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Salsa: Ear Training

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Cueing the start of the dance cycle: Core

Listening Practice
Listen to the whole track:

tumbao_without_clave_144bpm.mp3 (4.2 Mb)

What is immediately obvious in the pattern is a pair of ringing sounds called the double open tones. (To hear the open tone on its own, play the sample: conga_open.wav, 85 kb)

The two open tones of the tumbao moderno increase in prominence as tempo increases (listen to the other “tumbao_without_clave” tracks, see Index of Tracks). Moreover, the more you relax and listen to the pattern, the more your ear tunes in to the double open tones as a reference point of the rhythm cycle.

Rhythm Principles
Salsa is danced with three steps and a pause, where the pause effects a phase change. The three steps occur in the time between two sets of double open tones, and the pause occurs when the double open tones sound.

In terms of steps:

  1. you are inactive as the double open tones sound to cue the start of the new dance cycle;
  2. you become active just after they sound, coinciding with the start of the dance cycle;
  3. your activity continues, filling the empty “space” between two sets of double open tones;
  4. your activity ends or pauses just before the tones sound.

Salsa Practices
[Using the “tumbao_without_clave” tracks.]

Exercise 1.1
Solo, take three pedalling steps on the spot in the time between the double open tones. Use the pause to listen clearly for the open tones. Your aim is to fill the “space” in between the sets of double open tones completely. If you snatch at the steps, you'll end up with longer pauses, and more staccato timing.

Exercise 1.2
Solo, substitute the three static steps with three travelling ones. The walks can be taken in any direction. All learning points are identical to Exercise 1.1. During the double open tones, you have two options: you can bring your body to a complete stop, or you can keep your torso travelling. The latter is more challenging because your body and non-supporting leg continue to travel while the tones sound, and the travel has to be timed so that your footfall occurs immediately after the second open tone.

Exercise 1.3
Solo, all seven basics from the Salsa: Level One tutorials. We recommend doing them in the order that they are listed.

Exercise 1.4
Solo, practice the contents of Exercises 1.1 - 1.3 all jumbled up. Don't forget to include rotations and circular movement.

Exercise 1.5
All the previous practices, partnered. (!)

Fundamentally, there are two ways of approaching this tutorial. You can think of it as:

  • moving in a way that lets the double open tones shine through, or
  • fitting your steps in the space between two sets of these double open tones.

The first is about control: the superimposition of your movement over the music. This is the dictative model. The second is about immersion: placing your movement inside the framework provided by music. This is the co-operative model. Both philosophies are valid, although the relative ratios in which they are applied vary between live and recorded music settings.


1999 Salsa & Merengue Society