The Power Of The Clave

The clave is a percussion instrument used widely in Latin forms of music. The rhythm it is often tasked with playing also makes a good starting point for constructing cool sounding riffs, phrases and melodies. Many great sounding lead guitar parts can be at your fingertips once you know this simple trick. To begin with you’ll need to meticulously plan the phrases you’ll be constructing using this technique, but before long you should find that you can do it on the fly, whilst improvising.

Here, then, is what is at the core of this immensely useful phrasing template. Begin by counting a two bar rhythm of quavers as 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.

Next, place an emphasis on the “1” of the 1st bar, then the “&”of the “2” and on the downbeat of the “4”. Then, in the 2nd bar, emphasize the “2” and the “3”. This will give a pattern of emphasized beats, or “accents” which looks like this:

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &… and sounds like THIS.

Sounds quite “Bo Diddley” doesn’t it? For that very reason, this rhythmic pattern is often known as a “Bo Diddley beat”. Its “text-book” name, however, is the Son Clave 3-2 rhythm. For the purpose of the examples we’re going to deal with here, we’ll be concentrating on the 1st bar of the two bar sequence as this will help prevent everything you use it for sounding like a Bo Diddley song.

On to our 1st example then. This is a rock riff which could easily be developed into a song. All I’ve done here, as far as note choices go, is to spell out the A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G) along the length of the 5th string, placing power chords based on these notes on all of the accented parts of the rhythm. Please refer to the TAB for more details & click HERE to hear the riff being played. If this sounds familiar, like you’ve heard it being used before, then you’d be right… this basic “template” has been used by many bands to conjure up cool sounding riffs. Now you know the secret, you can do it, too!

Rock Riff Based on 1st Bar of Son Clave 3-2 Rhythm:


The next example is a basic melody idea. Here, I’ve used only the accented notes for the melody – just the “1”, the “&” of the 2, and the “4”. I’ve also omitted the 2nd of these notes in every alternate bar, just to add a little variety. The chord sequence I’m playing over here is:

C / / / D / / / G / / / Em / / /

C / / / G / / / Am / F / D / / / (end on G)

Scale choice is the G major pentatonic (G A B D E ) with a few additional chord notes thrown in. For more details on how to make note choices for an effective melody, please see my earlier post on this topic HERE. Look at the TAB below to see the melody written out & click HERE to hear it played.

Melody Based on 1st Bar of Son Clave 3-2 Rhythm:


For the final example, I’ve improvised a typical 12 bar blues solo, using the A minor pentatonic scale. Throughout, I was using the phrasing template from the previous example to generate my licks and, once again we end up with a cool sounding lead guitar part. The TAB shows the solo & to hear what it sounds like, click HERE.

12 Bar Blues Solo Based on 1st Bar of Son Clave 3-2 Rhythm:


What you should see is that this incredibly versatile rhythm can be used to deliver a whole host of great, and diverse, sounding guitar parts. Why not try it for yourself? You’ll soon be able to instinctively conjure the rhythm and drop it into your playing any time you want.

Until next time, have fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

The John Robson Jazz Project


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