Hey everyone, thanks for tuning in to MusicianYou Magazine again – this month I’d like to examine Afro-Cuban drumming for drum-set. It’s fairly new for set players, as Afro-Cuban drumming used to be relegated to hand percussion, but it’s becoming far more commonplace in today’s music. Therefore, it behooves every drum-set player to spend some time checking out this style of drumming. If for no other reason than to at least have a different voice within the music that you’re passionate about.
Back in the day when I was a student at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and I mean that sincerely, as there’s no other music school that rivals Berklee in my opinion, I remember taking a lab that had a short focus on Afro-Cuban drumming. Here’s one of the actual pages from that lab. (although, please keep in mind that I do not present these actual exercises in the video) The patterns in this section of the lab were eye opening for me, as prior to that I had only experienced what I call simple Latin drumming such as bossa nova’s and samba – which are still considered within the style, but perhaps a bit less spicy.
I call this article “Latin 101”. I do so because this is a basic introduction to Afro-Cuban and Afro-Cuban influenced patterns. Some of these patterns are either directly from, or influenced by the grooves found in these two books – which I highly recommend that you purchase. 1) Afro-Cuban Coordination For Drumset by Maria Martinez, and 2) Groovin’ In Clave by Ignacio Berroa. You’ll find excerpts from both of these books here in this article, so you can get a feel for the layout. In addition to the grooves, both books offer a little bit of history on the styles covered, which is great for both the advanced player, and the novice.
After you get past the introduction playing, the first demonstrated groove that I play is called Mozambique, which is traditionally a form of carnival music from Cuba. I found these grooves both in the Berklee lab, and in Maria’s book. Although, she refers to it as New York Mozambique. As a teacher, I often try to find applications for ethnic styles like this. When young students are given a style of drumming that’s unfamiliar, it helps to apply it to a style of music that is familiar. One suggestion would be to try playing these grooves in the bridge section of the famous Led Zeppelin song “Fool In The Rain”.
The next demonstrated groove is called Nanigo, which is often played at religious ceremonies in Cuba. I found this pattern in Maria’s book, and just loved it because it works so well in a Jazz / Latin setting. Try playing this groove in John Coltrane’s famous song “Afro Blue”, or any 6/8 Latin section of a jazz tune.
The next example is a “Songo” pattern, which is often times considered the jazz of Cuban drumming because it has elements of folkloric and contemporary Cuban, as well as jazz and funk. I’ve found myself using this style quite often, and in many situations – be it jazz or funk, and even in rock settings. In addition, I’ve heard this style played on many recordings by The Chick Corea Electrik Band, and Michel Camilo. It’s usually a hybrid version of Songo, but with this style of music it should be improvised.
The next example is the groove that I refer to as the “Unknown Pattern”. I’m confident of where I picked up the groove, but not confident of where it came from originally. So, I don’t want to label it. But I can say that it’s a great pattern, and it should give you the flavor of Latin drumming – especially in a Jazz / Latin setting. I often times have my students play this pattern, or variations of this pattern, in the bridge section of Pat Metheny’s song “Bright Size Life”. It works very well during this section of the tune, and it reinforces students knowledge of the form, as I’ll know if they miss the pattern that they might not know where they are in the music.
The final example is a mix of a couple traditional rhythms – the Cascara Rhythm with my lead hand, and 3/2 Rumba Clave with my left foot. Cascara is the word for Sea Shell, and the name of the rhythm played on the shell was adopted as a result. The Clave rhythm is considered to be the foundation of most Cuban music. It’s the rhythm in which melodic phrases and improvisation revolve around. I learned to play these grooves by studying the book Groovin’ In Clave mentioned above. The patterns included here are basic examples. However, as you can see and hear in the video, I’ve embellished them with improvisation. Here’s what you need to know to get started with the included page. It’s written for Bass, Snare, and Clave. I add to this the Cascara rhythm with my lead hand, and I play the Clave with my left foot.
In conclusion, I hope this article provides you with some insight into Afro-Cuban drumming, and spurs your desire to explore the style. I can certainly say that I’m a much better drummer and musician for having spent time learning this stuff, and I strongly believe that you will be too.
As always, enjoy and be creative. Thanks.