Track 2. What Is Clave?
Lesson length: 3:43 min
In this track I define and tell why Clave is important, name and demonstrate several patterns of Clave, define “3-2” and “2-3” Clave and give some history and audio examples of its use in drum ensemble music.

Track 3. Son Clave Level 1 counting
Lesson length: 5:35 min
Learn how the Clave “accents” or actual hits fall over an even stream of pulses, which we name by using numbers 1 through 8. This is a a common denominator method of counting and naming the hits, anybody can do it. I lead you to emphasize certain numbers with your voice, before you clap on that number. Combining voice emphasis with the clap helps you be accurate and remember what you are doing.

Track 4. Son Clave level 2 counting : 8th notes
Lesson length: 4:36 min
In this lesson we rename the numbers in a simple system of musical counting called “eighth notes”. The pattern the same, but the claps fall on different syllables. This manner of counting rhythm is common. If you have learned some musical counting in the past, you probably have heard or practiced in this manner. This manner of counting the Clave is very common in music literature describing Latin American music.

Track 5. Son Clave Level 3 counting : 16th notes
Lesson length: 4:59 min
Again we rename the sequence with a more complicated set of syllables that create a higher level of organization and understanding. The system is called “sixteenth note” counting and is common in Jazz and other forms of American music. This way of feeling the Clave shows you the big picture, and will help you to understand why it is the key pattern. It is extremely useful when navigating fast tempo and shifting between patterns and layers.

Track 6. Son Clave with 4 Pulse
Lesson length: 2:50 min
In this lesson I show you how the Son Clave pattern relates to the underlying pulse of four even beats. This “main beat” connects, modulates and grounds the 5 irregularly placed Clave strokes. I call it the “four-pulse; many people call it the “downbeat”. It is the sequence that you unconsciously tap your foot to, when you hear music you like. When you master these lessons, you’ll be able to easily, accurately – and with a groove-play the Clave pattern while you tap the four pulse with your foot.With practice, you’ll be able to step the four pulse in a natural, easy way, while you play the Clave pattern and sing!

The Clave is a field of rhythmic activity and there are many ways to describe it.We just learned how the Clave fits into a field of 16 counts.In the next set of lessons we’ll learn how the 5 Clave strokes fit into a cycle of 12 counts. This gives it a mysterious feeling.

Track 7. Intro to Twelve-Clave
Lesson length: 0:33 min
In this lesson I’ll show what I call Twelve-Clave. Now the 5 accents fit into a cycle of 12 counts. The four pulse falls in the same manner as we learned before, connecting and modulating the uneven grouping of the Clave strokes.

Track 8. Twelve-Clave Level 1
Lesson length: 5:01 min
In this lesson we work with two sets of six counts and learn how the Clave accents fall over these counts. This helps us to understand that the “Clave pattern is a broad term with many slight variations that one learns to identify by context.

Track 9. Twelve-Clave Level 2
Lesson length: 5:11 min
In this lesson we rename the 12 counts in a manner that reveals the underlying four pulse which connects, modulates and grounds the 5 irregularly placed strokes. This is the best way to feel the pattern and will help you understand the mysterious nature of Clave when played by master musicians. This pattern is important in West African and Brazilian music.
Track 11. Twelve-Bell with 4 Pulse
Lesson length: 3:33 min
In this lesson I show you how the 7 hits of the Twelve-Bell pattern fall over the four main beats. This is the key to understanding the pattern, as several other ways of feeling it are possible. I show it as a two hand coordination, with some strokes in conjunction. When you have mastered this, transfer the pattern to claps and foot taps, or practice saying it while walking. This two part coordination can be challenging, but keep at it, it will reveal itself. All the other step in the program lead here; make sure you can do each previous exercise easily before trying this one.

Track 12. Son Clave and Twelve-Bell lesson Summary
Lesson length 1:31 min
In this track I very briefly play the both the Clave and the Twelve-Bell patterns and show how they fit to the four pulse. Then I show the application of the Twelve-Bell pattern in the Afro Cuban Bembe rhythm. To learn that rhythm, check out Vol 2 of the Speaking of Rhythm series.

