Type: Percussion > Idiophone.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 111.11
Country: Many, Cuba.
Region: Caribbean, Latin America.
Description: Claves are very important in Cuban music, such as the son and guaguancó. They are often used to play a repeating rhythmic figure throughout a piece, known as clave, a key pattern [or guide-pattern, timeline patter, phrasing referent, bell pattern] that is also found in African music and Brazilian music.
Playing Techniques: The basic principle when playing claves is to allow at least one of them to resonate. The usual technique is to hold one lightly with the thumb and fingertips of the non-dominant hand, with the palm facing up. This forms the hand into a resonating chamber for the clave.
Holding the clave on top of finger nails makes the sound clearer. The other is held by the dominant hand at one end with a firmer grip, much like how one normally holds a drumstick. With the end of this clave, the player strikes the resting clave in the center. Traditionally, the striking clave is called el macho [the male] and the resting clave is called la hembra [the female].
Citations: “Claves”, Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, 2, 2003, pp. 352–355 Karl Peinkofer and Fritz Tannigel, Handbook of Percussion Instruments, Mainz, Germany: Schott 1976, 142. Godfried T. Toussaint, “A mathematical analysis of African, Brazilian, and Cuban clave rhythms,” Proceedings of BRIDGES: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music and Science, Towson University, Towson, MD, July 27–29, 2002, pp. 157–168.
Steve Reich, Writings about Music, New York University Press, 1974.