You are on page 1of 5

make music now Latin percussion

The CM Guide to

Latin percussion Part 1

Inject some Latin flavour into your tracks with our twopart percussion programming tutorial

On the DVD
TUTORIALS Salsa on over to the Tutorial files folder for a series of MIDI files, a Battery kit and samples, and an MP3 talkthrough explaining the progress of our percussion arrangement.

ts so frustrating: you hear a fiery Latin groove in a bar one night and get inspired to try creating one of your own in the studio, only to emerge four arduous hours later with something that sounds like 30 drummers playing solos at the same time in a cathedral. That first attempt can easily result in disillusionment as you resign yourself to never penetrating the mysteries of this seemingly most complicated of musical forms. Well, heres some good news: Latin

grooves are actually not nearly as complex as they sound. As with all music, they follow a series of compositional rules that, when understood, will empower you to be able to build and program your own sample-based Latin percussion ensembles.

5A lovely pair of bongos, and an essential part of many Latin grooves

Mixed roots

To start with, though, a bit of history. All Latin music has its roots in traditional African percussion.



Latin percussion make music now Q&A focus

From the djembe drumming of the Ivory Coast to sabar drumming from Senegal, almost all African percussion has one thing in common the involvement of families of drums which come together and play interlocking parts. These interlocking parts are combined very carefully and with a lot of compositional considerations. Underneath the main patterns are skeletal rhythmic frameworks marked with metal bells, wooden blocks, shakers and gourds

the subtle touches and ghost notes that fill up the eighth- or 16th-note gaps can be the key to that great group sound when three or more players are involved. Although this style is essential for pure Latin techniques, it can often be too much when using Latin percussion on pop or dance tracks.

1,2,3 conga!

The family of drums collectively known as congas comprises the tumba (low),

with beads strung around them. The drums weave patterns around these rhythmic frames, often with great syncopated lilts and rhythmically ambiguous phrases. At the very top of all of this is the solo drum, played by the master drummer. Of course, if you dont know about the systems, its difficult to break it down mentally into its constituent parts, both in terms of textural layers and time. Latin percussion owes much of its heritage to the masses of Africans who were forcibly relocated to Latin America through slavery. As an interesting aside, many of the instruments that were developed from that point on were as a direct result of the Africans not having drums to play on. Many of the systems used in Latin music relate to those in African music, such as the families of drums and the skeletal rhythmic frameworks marked by wood, bells and shakers. The instruments youll probably be most familiar with, due to their usage in pop music, are the congas. These days, most Latin outfits will feature a conguero playing two, three or even more of these barrel-shaped drums. However, they were originally played individually, each using a strict pattern that interlocked with the other two. When a conga player sets up a pattern on more than one drum, he or she is effectively playing two or three peoples parts. The notes most prominent on congas are the open tones and slap strokes; all the notes in between are subtle touches with the finger tips, the flat hand or the underside of the wrist. For the purposes of this tutorial were mostly concerned with open notes and slaps. Do bear in mind, however, that all the conga (mid-range) and the quinto (high), with the quinto being the solo drum. The rhythmic pulse, called the clave, is marked with the pair of short, thick wooden sticks called claves, which are struck together to play a pattern of two beats in the first bar and three in the second or vice versa, depending on the rhythm. The clave sets the rhythmic map that everyone follows. Beyond those two primary parts, you could have, for example, a cowbell pattern, a straight bongo pattern (called martillo) and a timbale part. The timbales mostly play a regular cascara

pattern, which is played by hitting the sides of the metal shells with the sticks, sometimes moving to a centre-mounted cowbell, a few hits on the drumheads, and the odd cymbal crash. The bongos, timbales and congas then solo in turn over the top. There are dozens of specific, documented rhythms in Afro-Cuban music, and each has its own name, feel and instrumentation son, for example, uses mainly bongos, claves and maracas. Its also worth noting that Brazilian percussion, although referred to as Latin, is entirely different in its structure and instrumentation. cm Our walkthrough begins over the page, and in Part 2 of the CM Guide to Latin Percussion next month, we show you how to get more from your sampled loops and groove templates.

Pete Lockett is one of the most versatile and prolific percussionists in the world. Renowned for his remarkable ability to bring traditional instruments out of their original cultural setting, hes recorded and/ or performed with Bjrk, Afro Celt Sound System, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, The Verve, Nitin Sawhney, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, Zakir Hussain, Viku Vinayakram, Mandolin Shrinivas, Texas, Craig Armstrong, Transglobal Underground, Mel C, Bedlam, Beth Orton, Kula Shaker and Vanessa Mae, amongst others. Hes also played on numerous film soundtracks, including the three most recent James Bonds, City of Angels, Moulin Rouge, The Insider, Plunkett and Maclean and Snatch, and has four critically acclaimed solo albums to his name. Pete can be contacted via his web site,

About the author

1Ooh, ooh, oooh, come on and play the congas! And so forth

Locking together
The process of creating interesting multi-layered percussion parts is much easier than it seems if you follow these simple steps. The basic concept behind how Latin percussion groups work comes from drummers playing together and wanting some freedom to improvise without it all turning into a big mess. Each drummer has their own part where they can improvise, so lets look at an example of how this might work with two drummers. In the first bar of music in Example 1, we have a basic pattern on one drum. The notes drawn as crosses on beats 1, 2 and 3 are the straight section, played with muted notes, while beat 4 is the section where open tones are played. Its in the open tone section that improvisation is allowed. See Variations 1, 2 and 3. Notice how the pattern changes slightly but at the same place within the bar each time, sometimes with a 16th-note pick-up into the phrase. Our second drummers part is shown in Example 2, and hes playing a differently pitched drum. Its the same concept but with the Variations section on beat 2 of the bar instead of beat 4. Layer the two together and you can easily create an interesting and flowing drum part by simply varying the improvised phrases slightly.

