GO LATIN! 10 fabulous flavours explored
Latin music combines exciting rhythms with the coolest feel and is both challenging and rewarding to master. If you are after a‘fun to play’lesson look no further, says Jon Bishop, with this Top 10 Latin Styles article!
Beat the cold winter nights! Snuggle up with your nylon-string to learn Bossa, Merengue, Samba, Beguine and other sizzling Latin styles.
Latin is such a vibrant and sexy musical genre that everyone should have a few of its styles and techniques under their belt. So the aim of this lesson is to provide you with some core concepts to help you build a vocabulary in various Latin music forms. We have chosen 10 contrasting styles and recorded a 16-bar performance piece for each - complete with individual backing tracks.
The guitar plays a vital role in many of these styles and can also be used to play parts that a piano would otherwise handle. A nylon-string flamenco or standard classical guitar will be the most stylistically appropriate choice for playing Latin music styles. It is important to how each instrument of the ensemble functions, and helpful to learn the special name that is given to that instrument’s function within the arrangement.
The is a rhythmic pattern used in Afro Cuban music styles (salsa, cha-cha-cha, mambo, rumba, samba etc). The five-stroke, clave rhythm is two bars long and forms the backbone of the rhythm section. The name ‘claves’ is also used for a percussion instrument that consists of two woodblocks that are banged together The rhythm section usually implies the ‘clave’ feel, as opposed to playing it in a crude or obvious way. Each style has its own ‘clave’, and the most common ones have been written out for you to study (see Figs 1 to 3 below).
The ‘cascara’ is a rhythm that was originally played on the side of the timbale drums. The word ‘cascara’ means shell, and this rhythm was played on the shell of the drum, hence the name. Drummers often play cascara rhythms on various parts of the drum kit and this adds to the complexity of the sound.
The syncopated (off-beat) piano figures commonly used in Latin music are referred to as a ‘montuno’. These lines often repeat over and over, and incorporate chromatic passages and octave intervals. Transferring these piano ideas across to the guitar can be challenging.
They Syncopated nature of the rhythms can add extra difficulty - especially if you are not used to playing ‘off the beat’.
Finally, in Afro-Cuban styles the bass line is often referred to as the ‘tumbao’. The tumbao can be confusing to listen to if you are a rock or pop musician as the bass line starts on beat 4 of the bar. Bass lines in rock music tend to start on beat 1 so it’s important when playing along with a tumbao bass line to remember where the start of the bar actually is.
So, turn the page to see the 10 styles covered with information on each one’s origins and idiosyncrasies. There are audio demonstrations of all 10 styles with backing tracks to practise these ideas over, or to try out some of your own ideas.