As we have seen, the development of Jazz was aided by influences from many different cultures and types of music. The different vocal inflections from spirituals and work songs are concrete examples of influences on blues and jazz. Another major influence, although not as obvious, comes from Cuba (by way of Africa) and manifests itself rhythmically through what is known as clavé.

The term clavé can have several different meanings depending upon the context in which it is used:

1) the physical instruments known as clavés

2) the idea of clavé as a system of organization in music

3) the actual clavé rhythms

Literally translated, clavé means “key,” and like a keystone holds an arch together, clavé is the rhythmic key that holds Cuban music together. When all of the various rhythmic components in Cuban music fit together perfectly to form a groove, it is said to be “in clavé.”

This lesson focuses on a specific clavé pattern from Cuba known as the 3-2 Son Clavé (diagramed below). This is not the only clavé rhythm, but it is the one that can be most easily connected to American music. Through the study of this clavé rhythm and its origins, we will see how this rhythm manifests in Ragtime and early New Orleans Jazz.


In this lesson, students will learn the importance of the clavé rhythm and trace its influence from African and Cuban music to American Ragtime and Jazz.


1. Students will define and recognize a distinct clavé pattern.
2. Students will apply this clavé pattern to examples of Cuban music and through demonstration and objective listening will recognize its Cuban origin.
3. Students will investigate African, Cuban, Jazz and Ragtime music to identify how they connect through clavé rhythms.
4. Students will recognize the influence of Cuban and African music on American Jazz and Ragtime.
5. Students will define and apply such terms as clavé, pulse and ostinato.
6. Students will recognize the clavé pattern by itself and in the context of music.


Clavé: 1. Meaning “key” in Spanish; 2. Rhythmic patterns that form the foundation for the music of Latin America and Cuba.; 3. Cylindrical, hand-held percussion instruments.;

Pulse: The basic beat of any given music.

Ostinato: A short, repeated, rhythmic, or melodic pattern/phrase that is repeated throughout an entire piece or given section of music.


Dig a Little Deeper
Depending on the level of your students and the amount of time you have to devote to this lesson, you may choose to take the study a little deeper. Here is an idea:

In this lesson we discuss the 3-2 son clavé. Another popular clavé is the 3-2 rumba clavé (see example 3.3 at the bottom of page ###). Each of these has a 2-3 variation, which is achieved by beginning in the second measure of each pattern. If you choose to incorporate the rumba clavé and two variations into your lesson, you will have four clavé patters for the students to learn. Put students into groups, assigning them each a clavé and various hand-percussion instruments. Have each group compose a rhythmic piece based on their clavé pattern and perform it for the class. Check the Online Connections section for websites that students can visit to find ideas for their compositions.

Online Connections
For ideas on enhancing this lesson with free online resources, check out these helpful links:

1. – The website of Bobby Sanabria, a leading historian of Latin music. This website is a wealth of information on all types of Latin music. In the section entitled “Clave Chronicles”, the article named Afro-Cuban Jazz: A Journey tells more in-depth the story of how clavé made its way to Cuba and America.

2. – Site featuring multimedia content relating to Latin music. Here you will find many videos of groups performing Latin music along with photos and articles to support this lesson – org/blog/tag/clave/.

Real World Applications
Critical thinking
Cultural awareness
Active and objective listening
Reading comprehension
Deductive and comparative reasoning

Show-Me Standards
Content/Knowledge: SS5, SS6, M1, M4, FA2, FA3, FA5
Performance/Process: 1.1, 1.2, 1.5, 1.6, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 3.5, 4.1, 4.4, 4.6

National Music ED Standards
6, 7, 8, 9


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