Track 3. Rumba Clave Level 1
Lesson Length: 7:38 min
In this lesson I teach you the Rumba Clave pattern slowly, in two halves. I use two sets of 8 evenly spaced counts – a common denominator method anyone can do. We will emphasize certain numbers with the voice before clapping on those counts. This helps you be accurate and remember what you are doing. It is a fun game as well, keeping a groove with your voice, while adding accents that add tension and excitement to the sequence.

Track 4. Rumba Clave Level 2
Lesson Length: 6:07 min
In this lesson we rename the numbers in a simple system of musical counting called “eighth notes”. The pattern is the same, but the claps fall on different syllables. 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. Rumba Clave Level 3
Lesson Length: 6:39 min
In this lesson I teach you the same sequence of Clave hits again, but with a more complicated set of syllables called “sixteenth note” counting. This way of feeling the rhythm shows you the big picture. You’ll gain a deeper body understanding with this next level of organization. Knowing the pattern this way will help you to understand why Clave is the key pattern and how it fits in Jazz, and other forms of American music.

Track 6. Rumba Clave and The Pulse: Two Hands
Lesson Length: 1:43 min
In this lesson I teach you a pattern that combines Rumba Clave with the main beat that that connects, modulates and grounds the 5 irregularly placed Clave strokes. Many people call this pulse the “downbeat”. I call it the “four-pulse”. Its the sequence that you tap your foot to when you hear music you like – and its the motivation for dancing. In practice, Clave is never separate from this main beat. In my view, Clave is a simple, elegant and understated manner of creating and maintaining this main beat.

Track 7. Stick and Hand, Hands and Feet and application to drumset.
Lesson Length: 1:11 min
In this lesson we transfer the 2 hand combination of the previous lesson to a drum, marking the pulse with a bass note with one hand while tapping Clave with a stick on the side of the drum. This change of sounds intensifies the contrast between the Clave pattern and the four pulse, causing you hold the rhythm even tighter in your body. When this becomes easy, copy the bass pulse with a foot tap and slowly fade out the drum hit, so you are tapping your foot on the four pulse and tapping Clave on the side of the drum. This deepens your body’s understanding of the rhythm even more, spreading it between feet and hands. Repeat this exercise, and soon you’ll be able to clap Clave while stepping. This is the key to playing the combination as a drum set pattern between bass drum and hi hat, bass drum and and snare, bass drum and cymbal, or any other combination of sounds.

The Clave is a field of rhythmic activity and there are many ways to describe it. We just learned Rumba Clave and how its accents fit into a flow of 16 counts.

In the next set of lessons we’ll learn how 5 similar Clave strokes fit into a cycle of 12 counts. This pattern is called Aba Cua Clave

Track 8.AbaCua Intro
Lesson Length: 1:01 min
AbaCua Clave is one of the most mysterious patterns and at first hearing may sound exactly like the Rumba Clave pattern in the previous lessons. However, three of the five hits are in slightly different places in the time stream, compared to Rumba Clave. AbaCua Clave is based on a cycle of 12 potential hits. As with all Clave patterns, it is mostly empty and forms a guide line for many rhythms.

Track 9. AbaCua Level 1
Lesson Length: 4:44 min
In this lesson I break the pattern down into two halves, with six evenly spaced counts each. For some people, just learning to keep time while counting the sets of six is a challenge. Make sure this is easy for you, then add the Clave hits. Keep at it, listen closely and repeat. It is a new language you are learning.

Track 10. AbaCua Level 2
Lesson Length: 5:56 min
In this lesson we rename the 12 counts as sets of 8th note triplets, so you can feel the underlying four pulse which connects, modulates and grounds the 5 irregularly placed Clave strokes. This is the best way to feel the pattern and will help you understand how to navigate between subdivisions and tempi.

Track 11. AbaCua Clave and Twelve Bell
Lesson Length: 2:19 min
In this lesson, I show you how the AbaCua Clave pattern is at the center of the 12 bell pattern, the most important and wide-spread pattern in African influenced music. This lesson will be easiest if you know the 12 bell pattern first, as I will use it as a reference point to create the AbaCua Clave pattern. You can get the 12 bell lessons here. They are tracks 10, 11 and 12 of Clave Consciousness Vol 1.

Track 12. AbaCua Clave and The Main Beat – Two Hands
Lesson Length: 1:57min
In this lesson I teach you how to play the AbaCua Clave pattern together with the 4 pulse main beat. This is a two hand coordination and some hits happen at the same time, one on each hand. You will create a composite pattern of a pulse of 4 evenly spaced hits on one hand and the the 5 irregularly placed Clave strokes on the other. This useful pattern and can be translated to many instruments and surfaces – marimba, bell tree, wood blocks etc. In some arrangements of the AbaCua rhythm, it is played in this manner on two basket rattles similar to large caxixi.

