while you still have the support of the tumbao moderno. Compare and contrast how the dance phrasings feel in clave rhythm.
 

3 Agreement step rhythm to clave
Solidify of your agreement step rhythm to clave by practicing it to 'son clave only' tracks.
 

figure_3_2_son_dance_rhythm_to_clave

Figure 3.2 Son dance rhythm to clave only
 

Without the support of the tumbao moderno, the two areas to pay particular heed to are:

  • The last step on the 2-side
    The step rhythm and clave combine to give you four even beats in a row i.e. the first clave beat of the 2-side, the second clave beat of the 2-side, the third step of the 2-side, and the first clave beat of the 3-side.
  • The two steps around the bombó
    There is no simple way of ensuring that neither of the steps drift into the bombó. The ideal is to practice to tumbao moderno and clave tracks, dancing the step rhythm to the conga and clapping to the clave (independent expression of rhythm); eventually to dance the step rhythm while clapping clave without the aid of a supporting track.
     

4 Starting on the 2-side
From the previous tutorial, we know that the beginning of the son dance phrase occurs on the first of the double open tones of the tumbao moderno. It corresponds (on the 2-side) to the beat in between the last clave beat of the 2-side and the first clave beat of the 3-side. This is marked below with the letter "Y" (
pronounced "ee", which is Spanish for the word 'and').
 

figure_3_3_son_dance_phrase_initiated_on_2side

Figure 3.3 Son dance phrase initiated on clave 2-side
 

More specifically, we'll isolate the start-point and perform some important exercises to understand its context in the clave rhythm:
 

figure_3_4_initiating_son_dance_rhythm_on_2side

Figure 3.4 Start-point of the son dance rhythm, clave 2-side
 

  1. Vocalise the start-point, to clave
    Using a clave and tumbao moderno track, mark the start-point with the syllable "ee" on the first open tone of the 2-side. It should resemble:
     
    pak-pak-"ee"-pak, pak, pak

    Remember that the position of the "ee" gives rise to four even beats in a row.
     
  2. Vocalise and tap start-point, to clave
    Accent the "ee" by tapping your foot at the same time.
     
  3. Vocalise and step start-point, to clave
    While standing, swing your hip to the same side as you tap your foot when vocalising the "ee". This should eventually evolve into a small side step at the start point.
     
  4. Vocalise and dance an entire phrase, to clave
    Now that you can take the first step of the basic at the start point, fill in the other two steps that follow to make an entire dance phrase as per Figure 3.3 above. Practice the starts to your left as well as your right.
     
  5. Match your hip movement to the "ee"
    If the movement of your hip is perfectly synchronised with the vocal cue "ee", you can vary the syllable and it will change the way you take the side step. A short syllable will cause a quick weight transfer on the side step, a longer "eee" will result in a smoother weight transfer.
     
  6. Further developments
    Repeat the exercise:
     
    • to a clave-only track.
    • while clapping along to the clave rhythm.
    • playing the clave rhythm yourself, without the support of a music track.
       

5 Starting on the 3-side
The 3-side beginning of the son dance phrase falls on the last beat of the clave called the ponché (below), which also coincides with the first open tone of the tumbao moderno (not shown):
 

figure_3_5_son_dance_rhythm_and_ponche

Figure 3.5 Son dance rhythm and ponché in 3-2 clave
 

This is highlighted below with the letter "Y", marking the beginning of a dance phrase initiated on the clave 3-side:
 

figure_3_6_son_dance_phrase_initiated_on_3side

Figure 3.6 Son dance phrase initated on clave 3-side
 

More specifically we will isolate the 3-side start-point with exercises to understand its context in the clave rhythm (remember that the start-point is the ponché - the last beat of the clave 3-side).
 

figure_3_7_initiating_son_dance_rhythm_on_3side

Figure 3.7 Start-point of the son dance rhythm, clave 3-side
 

Vocalising the start-point, to clave
The "ee" is used instead of 'pak' at the ponché. In all other respects, you are vocalising clave rhythm in 3-2 orientation. It should resemble:
 

pak-pak-"ee", pak-pak

 
All the exercises that follow are are identical to that of the 'Starting on the 2-side' section:

  1. Vocalise and tap start-point, to clave
  2. Vocalise and step start-point, to clave
  3. Vocalise and dance an entire phrase, to clave
  4. Match your hip movement to the "ee"
  5. Further developments
     

6 Practice, Practice, Practice
There are even more exercises to increase your rhythmic flexibility:

  • Initiate on the 3-side and carry on dancing with son phrasing. Stop and repeat.
     
  • Initiate on the 2-side and carry on dancing with son phrasing. Stop and repeat.
     
  • Initiate on the 3-side and carry on dancing with son phrasing. Stop.
    Initiate on the 2-side and carry on dancing with son phrasing. Stop.
    Repeat, alternating between start-points on the 3-side and the 2-side.
     
  • Alternate between mambo phrasing and son phrasing.
     
  • Change between the agreement step rhythm and the complementary step rhythm without stopping during the course of a song.
 

 
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