Advanced Exercises for Developing Independence

Swingin The Clave 1In jazz, the ride cymbal is the focal point for creating a flowing, swinging time feel. In Afro-Cuban music, the clave assumes this role. Essentially, clave is to Afro-Cuban music what the ride cymbal beat is to swing. The fundamental style, pulse, and feel are built upon those rhythms. This article combines swing and clave as a vehicle for developing left-foot independence on the drumset.

The exercises specifically deal with playing 2:3 and 3:2 clave rhythms with your left foot as you swing on your ride cymbal with your right hand. Many contemporary drummers, like Antonio Sanchez, Robby Ameen, and Dafnis Prieto, use this technique effectively when accompanying soloists or as a foundational rhythm to solo over.

Highly developed independence helps you build the confidence needed to improvise freely. Below are some clave and ride cymbal ostinatos to practice first.

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Once you have control of the basic clave/ride rhythms, the next step is to add the different triplet subdivisions with your left hand. Practice each example slowly, focusing on one triplet rhythm at a time until each pattern begins to groove. As you work through these patterns, listen closely to how the rhythms relate to one another. Also, be sure to have a consistent balance of sound between your upper and lower appendages.

The following examples are the various ways in which you can divide quarter notes using an 8th-note-triplet subdivision.

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Practice playing the triplet subdivisions with each of the clave and ride cymbal patterns in Examples 1–4. The combination possibilities are endless. This next example combines 3:2 son clave with the triplet subdivision in Example 10 on the snare and the triplet subdivision in Example 8 on the bass drum.

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In this next pattern, we’re combining 2:3 rumba clave with the triplet subdivision in Example 7 on the snare and the triplet subdivision in Example 11 on the bass drum.

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You can also try layering other Afro-Cuban rhythms. Here’s a combination of a 3:2 rumba clave in the left foot, a cascara pattern in the left hand on cowbell or pandeiro, and the tumbao rhythm in the right foot.

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Also experiment with different time signatures. Here’s an example in 7/4 that incorporates a cascara pattern with the left hand.

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These are just a few possibilities. Experimentation is key to coming up with ideas that sound fresh. For even more advanced coordination practice, try assigning a triplet subdivision to your left hand, and improvise with your right foot. Then do the reverse. Have fun!

Steve Fidyk co-leads the Taylor/Fidyk Big Band (with arranger Mark Taylor), freelances with vocalist Maureen McGovern, and is a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. Fidyk is the author of several instructional books. His latest, Big Band Drumming at First Sight, is available through Alfred Publishing.