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Claves (Anglicized pronunciation: clah-vays, IPA:[ˈklαːves]) are a percussion instrument (idiophone), consisting of a pair of short (about 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in), 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.
Claves are very important in Cuban music, such as the son and guaguancó. They are often used to play a repeating rhythmic figure throughout a piece, known as clave, a key pattern (or guide-pattern, timeline patter, phrasing referent, bell pattern) that is also found in African music and Brazilian music. Among the better known rock recordings featuring claves are the Beatles' recording "And I Love Her," and "Magic Bus" by the Who.
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. Traditionally, the striking clave is called el macho ("the male") and the resting clave is called la hembra ("the female"). This terminology is used even when the claves are identical. A roll can be achieved on the claves by holding one clave between the thumb and first two fingers, and then alternating pressure between the two fingers to move the clave back and forth. This clave is then placed against the resonating clave to produce a roll.
- Godfried T. Toussaint, “A mathematical analysis of African, Brazilian, and Cuban clave rhythms,” Proceedings of BRIDGES: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music and Science, Towson University, Towson, MD, July 27–29, 2002, pp. 157–168.
- Steve Reich, Writings about Music, New York University Press, 1974.
- Karl Peinkofer and Fritz Tannigel, Handbook of Percussion Instruments, (Mainz, Germany: Schott, 1976), 142.
- 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 Percussion and Drum Set, Warner Brothers Publications, Miami, Florida, 1996.