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Traditional Percussion on Drumset

Part 3: Timbales

by Arturo Stable

In a previous article (February 2013) I shared some of the history of the timbales and a few of the main rhythms of the instrument, and I recommended some great players to check out. I also included examples of how we’ve adapted those rhythms to the drumset. In this article I want to share different grooves that you can use when you work alongside a timbale player, which is very common in modern Cuban dance music.

Cha Cha (2-3 Clave)


4/4 Abajo (2-3 Clave)

Abajo translates literally as “down.” In this context, the word refers to a section of a song where the vocalist is singing the main part. Most of the instruments are playing quietly during this section. The drummer often plays on the closed hi-hat.


4/4 Arriba (2-3 Clave)

Arriba translates to “up” and refers to a louder and more energetic section of a song where the band plays a montuno vamp and the horns play heavy riffs. Here are two drumset parts that work for this section. The right hand plays the bells and snare, while the left hand plays woodblock and timbales.


Afro-Cuban 6/8

Finally, here’s a basic drumset groove that works great alongside a timbale player on tunes that have a 6/8 feel. The snare drum hits in the middle of the measure, which creates a funky half-time vibe.


Cuban-born percussionist Arturo Stable has performed with Dave Samuels, Esperanza Spalding, Paquito D’Rivera, David Sánchez, Giovanni Hidalgo, Miguel Zenón, and the Caribbean Jazz Project. For more info, visit