Title: Out of Cuba--Elixir de la Vida; Trio Matamoros. Label: Topic Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: TSCD927. Track: 2.

Contextual Associations

Claves are concussion stick idiophones of Cuban origin. They are a standard rhythmic instrument in Latin American dance band music, especially the Cuban rumba and son, and have occasionally been written for in some orchestral, band, and percussion ensemble pieces. Jazz band orchestrations might also call for the clave when a Latin dance rhythm is being used, although trap set players might imitate their sound with rim-shot strokes. It is one of those instruments that when heard in whatever musical setting is capable of indexing Latin America in general and even Afro-Cuban music culture in particular, even if that is not the performers’ intent.


Claves consist either of two matched cylindrical hardwood sticks (the instrument on the right in the photo) or a large and small hardwood stick with an arched cut in the middle of the larger one (the instrument on the left). A resonant hardwood such as granadilla wood is desirable.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

With both models, the player holds one (or the larger) stick in the cupped palm of one hand and strikes it with the other stick held by its end in the other hand. Claves produce a sharp, clear and penetrating sound that can hold its own in even large ensembles. While its technique and the rhythms played on it are simple, in Afro-Cuban musical practice only a really strong musician should play the claves because its part is central to holding the entire ensemble together.


One theory as to the origins of the claves is that they were re-purposed wooden pegs used for ship repairs in Cuban harbors. The clave rhythm that is so central to several Cuban dance forms is known to have been around since the 1850s, possibly played at that time on these concussion sticks.

Bibliographic Citations

Blades, James. 1970. Percussion Instruments and Their History. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.

________. 1984. “Claves,” NGDMI v.1: 415.

Manuel, Peter. 2006. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. Revised and expanded edition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Tourtrol, Gérard. 1997. Cuba: The Valera Miranda Family. CD with booklet. Ocora C 560107.


Instrument Information


Continent: Americas

Region: Caribbean

Nation: Cuba

Formation: Afro-Cuban

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.11 idiophone--concussion sticks or stick clappers: two or more are struck against each other

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: rod

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded collectively

Resonator design: no resonator

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: concussing - direct

Sound exciting agent: colliding sonorous objects

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


16 in. length (left set) 7.9 in. length (right set)

Primary Materials



Latin Percussion


CLW-M97 and LP211R

Entry Author

Roger Vetter