Track 13. Intro To Groove Sections
Lesson length: 1:03 min
In this track I give you instructions and suggestions for more ways to use the Clave lessons, and how to use what you’ve learned with the next section of Clave grooves.

Track 14. Son Clave Groove, Slow
Lesson length 4:45 min
I play Clave slowly with a shaker keeping the groove, and a steady foot tap keeping the four pulse. I count quietly in the beginning to keep you aligned, then I fade that out, so you can just feel it. Eventually I take away the foot tap so you can do it on your own, then I take away the shaker, leaving only the Clave strokes. This is the biggest challenge: can you keep in the groove, feel the push pull of the Clave without speeding up or slowing down. Then I start bringing the supporting pieces of the groove back in so you can check yourself.

Track 15. Son Clave Grove, Medium
Lesson length: 6:51 min
Now at a medium tempo with the same format: a shaker keeping the groove, and a steady foot tap under the Clave. I don’t emphasize the counting in this track at all, it stays in for only a short time. Again I drop out the foot tap, then the shaker, leaving only the Clave strokes. The foot tap and shaker come back in so you can check yourself.

Track 16. Son Clave Groove, Fast
Lesson length: 6:05 min
This time at a faster tempo with the same format: a shaker keeping the groove, and a steady foot tap on the four pulse. I do not count in this track. I drop out every other foot tap, then another, so the foot tap is only on the first hit, then every other Clave with no foot tap. The shaker will drop out suddenly, leaving only the Clave strokes for a few cycles. Toward the end of this track I play a groove and variations on a conga to help you get the flavor of how Clave and drum interact.
We’ve just heard three different grooves of what is commonly known as “Four-Four” Clave. This rhythm is used in frequently in many forms of popular music.The next three grooves cover the all-important and trance inducing “Twelve Bell” pattern which is commonly called “Six-Eight”, “Twelve-Eight”, or “Seis-por-Ocho”. Developing an embodied understanding of this pattern will help you with any further exploration in African music and many other forms of World music – including Jazz, Pop, Fusion, Reggae, and more.
Track 17. Twelve-Bell Groove, Slow
Lesson length: 4:26 min
Here is the 7 stroke Mother pattern at a moderate speed with a shaker keeping the groove, and a steady foot tap keeping the four pulse. I count quietly in the beginning to keep you aligned, then I fade that out, so you can just feel it. Eventually I take away the foot tap so you can do it on your own, then I take away the shaker, leaving only the bell strokes. After a few cycles, I bring back the supporting pieces of the groove back in so you can check yourself.

Track 18. Twelve-Bell Groove, Medium
Lesson length: 6:06 min
Here is the pattern at a faster speed with the shaker and a foot tap on the four pulse. I count quietly in the beginning to keep you aligned, then I fade that out. After a few cycles I take away the foot tap so you can do it on your own, then I take away the shaker, leaving only the bell strokes. Again, I bring back the supporting pieces of the groove back in so you can check yourself.

Track 19. Twelve-Bell Groove, Fast
Lesson length: 4:36 min
A faster tempo with the shaker and the four pulse. We go right into it without counting under the groove, and I fade in the count in and out quietly in a couple of places.

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Clave [pronounced kla’-veh] is the essential code to many styles of percussion based music, music which is formed of separate, repeating, interlocking rhythmic cells. Clave is both the keystone that holds all the pieces in balance and the guide to the sonic landscape. It is a clue to the puzzle of how the pieces fit, and the cornerstone of the music structure.

Clave Consciousness is my term to describe my awareness and understanding of this key rhythmic principle. I encountered it in Nigerian and Ghanaian drumming and songs, Cuban music, Latin Jazz jam sessions, Brazilian music, drum circle and more. Within Clave based music, embodiment of and expression within this key pattern is an essential goal. The rhythms of the world that are based on Clave display endless ingenuity, grace, beauty and simplicity.

Musicians work with Clave accents in a nearly unlimited number of ways to build and vary patterns.

As a Clave based rhythm deepens through repetition, layers of alternating suspension and resolution come into play, expanding the groove. Slight variations become extremely powerful and a soloist can easily create interest. This is the magic of playing in Clave.

