As keyboardists, most of us have spent a fair amount of time working toward gaining independence between our left and right hand. But what about our other two limbs? Why should drummers have all the fun when we can use our feet, too?
Developing independence between all four limbs takes dedicated practice, and these simple exercises, utilizing the son clave, will help you begin the journey.
CLAVE IN THE HAND
Drummers constantly practice limb independence by tapping on whatever is around them. So for three of these exercises, we’ll focus on the rhythm of each limb and not worry about notes. The beauty is that these exercises can be practiced anywhere (while watching TV, in the office, sitting in traffic, etc.) with or without a metronome (although a metronome will always help).
Start by tapping quarter notes with your left foot. With your right hand, tap the 3-2 clave rhythm in Ex. 1. The 3-2 clave rhythm is what is known as a ‘keystone’ rhythm in Afro-Cuban music. This means it is the ‘key’ that locks all the other rhythms together in the ensemble, and it is useful in our exercises due to its syncopation.
Practice slowly and, once you feel comfortable try the other foot and hand: Tap quarter notes with your right foot and the 3-2 clave with your left hand (Ex. 2). Once you are comfortable with that, use both feet to alternate quarter notes.
Next, practice alternating the hands as you tap out the 3-2 clave while, at the same time, alternating quarter notes with the feet. For example, starting with your left hand, the clave pattern would be left, right, left, right-left. When you repeat, you have two options to practice: Beginning the pattern with the left hand again, or starting the next pattern with the right hand.
CLAVE IN THE FOOT
Because many of us tap quarter notes with our feet while playing, already, the above exercises may have been a bit easy. Let’s change it up and play the 3-2 clave with the feet (Ex. 3). The syncopation of the clave rhythm may trip you up at first, but that’s okay. Practice slowly and pay attention to where the off beats land. Once you are comfortable playing the clave with each foot on its own against quarter notes in the hands, divide the clave rhythm between both feet by playing the first note with your left foot, the second with your right, the third with the left, and so on. Once you’re comfortable with that, practice the pattern starting with your right foot.
CLAVE IN THE BASS
Jazz organist John Patton used a variation of the clave rhythm for many of his bass lines, such as in his song “Latona” from the album Let ’em Roll. The bass line is deceptively simple and never changes key. The difficulty, however, is in improvising over the top.
Begin by practicing the bass line on the pedals until it becomes second nature, using one foot and then both feet. Next, add the melody with the right hand (Ex. 4). The left hand can hold a Gb minor chord or play the chord in a 3-2 clave rhythm. To gain greater limb independence, play various subdivisions with either hand over the top. Remember, start slowly and use a metronome whenever possible.