1Example 2

1Example 1


| 061

make music now Latin percussion

STEP BY STEP Building a Latin kit and programming a salsa groove

Right, lets salsa! Start by loading up the Battery patch on the DVD, or creating your own sampler patch using the supplied WAV files. The three congas are going to be assigned from note C1 upwards, so lets start with the mid-range conga. Load up the Conga heel, Conga tip, Conga > open and Quinto slap WAVs, as shown. >

Play your first (mid) conga part, copy the one shown here or load up the MIDI file Mid Conga. The heel and tip are on C and C , with the slap and open tones on D and D , allowing you to play the heel and tip with two fingers on your left hand, and the slap and open with two fingers on your right hand. Conga parts are always kept simple so that they lock in with other parts. > >

Were building our whole percussion kit in one Battery patch, so load the Conga touch and Low conga samples up next, as shown. The low conga generally only uses mutes and open tones, so we dont need a slap > sound for this particular drum. >

Play, copy or load in the low conga part (Low Conga.mid) nice and simple. Hear how the two lock together without cluttering each other. This pattern spans two bars, while the first pattern is only one bar long this adds a more interesting shape to the groove. > >

Import the four remaining Quinto (high) conga samples into Battery or your sampler, as shown. The mute tones are similar to the heel and tip tones from the first conga > in the way they sound. >

Weve used the same Quinto slap for the mid and high congas, so weve made the high one more attacking by adjusting the start time, shape and bitrate (which weve reduced to 9.1). The difference is subtle, but it means the slaps wont clash if they coincide in the final track. > >


Play, copy or import the high conga part (Hi Conga.mid). Crucially, the prominent notes in our three patterns occur at different places in the bar for each drum, combining to form a whole rhythm. Displaying those African drumming roots, each drum has its own part to embellish, > knowing that nobody else will be cluttering that space. >

Heres the score for all three Conga parts together. As > you can see, its all very simple at this stage. >

Weve quantised the parts to a 16th-note grid to tighten the feel, and block-copied them over a number of bars for the basis of our groove. You could of course use a groove template to bring that funky Latin feel to the party if you dont want a straight 16th vibe.


Latin percussion make music now Q&A focus

STEP BY STEP Building the rest of the kit

Next, build the rest of your Latin kit as shown, with bongos from C2, timbales an octave up from that, and then claves and cowbells two octaves up from there. Its good practice with percussion to keep different instrument sets in separate octaves, rather than having to search the > keyboard to find things. >

The Timbale shell hits needed a bit of editing because they were sounding a bit late. Here you can see what we chopped off the front of the hit in Sound Forge. > >

Its not always possible to find a 0dB crossing point, so we zoomed right in and selected a short section at the beginning to fade in from. > >

Heres how it looked after the fade. This nearly always works, but dont chop too much of the note off or you risk losing the attack, so keep that fade short. > >

Heres our clave part. This is the backbone of the rhythm, giving it that undeniable Latin flavour. This particular pattern is called the 3:2 clave and it can be reversed to make the 2:3 clave, amongst other variations. There are three different claves in our Battery kit. The one weve used is the lower, traditional sort. The higher ones can be too cutting for a lot of music. > >

Next up is the cowbell part. Weve edited the volume envelope of the accented cowbell sound: a hand-held cowbell is played muted with the fingers to stop it resonating as it would if mounted on a stand. A minor detail, but the sort of thing that can ruin the texture of a groove if > not dealt with. >

Heres our cowbell part (Cowbell.mid). The two sounds represent the striking of the mouth and body of the instrument. A busy cowbell part can totally overpower a groove, so weve kept it simple. Weve left this part unquantised as it sounded fine the way it was. > >

Mute groups are very important when programming percussion. Even the slightest overlap of resonance can sound unnatural. Weve used three mute groups in our kit: one for the Cowbell and two for the mid and low congas. The open tone mid conga has been left out because it > sounds more effective with a bit of resonance. >

Panning is very important when dealing with lots of percussion parts, as it maintains clarity. As you pan instruments around, theyll disappear and then suddenly pop out. Its particularly essential with similar sounding instruments. Weve also set up a reverb on an aux bus and sends on each channel. The Shaker channel contains


| 063

make music now Latin percussion

STEP BY STEP Maracas, bongos and timbales

The Maracas, which is the last soundset weve > imported into our Latin kit. >

We needed to change the start point within Battery for one of the Maraca hits because there was a bit of silence at the beginning. We just did this nondestructively within Battery rather than editing the sample in an audio editor. > >

Once again, weve kept this particular thread in our percussive fabric simple. Always remember to be disciplined when programming individual parts its all too easy to get over-busy with the first few tracks, resulting in a cluttered sound later on. > >

This is our basic bongo part (Bongos.mid). Like the congas, the bongos utilise fingertip strokes and touches as well as accents. The subtlety of these > touches helps to make a percussion part sound effective. >

Were using five timbale sounds: the high drum, the low drum, the high drum accent, the side of shell one and the side of shell two. > >

A lot of the timbale work is done on the side of the shells, playing a cascara pattern. Heres the basic part without any hits or accents. > >


Theres room for hits and accents on both drums as well as some rim shots. Programming authentic solos on timbales via MIDI requires an awful lot of work, so for that we recommend using sampled phrases, which well come back to next month. > >

Heres an example of a subtle pick-up phrase played on > the timbales at the end of the bar. >

Heres our final salsa score, which you can play around with yourself by loading up all the MIDI files on the DVD. The important thing to grasp here is the overall concept of this type of rhythmic composition, rather than the actual patterns weve programmed. See you for more next month!