Clave in African Diaspora music refers to three things:

  1. the common hard wood percussion sticks,
  2. a family of rhythm patterns often played on those sticks, and most importantly,
  3. the guiding principle or key for all the instruments and dancers.

The use of the word Clave as a contemporary musical term is most connected with Cuba, where Clave is so important in the folkloric and popular music that is could be considered a philosophy or musical approach. The influence and popularity of Cuban Music in America and around the world has lead to the use of the term “Clave” by non-Cuban percussionists, dancers and rhythm enthusiasts.

Clave like patterns exist in many forms of music and are heard as bass lines, horn parts, melodies, solo and accompaniment rhythms for guitar, voice or piano. Clave patterns are used as breaks and cues as well as percussion parts.

In parts of the world where people do not use the word “Clave”, a musician might refer to a Clave-like pattern as “the agogo rhythm for Maculele”, “a caixa pattern for Samba”, ” a gankogui pattern for Highlife” or “the sangba part for Dansa”. I use the Cuban word “Clave” to create a unified concept for describing, measuring, recognizing and distinguishing patterns in African Diaspora music.

How does Clave work?
The Clave accents fall on, right before, and right after certain beats – in specific proportion and sequence – generating an interlocked sonic field that naturally builds momentum into a tight, smooth, insistent groove that inspires the singers and dancers.

The five, irregularly placed Clave accents shape the feeling of the groove. They give power and swing to the regular four beat pulse underlying the music.

[toggle title_open=”Close” title_closed=”Click to learn uses of the word ‘clave’ in everyday Spanish, with English translations” hide=”yes” border=”yes” style=”default” excerpt_length=”0″ read_more_text=”Read More” read_less_text=”Read Less” include_excerpt_html=”no”]In its everyday usage, “clave” is a Spanish adjective for “key” or “essential”

cuestión clave → key question

palabra clave → keyword

es una fecha clave para la empresa → it’s a crucial date for the company

Clave as “key” is also a noun, as in

La presidenta dijo en su discurso que la determinación es la clave del éxito →
The president said in her speech that determination is the key to success.

and as the clef sign in music notation, which is the key to the five line musical staff.

Tienes que saber cómo leer tanto la clave de fa que la de sol para tocar el piano →
You have to know how to read both the bass and the treble clefs to play piano.

Clave also means code, a noun :

¿Conoces la clave de acceso del edificio? → Do you know the building access code?

Se me olvido la clave → I forgot the password.

la clave del caja fuerte → the code to the safe

mensaje cn clave → coded message

Clave means the keystone of an arch – a great advancement in architecture.

Colocaron la clave para completar el arco → They placed the keystone to complete the arch.


You can start anywhere in the program that feels good to you, and go either forward or backward to fill in the gaps in your understanding. When you have done all the lessons in this program, you will have a thorough understanding of this most important pattern in music.  What you can learn here applies not just to African Diaspora music, but to all of RHYTHM.

I teach you the patterns from the inside out. We start with a simple counting system anyone can do, and progress through three other forms of musical counting. As we count and clap the patterns in different ways,  you learn to feel the underlying continuum that the Clave implies.

Each level of challenge teaches you more about the rhythm and how it feels in music.  When you’ve learned one level, you can go to the groove sections and play the pattern along with me.  The shakers and foot tap will help to lock the feeling into your body.

I show you how to play the patterns with single stroke motion, the basic logic of hand drumming. This teaches you how to apply Clave based patterns to conga or djembe.

I show you two hand coordination that you can transfer to hands and feet or both feet. This helps you to get the feeling spread out into your body which leads to a relaxed and accurate playing.  The two hand coordination is useful for bell and timbales, woodblocks, marimbas, piano of any other similar instrument.  The hand and foot coordination is useful for the drum set, or learning to use pedals of any kind accurately.

The lesson ends with 25 minutes of Clave grooves at different tempos for you to play along with.

