In this lesson series we’ll focus on Latin jazz rhythms and interpret them on the drumset. For the first installment, we’re digging into the Afro-Cuban mambo bell pattern.

Mambo is an Afro-Cuban style that’s built upon a clave foundation. Traditionally its main phrase is played on a mambo cowbell or the side of a timbale shell. Here’s an example of this pattern based on a 2:3 clave.

The mambo became an extremely popular style in the 1950s, shortly after the conga master Chano Pozo joined Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra in the late ’40s. The American bandleaders Stan Kenton, Art Blakey, and Max Roach began to combine traditional mambo rhythms with the modern bebop vocabulary to create what was initially labeled “Cubop” or “Cuban Bop.” This stylistic combination led to a more flexible rhythmic phrasing that could be played straight or swung.

Resourceful jazz drummers borrowed these traditional rhythms, which were originally meant for hand percussion instruments, and applied them to the kit. For example, in a traditional Afro-Cuban percussion section, you’ll hear the mambo pattern played in conjunction with clave, guiro, tumbaó, bongo, and conga variations simultaneously. Jazz drummers often take these rhythms and assign them to different limbs to create the sound of a percussion section on the drumset.

It’s customary for jazz drummers to voice the mambo pattern on the cowbell, the cymbal bell, the closed hi-hat, or the shell of a floor tom, the latter of which mimics the sound of a timbale shell. To start, try playing the traditional mambo bell pattern on the ride bell.

If you have access to a pair of congas, try the following traditional patterns with your hands. Doing so can help you gain a better understanding of the rhythm’s phrasing, sound, and feel before applying the figure to the kit.

Next, with your nondominant hand on the drumset, play the accented and open sounds from the conga rhythm between the snare rim click and the toms.

Once you have control of the previous hand patterns, incorporate your feet by playing the following bass drum and hi-hat patterns.

Essential Listening

Cal TjaderMambo With Tjader

Tito Puente and his OrchestraDance Mania (Legacy Edition)

Pérez Prado OrchestraBig Hits by Prado

Dizzy GillespieAfro

Mongo SantamariaWatermelon Man!

Go to Modern Drummer’s Spotify page to listen.

The following example combines the mambo bell pattern with the conga pattern from Exercise 5 and the foot pattern from Exercise 7B.

This next example combines the mambo bell pattern with the conga pattern from Exercise 6 and the foot pattern from Exercise 7G.

With all four limbs combined, the texture creates a dense Afro-Cuban percussion section feel. Take your time when combining your hands and feet, be patient with your progress, and practice each example with a metronome. A good starting tempo would be 84 bpm or slower.

Next time we’ll examine jazz variations of the mambo bell rhythm.

Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, Dick Oatts, Doc Severinsen, Wayne Bergeron, Phil Wilson, and Maureen McGovern, and he’s a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. For more information, including how to sign up for lessons via Skype, visit