Afro-Cuban Applications 1Welcome to part five in our continuing series on ways to interpret the classic Ted Reed book Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer. This time we’ll apply Afro-Cuban ideas to the written manuscript. The following applications can be used with any of the seventy-two repetitive one-measure examples from pages 29, 30, and 33–36, the thirty-two-measure rhythmic melodies from pages 37–44, or the accented-8th-notes section that begins on page 46.
At the core of Afro-Cuban music is clave. Check out the music of Mario Bauzá, Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, and Michel Camilo. Listening to Afro-Cuban music will help you recognize and feel the direction of the clave rhythm, which is critical when playing in this style.
Examples 1–4 show 3:2 and 2:3 son and rumba clave rhythms with the accompanying cascara (timbale-shell patterns) and tumbao (bass parts). Jazz drummers usually voice the tumbao rhythm on the bass drum to augment the sound of the acoustic or electric bass guitar. The cascara can be played on a cowbell, cymbal cup, closed hi-hat, or floor tom shell. This is dependent in part on the dynamic of the accompanying phrase. Under a piano solo, for example, one common textural choice is the closed hi-hat to help sustain a softer dynamic. The clave rhythm can be played as rimclicks on the snare, on the metal post of the hi-hat stand, or with the left foot on a woodblock.
Take time to internalize these patterns before moving on to the Syncopation applications.
Afro-Cuban Applications 2
Foot-Pattern Variations
Practice the following eight Afro-Cuban tumbao foot patterns, and strive for consistency of sound and rhythm. Assign various dynamic markings (p, mp, mf, f, ff) to each pattern, and practice with heel-up and heel-down techniques. Do this with a metronome to ensure that each subdivision is solid.
Afro-Cuban Applications 3a
Afro-Cuban Applications 4
Now try adding the exercises on page 46 of Syncopation on the snare. Here’s a two-measure phrase that utilizes Example 25 from page 48 and Example 18 from page 47 over foot variation 8, which mimics a common guiro pattern.
Afro-Cuban Applications 5
Next, try moving the accents to the toms while playing the unaccented notes on the snare. Below is Example 17 from page 47 and Example 12 from page 46 with a 2:3 rumba clave foot pattern.
Afro-Cuban Applications 6
Once you have control of the previous material, try filling in the unaccented 8th notes using 16th-note double strokes. Here’s Example 27 from page 48 joined with Example 20 from page 47 over a 3:2 son clave foot pattern.
Afro-Cuban Applications 7
Unison Exercise
Try practicing any of the one-measure examples that begin on page 29 as unisons with the ride and snare. Then add one of the eight clave/tumbao foot patterns. Below is the fourth foot pattern with Example 11 from page 33 and Example 20 from page 34.Afro-Cuban Applications 8
Also try applying accents to the written material. Voice the accents on the cup of the ride and as rimshots on the snare. Below are the last four measures from page 37 with one accent interpretation.
Afro-Cuban Applications 8a
Once you have control of the previous applications, practice the following hi-hat patterns with your dominant hand while reading the ink from Syncopation with your nondominant hand.
Afro-Cuban Applications 9
This next phrase combines the first four measures from page 41 with the fourth hi-hat pattern. For variation, I’ve added accents to the written line.
Afro-Cuban Applications 10
Mambo Bell Variations
Here’s a fun application that takes the written rhythms from Syncopation and interprets them as mambo bell patterns on the cup of the ride. These variations remind me of rhythms I’ve heard hard-bop great Art Blakey play on recordings with his group, the Jazz Messengers. Try accompanying each bell rhythm with one of the eight foot patterns from before, as the left hand imitates the sound and feel of a traditional conga part. Here are Examples 1 and 3 from page 29 with foot pattern 8.
Afro-Cuban Applications 11
Also try elongating the phrasing of the rhythm so that it becomes more triplet based. Here’s Example 1 coupled with Example 5 from page 29.
Afro-Cuban Applications 12
Finally, play a 3:2 or 2:3 cascara rhythm on the cup of the ride with a tumbao foot pattern, while reading the ink from Syncopation. Here are the first four measures from page 37 played beneath a 3:2 cascara. Experiment and come up with your own creative combinations. Have fun!
Afro-Cuban Applications 13
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 info, including how to sign up for lessons via Skype, visit To read more about Steve, check out this month’s Catching Up With… column on page 32.