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from Frank Vignola’s Vamps, Jams and Improvisation
The clave rhythm is an important one for musicians to know; unfortunately, most guitarists don’t bother to learn it, and thus miss out on a versatile and unique piece of our American musical heritage. Hailing from far-away locales like Africa, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, jazz musicians altered it to make it one of the earliest rhythms used by street bands, especially in cities like New Orleans.
The 3:2 clave rhythm has three variations. The main rhythm is played on beats 1, the “and” of 2, 4 and beats 2 and 3 of the following measure (essentially 1, 2, 2-and, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4). The second variation of this rhythm is the same as the first, except the strike on the 4th beat of the first measure is moved to the “and” of the 4th beat (1, 2-and, 4-and, 2, 3). The third variation of the 3:2 clave omits the first beat completely, hitting on the “and” of 4, the “and” of 2, again on the “and” of 4 and on beats 2 and 3 (4-and, 2-and, 4-and, 2, 3). The 2:3 clave rhythm is essentially an inversion of the 3:2, with the first measure following the first (i.e. 2, 3, 1, 2-and, 4).
You’ll want to spend some time familiarizing yourself with these patterns, starting with simple notes and moving to chord stabs. Once you fall into the groove of the clave rhythm, you’ll find that it can spice up an otherwise bland jam session.
Once you’ve gotten both forms of the clave under your fingers and you feel comfortable with the rhythms, you can begin to use the forms to create some interesting solo lines. Below you’ll find a sample solo based off of the clave, played over an A minor vamp; while many of the notes and techniques used within the solo are fairly common – simple, bluesy melodic lines are chosen – the new rhythm gives everything played a new dimension. Practice constructing solos over this rhythm and see where it takes your jazz chops!
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