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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 genadillo. 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 /ˈklaβe/ in the Spanish style (as in "Ave Maria"), although some American musicians pronounce it as if it were an English word rhyming with brave or gave.

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 music.

Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood is written for five pairs 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.

See also

External links

Percussion portal



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:




a set of claves



  1. (music) Plural form of clave. Claves are a percussion instrument, consisting of two sticks or blocks, in which one is struck against the other in order to produce a sound.

Usage notes

One generally speaks of playing "the claves"; the singular form is seldom used.

See also




claves (infinitive: clavar)

  1. informal second-person singular () present subjunctive form of clavar.

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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