What Different Roles Do Drums Play in Music?
Most of us are familiar with how a drum set functions in the setting of rock and pop music, but different styles of music force the drum set to take on different roles. In pop music, drums provide a solid foundation with a driving, typically repetitive kick and snare pattern. Simpler beats make it easier for the other musicians in the band to work in their own parts. The main role of the drums is to keep time and back up the singer - very much a supporting role. But many other musical styles require an entirely different approach to the drum set, particularly Latin Jazz.
When applying Brazilian and Cuban rhythms to the drum set, drummers essentially distill the roles of an entire percussion section into the job of one person. Let's use an Afro-Cuban mambo as an example. There are several distinct components to this groove - the clave, the cascara, the tumbao, and the conga pattern.
What Is Clave?
Instead of establishing the feel around a quarter note, Afro-Cuban rhythms orient themselves around a rhythmic structure known as "clave." Now you may ask, "What is clave?" There are many variations of clave, but they all consist of 5 pulses spaced over 2 measures (1 measure if interpreting as 16ths). These 5 pulses are split as either 3 beats in the first measure and 2 in the second, or 2 beats in the first measure and 3 in the second. For example, a 2-3 son clave hits on counts 2 and 3 of the first measure, and counts 1, the 'and' of 2, and 4 of the second measure. In a percussion section, this rhythm is usually played on a woodblock or a pair of claves (not to be confused with the clave rhythm). On a drum set, we can mimic this sound with a rim knock on the snare drum.
What Is Cascara?
The cascara is usually played on a cowbell or on the shells of timbales. This syncopated pattern takes the space of two full measures. On the drum set, we can get a similar effect by playing on the bell of a cymbal or on the shell of the floor tom.
What Is Tumbao?
The tumbao is played on the kick drum and typically aligns with the rhythm of the bass. In this pattern, the kick lands on the 'and' of 2 and on 4 in each measure. Close the hihats on 1 and 3 to tie everything together. The first transcription below depicts the cascara over the tumbao and the second adds in the 2-3 son clave.
Mimicking Conga Sounds
As an alternate to playing the clave on the snare, drummers can play the clave rhythm with their left foot on the hihats or on a mounted woodblock/cowbell. Doing so frees up the left hand to play different rhythms. We can mimic the sound of congas by including the toms. Rim knocks emulate the sound of a conga slap and the toms mimic the deeper, resonant sound of playing the center of the congas with open hands. While we can't directly emulate the bubbly-sounding patterns of an actual conga player, we can outline the significant parts of a conga pattern. A rim knock on count 2 imitates the sound of a slap, and two 8th notes on count 4 played on a tom imitate open-hand hits.
4 Patterns: Clave, Cascara, Tumbao, Conga
So that's 4 distinct patterns happening all at once - the clave, the cascara, the tumbao, and the conga pattern. Afro-Cuban patterns on the drum set are exceptionally challenging, but they help to expand your limits of coordination and musicality. Check out Josh's demonstration below to hear everything in action! As always, if you want to learn more about any of these patterns, contact Boston Drum Lessons. Our drum instructors near Watertown, MA, will be happy to teach you how to play the drums!