Claves (/ /,; Spanish: [ˈklaβes]) are a percussion instrument consisting of a pair of short, wooden sticks about 20–25 centimeters (8–10 inches) long and about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) in diameter. Although traditionally made out of wood (typically rosewood, ebony or grenadilla) many modern manufacturers, such as Latin Percussion, offer claves made out of fiberglass or plastic.
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Claves have been very important in the development Afro-Cuban music, such as the son and guaguancó. They are often used to play an ostinato, or repeating rhythmic figure, throughout a piece known as the clave.
The basic principle when playing claves is to allow at least one of them to resonate. The usual technique is to hold one lightly with the thumb and fingertips of the non-dominant hand, with the palm up. This forms the hand into a resonating chamber for the clave. Holding the clave on top of fingernails makes the sound clearer. The other is held by the dominant hand at one end with a firmer grip, much like how one normally holds a drumstick. With the end of this clave, the player strikes the resting clave in the center.
Traditionally, the striking clave is called el macho ("the male") and the resting clave is called la hembra ("the female"). This terminology is used even when the claves are identical.
A roll can be achieved on the claves by holding one clave between the thumb and first two fingers, and then alternating pressure between the two fingers to move the clave back and forth. This clave is then placed against the resonating clave to produce a roll.
Use in popular music
Claves are also utilized in the interstitial spaces of the Night Court theme.
Use in classical music
Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood is written for five pairs of claves.
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