Main Salsa instruments explained

At Salsaventura we teach Salsa music during our dance classes. We explain, during the classes how Salsa music is built up and which instruments are used. We also explain that a Salsa song has a beginning, a middle and an end and that connection with your partner and the music is more important than the most amazing lady styling moves or combinations. 

In this blog I will do my best to explain the different instruments within Salsa music so you might be able to recognize each and every instrument while listening to Salsa music.

The word clave means ‘key’ in Spanish. This does not mean a physical key with which you open the door, but the figurative key such as ‘the key to success’. This concerns 2 sticks that are beaten together. The clave can be played in a 3-2 or a 2-3 pattern.

The clave can be thought of as the base of a pizza. For the musicians, this is the basic rhythm on which a Salsa song is built.

The clave can be played in 2 different patterns:
The 3-2 clave is played over the beats: 1 and 4, 6,7 with the “and” being played between the 2nd and 3rd beats.
The 2-3 clave is played over the beats: 2,3, 5 and 8 with the “and” being played between the 6th and 7th beats.

If you hear the conga in combination with the clave, the basic rhythm of the Salsa soon becomes clear.

These small drums play the rhythm ‘martillo’ which means hammer. The moment in the song, when the bongosero (the one who plays the bongos) exchanges his bongos for the campana (the cowbell), the song moves to the next phase. This phase is also called montuno and comes from the Spanish word: montar (to mount, to saddle).

If there’s one instrument that people don;t understand Salsa it’s the timbales. Due to the tapping on the side of the drums, Salsa music sounds quite chaotic to the layman. Yet the Timbales provides the real Latin Sound in Salsa music.

It remains a mystery how this cowbell ever ended up in Cuba. 

This instrument also often causes confusion because the loud tones are played on the 1, the 3, the 5 and the 7. Because of this, many dancers, without knowing it, also dance on the 3rd and the 7th beat. 

The guiro is the grater.

Filled with rice grains, the Maracas fill up the sound beautifully.

In addition to the above instruments, we also have the bass and the wind sections that make the sound fuller and further amplify it, but with the above instruments you already have a good idea of ​​the different instruments that ensure that Salsa sounds the way it sounds.

What would you rather dance to? On live Salsa music or on the music of a DJ? And why?

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