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Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by Waltz123
6/25/2015  10:33:00 AM
Slight correction: In cha cha music, the "slap" sound is actually played by the conga on count 2. It's played by slapping the fingertips on the surface of the drum and momentarily retaining tension, which results in a snappier sound with a higher pitch.

The sound played on 4& is known as a "tone", which is played with a larger surface area of the hand rebounding instantly off of the drum, resulting in an open ringing tone of generally lower pitch.

For right-handed percussionists, these two sounds are played by the right hand, and provide the accents in the music.

There are two other more subtle subtle sounds, played by alternating the heel and fingertips of the left hand, which fill in the rest of the half-beats and provide a steady pulse. With these four sounds -- heel, tip, slap and tone, the most basic cha cha rhythm played on the conga goes like this:

Heel, tip, SLAP, tip, heel, tip, TONE, TONE.

If each of those sounds constitutes a half-beat (eighth note), then you can see that the three accented beats are 2, 4, and the "and" of 4.

When the conga drum is played solo, you can clearly hear each of those sounds. You might find it difficult to distinguish between heel and tip, but the important accents, slap and tone, stand out and are clearly identified. Heel and tip are just the subtle pulse in between.

Once you layer in other instruments, heel and tip get drowned out, and all that's really left are the accented beats, "... SLAP ...... TONE TONE ....... SLAP ....... TONE TONE". They give you as a dancer the cues for your break on 2, and your cha cha on 4&.

The best way to teach this sound to your ears is to start with a solo conga drum. Listen over and over until you are well aware of what this sounds like, then put on a more authentic cha cha song and listen for those sounds. They should be in exactly the same spot -- 2, and 4&.

The closest I've found so far on YouTube is a video of a guy named Jorge Santo teaching a slight variation of the basic rhythm, heel tip SLAP TONE heel tip TONE TONE, which adds an extra tone accent on the "and" of 2. It should be close enough that you get the basic idea:


I hope this helps!

Re: Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by terence2
6/25/2015  11:26:00 PM

Yep, there is a "slap " on 2.. BUT ..the sequence of 4 and 1 is set up by a dominant 4.. followed by "and" 1,2. This is prevalent in both the Guajira and Cha cha recordings, where as in Guajira a double syncopation is frequently heard..

Here's a good ex. of a strong dominant 4slap setting up the sequence
LA Maximas Lapiz Y Papel .

Even the Piano, as you probably know, also in the Son rhythms, which is the basis for ALL latin (and the Cha chas origin ) plays a dominant 4 in its 2 bars.

The 2nd bar in the 2 bar structure ,is where the Congas slap is most evident .
Ironically, there are many songs being used for Cha cha that are Guajiras ( this is danced with the syncope 1,2 3and4 ).
Re: Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by Voco
6/26/2015  10:57:00 PM
Hi Jonathan & Terence2,

Thanks for the discussion. Very helpful, indeed.

I listened to Jorge Santo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EKKoPJvLUA) and I can definitely recognize the 2 with the snappier sound with a higher pitch. The 4& I recognize by the half-beat.

However, it seems to me that many songs use different rhythm for the bar, for example, as terence2 mentioned (1,2 3 & 4). So now my question is: At competition will they always play the 2 3 4 & 1 version? And if they dont, just try to recognize the snappier 2, and use that as a reference?
Re: Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by Waltz123
6/27/2015  2:42:00 PM
At competition will they always play the 2 3 4 & 1 version? And if they dont, just try to recognize the snappier 2, and use that as a reference?

No, they won't. And this is, at least in my opinion, a major problem in today's competitions. The deejays are given major latitude with song selection, but that alone is not the problem. It's when it's paired with the rigidity of the judging panel's interpretation of musicality, that it creates a dilemma for the competitors: Should they be "musical" according to the norms, (e.g. always break on 2 in Cha Cha), or should they be *actually* musical and dance to what the current piece of music is begging for?