There is a tremendous amount of material in these multilevel lessons. Listen casually and jump into the program where ever you feel comfortable.  Practice the pattern until you feel relaxed with it, then go to the groove sections and see if you can keep Clave with me or play your drum along with the groove and feel into how the rhythm works.  You could repeat this for a few days, weeks, or even months, depending on how much time you practice.

A basic process for learning rhythm is to learn one thing very well, then combine it with another to form a composite. This composite, formed of two things, can now be perceived as one thing to which other things can be added.  In this way your understanding of patterns expands, until you can keep track of several contrasting rhythms. In the these Clave Consciousness lessons you will do that by first becoming aware of the underlying continuum that Clave defines, and then how the Clave pattern relates to, and adds potential to the underlying four – pulse.

When you are comfortable with one part of the program, go to another level of the same lesson, and listen casually and find the next lesson to focus on. In some cases, it may be that a lower level is more challenging, especially if you have previous musical training or experience.  Some of what I present here is so basic that you might assume that it is easy.  Going back to basics and filling gaps in understanding is always valuable.

Next jump to one of the lessons in the 12 beat cycle.  It is challenging for most people to make the connection between the feeling of “4-4 Clave” and “12 Clave” – but this is essential to real understanding of how these rhythms work.  Practice with the corresponding groove to lock the feeling into your body.

Your job in these lessons, is to use your mind and body to play and hold the specific proportions of the 5 stroke sequence, as multiple layers of rhythm are added. The more you focus on these Clave patterns, the more you will realize the organizing principle at work.

After you have internalized some Clave patterns, I invite you to use them as a reference point to measure and contrast other patterns. My Speaking of Rhythm™ series teaches you this by showing you how to speak the drum parts while clapping the Son Clave pattern and keeping the main beat.

To learn music you must copy it into your body with the right feeling. The best way is to do that is by learning to speak and sing its phrases. If you do this combined with movement, you will gain a whole body memory of the event. Your body becomes the store house of information. The drum is an amplifier for your musical feelings.

" Yesterday I heard thunder and saw lightning when you were talking about clave... Your teaching inspires stuff like this. This a way beyond normal teaching-learning. This a becoming spiritual exchange. It's big time and I'm ready."
"As some one who has played, studied, performed and recorded with Kim Atkinson for over 20 years, I can heartily recommend any thing that he puts out. His information is always impeccably clear and correct and he is one of the best teaching communicators I have ever seen. ...
I love his Clave Consciousness CD Volume one. It is a must for any serious player. And for the drum Circle facilitator it puts all universal rhythms into perspective."
"I got to see part of your Clave workshop in Seattle and it totally changed how I hear and teach drumming. "
"... your CD Clave Consciousness - Volume 2 is superb! I really enjoyed the learning experience. In fact, it led me to a greater appreciation for "Clave Consciousness - Volume 1" - Super material and instruction."
"Your CD is excellent. I'm beginning to understand Clave after all these years. Thanks!"
"I have been using Clave Consciousness for over two years with my conga students, and I highly recommend these CDs. By counting different ways and using the voice to make the accents, my students are able to both understand the clave patterns and learn the 'feel' at the same time."
"You're definitely a Gifted Teacher! … I've never been able to get any kind of music theory down when it comes to drumming, I've always just been able to pretty much play whatever rhythm you tossed at me. ... I listen to your Clave CDs on to my IPOD again and again and I'm gettin' it.  Thanks a bunch! "
"I am very excited to have a group of students coming to the festival this year specifically to look for your class. My students all loved your class and I am certainly on my way to an even greater understanding of the Afro-Cuban music we love, thanks to your CDs! Thank you Kim! "
"The lessons on this disk will enable just about anyone to master son clave and the 12 bell pattern if they take enough time. I can think of lots of applications for this, i.e: learning clave and bell to be part of an ensemble, to teach, to understand cross rhythms. This disk can be useful for beginners in percussion, those new at music or more advanced percussionists who are new to clave. The possibilities for its use go on and on."
"...the greatest benefit of your classes and CDs came to me as a salsa dancer, by improving my ability to hear and understand the Clave. ... this has made my enjoyment of salsa music and dancing that much better. Thank you again!"