Track 13. Stick and Hand On The Drum and application to drumset.
Lesson Length: 1:00 min
In this lesson I show you how to play the two hand coordination from the previous lesson on a conga drum. We tap the shell with a stick in one hand, and make a bass note with the other hand. This intensifies the contrast between the two parts of the rhythm which helps you hold them even tighter in your body. Once you can do this exercise easily, copy the bass pulse with a foot tap and slowly fade out the bass drum hit. That will spreads the rhythm further in your body, between feet and hands. When this is easy, you’ll be able to clap Clave while stepping, or play the combination as a drum set pattern between bass drum and hi hat, bass drum and and snare, or any other combination of sounds.

Track 14. AbaCua Music
Lesson Length: 3:18 min
I don’t talk in this track, just music. Clave, bell, shakers and four drums including “bonko”, solo drum of the ensemble. Make sure you keep Clave and the four pulse or you may get lost. There are several layers of counter rhythms and the solo drum has very off beat phrasing.

Track 15. Groove Intro
Lesson Length: 1:18 min
The next section of lessons are grooves at slow, med and fast pace for you to play along with. I offer several ways for you to practice with the tracks. In each track, the Clave pattern is consistent throughout, and various pulses and sounds that enter and leave can seem to change the pattern – this is an illusion. Keep steady time and focus on the Clave pattern itself. The shaker and foot taps that I add and remove are built in to the pattern when played correctly. Learn to integrate them with the Clave.

Track 16. Rumba Clave Groove Slow Tempo
Lesson Length: 4:14 min
I play Clave slowly, with a shaker keeping the groove, and a steady foot tap keeping the four pulse. At the beginning of the track, I count quietly 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 stay in the groove and feel the push-pull of Clave without speeding up or slowing down? Later, I bring back the supporting pieces of the groove so you can check yourself.

Track 17. Rumba Clave Groove Medium Tempo
Lesson Length: 3:43min
Now at a medium tempo with the same format: a shaker keeping the groove, and a steady foot tap under the Clave. The counting in this track stays in for only a short time. I drop out the foot taps one at a time, then the shaker, leaving only the Clave strokes. The shakers comes back in, then every other foot tap, then all four.

Track 18. Rumba Clave Groove Fast Tempo
Lesson Length: 6:34 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. At this tempo, the sixteenth note counting works best, so that is in briefly at the beginning. 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, leaving Clave only for a few cycles. I bring the four pulse back in and I count it a couple of times, so you tell where beat One is, then I bring back the sixteenth note very briefly, so you can check yourself.

We’ve just heard three different grooves of what is commonly known as Rumba Clave. This rhythm is increasingly popular in many forms of music.

The next three grooves cover the mysterious AbaCua Clave pattern which could be called “Six-Eight”, “Twelve-Eight”, or “Seis-por-Ocho”.

When you gain an embodied understanding of this pattern you will be able to easily navigate many forms of World music – including Jazz, Afro Pop, Fusion, Reggae, and more.

Track 20. AbaCua Clave Groove Slow
In this track I play the AbaCua Clave pattern slowly and clearly on a high pitched cowbell, with at shaker holding the groove and a foot tap on the four pulse. I softly and briefly count the six beat cycle, then I count triplets. That fades away, then the shaker and foot tap drop out, leaving only the Clave hits. Then I bring back the foot tap on every other pulse, then the shaker, then all four foot taps. I also quietly count the four pulses so you know which is beat One.

Track 21. AbaCua Clave Groove Medium Tempo
Lesson Length: 3:00 min
In this track, I play the AbaCua Clave pattern at a moderate speed, with at shaker holding the groove and foot taps on the four pulse. I softly count the six beat cycle, then briefly switch to triplet counting without the foot taps. I fade the counting away, the shaker keeps going with just the Clave hits. Then I bring back every other foot tap, drop the shaker, so you hear just the Clave hits with every other foot tap. Next I drop the foot tap, keep the shaker, and quietly count the triplets a few cycles. I count the four pulse few times before the track ends. All these elements fading in and out help you keep stable and check yourself with this most mysterious Clave pattern.

Track 22. AbaCua Clave Groove Fast Tempo
Lesson Length: 2:37 min
This track follows the same format at a faster tempo. Clave starts, I softly count the six beat cycle, then briefly switch to triplet counting with the foot taps. The foot taps drop out, the shaker keeps going with just the Clave hits. Then I bring back every other foot tap, I count the four pulse, drop the shaker, keep the Clave hits with every other foot tap. I briefly count the triplets again before the track ends.

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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!"