Skip to main content

Clave and Tresillo

By June 11th, 2024R-I : Essentials of Rhythm

1. Son Clave

In the world of rhythm, there are several classic rhythm patterns, and one of the most famous is the Clave. Clave serves as a framework for rhythms in Cuban and Latin American music, combining 2/8 and 3/8 lengths to create rhythmic patterns with syncopation.

You might have heard the name of an instrument called “Claves”. It’s a bit confusing, but “clave” is not only the name of the instrument but also rhythm patterns. Presumably, the rhythm pattern came to be called “Clave” because it is generally expressed through the use of claves.

The clave rhythm patterns are frequently incorporated into popular music to infuse the Latin groove. I will introduce some of the representative types of Clave.

3-2 Son Clave

The rhythm pattern where accents occur three times in the first bar and twice in the second bar at just this timing is called 3-2 Son Clave. It has moderate complexity coming from moderate variations in where it hits in the strong/weak beat or upbeat/downbeat.

It’s a very relaxed rhythm, and the charm of this rhythm is not limited to Latin music.

Double Speed 3-2 clave

In popular music, rhythm patterns doubled in speed from this one are frequently used.

You should have a sense of familiarity at this speed.


In popular music, the accents of clave are expressed in various ways. Sometimes synths play a phrase in the rhythm of the clave, other times kick and snare get together to represent it, or the melody vaguely follows it.

Examples in African Pops

Though this article explains the rhythmic patterns from the perspective of Afro-“American” music theory, tracing the roots of such rhythms inevitably leads back to the African continent. Therefore, you can easily encounter songs using clave rhythms in modern African pop hits.

The significant connection between ethnicity and rhythm is also a key point of this session.

2-3 Son Clave

And the pattern where the 1st bar and 2nd bar are reversed is also quite familiar.

Here, the 1st bar has 2 hits, and the 2nd bar has 3 hits, hence called 2-3 Son Clave. It feels a bit more modern and stylish feel and commonly used in African-American music.


Here’s the background music from a Japanese anime. The drumsticks clearly play the reversed clave pattern. They create a cheerful and funny atmosphere, paired with the cute sound.

Double Speed 2-3 Clave

This is also used at double speed, just like 3-2 clave.


東京事変 - 「絶体絶命」 from ウルトラC

“Zettai Zetsumei” by Tokyo Incidents, a Japanese rock band, features 2-3 Clave throughout the song. The drum clearly shows it, while the piano slightly change accents, making it 2 bars long loop. The song is relatively dark and melancholic in its atmosphere, but a Latin-inspired passion hidden inside it, the song shows strong emotional intensity.

Jersey Club Beats

The 2-3 son clave creates a sophisticated accent by deliberately leaving the first beat empty, but in club music, there’s often a desire for a strong accent right at the beginning. Therefore, in such genres, a modified version of the son clave with the first beat shifted forward has become a standard choice.

Especially in a genre called “Jersey Club“, this rhythm is extremely commonly used, and it is usually the kick that represents this accent:

You can find countless of songs using this beat within the genre, and by virtue of its extreme versatility, it is widely used and appreciated across various genres, regardless of tempo or instrumentation.

Fascinating! Some combine this “jersey club beat” and authentic clave patterns.

Cyril Hahn - Perfect Form ft. Shy Girls
Tiësto x R3HAB - Run Free (Live @ AMF 2023)

Both “Perfect form” and “Run Free” alternately uses the jersey club beat and the 2-3 son clave, forming one loop together. With subtle variations in the pattern, the cycle span becomes longer, resulting in a structure that is less likely to become monotonous. By just combining the rhythms introduced in this article, you can create countless attractive rhythm patterns!

Clave creates a sense of liveliness by incorporating a moderate amount of syncopation. You can simplify the rhythm by shifting accents to the onbeats, and vice versa.

2. Bossa Clave

Bossa Nova often uses a similar pattern to Son Clave but slightly different, where the last hit gets off-beat to rear.

With one extra syncopation, the rhythmic shape becomes even more complex, creating a somehow “adult” mood. It is generally called Bossa Clave.

The doubled-tempo version of Bossa Clave is occasionally used in popular music, like in EDM synth phrases.

2-3 Bossa Clave

Also, just like Son Clave, there is also a “2-3 Bossa Clave” that swaps the rhythm between its first half and the latter.

This also suits well with Bossa Nova.

In the song above, the piano plays the 2-3 bossa clave rhythm (though the last accent is dropped).

And if you play this clave at double speed, none of the hits will align with the 2nd/4th beats of the snare, resulting in a highly intricate rhythm pattern.

So the rhythm is occasionally employed in popular music with a backbeat.

Of course, Clave rhythms come in various subtle variations in actual performances, where accents are shifted slightly. Nonetheless, by considering the creation of patterns based on the fundamental pattern, whether by shifting or inverting it, the arrangement of rhythm patterns becomes more easy and handy.

1 2