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Classification Hand percussion
Playing range
Single note

Claves are a percussion instrument (idiophone), consisting of a pair of short (about 20-30 cm), thick dowels. Traditionally they were made of wood, typically rosewood, ebony or grenadilla. Nowadays they are also made of fibreglass or plastics due to the greater durability of these materials. When struck they produce a bright clicking noise. Claves are sometimes hollow and carved in the middle to amplify the sound. The word "clave" is pronounced /ˈklɑːveɪ/ in the Spanish style (as in "Ave Maria"), though some American musicians pronounce it /ˈkleɪv/, rhyming with 'gave.

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Claves are very important in Afro-Cuban music, such as the Son and Guaguancó. They are often used to play a repeating rhythmic figure throughout a piece, known as the clave, of which there are several different variations, each used for different styles of African, Brazilian, and Cuban music.[1]

Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood is written for five pairs of claves.[2]



Playing a pair of claves

The basic principle when playing claves is to allow at least one of them to resonate. The usual technique is to hold one lightly with the thumb and fingertips of the non-dominant hand, with the palm up. This forms the hand into a resonating chamber for the clave. Holding the clave on top of finger nails makes the sound more clear. The other is held by the dominant hand at one end with a firmer grip, much like how one normally holds a drumstick. With the end of this clave, the player strikes the resting clave in the center.


  • F. Ortiz, La Clave, Editorial Letras Cubanas, La Habana, Cuba, 1995.
  • D. Peñalosa, The Clave Matrix – Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins, Bembe Books, Redway California, U.S.A., 2009.
  • O. A. Rodríguez, From Afro-Cuban Music to Salsa, Piranha, Berlin, 1998.
  • E. Uribe, The Essence of Afro-Cuban Persussion and Drum Set, Warner Brothers Publications, Miami, Florida, 1996.


  1. ^ Godfried T. Toussaint, “A mathematical analysis of African, Brazilian, and Cuban clave rhythms,” Proceedings of BRIDGES: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music and Science, Townson University, Towson, MD, July 27-29, 2002, pp. 157-168.
  2. ^ Steve Reich, Writings about Music, New York University Press, 1974.

See also

External links


Simple English

This article is about the percussion instrument. For the rhythm used in music of Cuban origin see clave

[[File:|thumb|250px|A pair of claves]] Claves (Spanish word: second e is sounded) are percussion instruments. They are small wooden sticks made of tropical hardwood. They are used in pairs. They are traditionally heard in Cuban music, e.g. salsa.[1]

In Cuban music they often repeat a special rhythm called clave (pronounce: "CLAH-ve").

The usual way of playing claves is to hold one clave lightly between the thumb and the fingertips with the palm of the hand facing upwards, or to cradle the clave in the hand. The other, held with the other hand, hits it.


  1. Giro, Radamés 2007. Diccionario enciclopédico de la música en Cuba. vol 1, p236.


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