It would be lovely if either deejays were given stricter guidelines, or judges as a group would recognize and base their marks on true musicality. But for now it seems, neither one of those is likely. So in a competition environment there are times, when the deejay gets creative, that you may have to choose between the two. And for better or worse, you will always be rewarded for choosing the prescribed timing. If the music seems to be asking for something else, you have to try your best to ignore specific instruments, accents or melodies and simply ride along with the basic pulse, identifying beat 1 through the natural agogic stress of the beats as a whole.

The topic of what identifies beat 1 when there's no guaranteed instrumentation to help you is a huge can of worms that warrants a separate discussion of its own. I've attempted a few lessons on the subject here on Dancetalk in the past if you're in the mood to search for them. And I'm sure there are many more lessons to be found on the web to help you find the beat of music in general, without relying on specific styles or orchestrations thereof. And in the competition world, *that's* the skill you need, more than the ability to pick out the slap of a conga drum.

That having been said, if you are social dancing, I would always recommend following the music. If you hear a conga on 3&4 instead of 4&1, and it's screaming at you to break on 1 instead of 2, then by all means, follow it. All of these dances and timings came about precisely because people for generations simply did what came naturally to them, not because a dance teacher told them what was "correct".

Re: Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by Voco
6/27/2015  10:00:00 PM
Hi Jonathan,

I am suspecting that the fact that deejays, as well as teachers, are inconsistent with playing the CC music, is part of my problem of having difficulty identifying the start of the bar. You said there is a lot of literature on topic, but I have not come across them. This is the first time I see the issue addressed professionally. I think most dance teachers develop an intuition, and as intuitions go, they are difficult to explain so they dont talk about it much. Sometimes they say the downbeat is the one. So the student asks an innocent question: how can I tell which is the downbeat? The teacher answers: the one when the conductors baton comes down. Great explanation. Now the student has to visualize the conductor as well, making the issue even more complicated. Others say when the singer starts singing. However, that is not always true; sometimes they dont start on 1.

This tread is on CC, but may I turn it to Rumba for second? The dancer in CC normally accents the 1 (sometimes the 3). In Rumba (Latin) the 4 is commonly accented. Is there a musical explanation for that, or it is just a tradition? Also, could you refer to a Rumba song or instrumental music which shows similar elements that the Jorge Santo video demonstrates for CC?

This should be an important topic for many dancers, who like me, not musically gifted. Thanks for discussing it.
Re: Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by Waltz123
6/29/2015  9:29:00 PM
I am suspecting that the fact that deejays, as well as teachers, are inconsistent with playing the CC music, is part of my problem of having difficulty identifying the start of the bar.

I suspect the problem is that you're relying too heavily on specific instruments to give you cues about which beats to match to which accents. I'm not saying that people don't do this, but when they do it tends to be on a more "organic" level that requires very little conscious effort. If you have trouble simply identifying beat 1 of each measure, I would focus my attention on that skill alone, which has less to do with the orchestration of specific dance styles than it does general musicianship. In other words, forget (for now) what instrument accents the 2 beat in the authentic Cha Cha you hope the deejay might play, and focus instead on what, in music as a whole, tells you where beat 1 is.

All you ever *really* need to know is where to find 1. This may sound silly, but without beat 1, there can't be a beat 2, or 4, or anything else. Your brain relates everything to beat 1, and everything else as a consequence of that. So your first job is to find that beat. Once you do, it's not your job to count from there to another beat. Find 1, and then simply do the action that is supposed to happen on that beat.

That's the concept, anyway. And I know it's easier said than done, because learning to find 1 can be a long haul, depending on the student. But that's the target, and once you have it in your sights, you can pursue it more directly without distractions.

The first thing you should do is start simple. Musicality is, like anything else, a skill that you must build from the ground up. You wouldn't dream of trying to learn a full professional dance routine on your first dance lesson... It would be overwhelmingly difficult and leave you feeling frustrated and ready to quit, perhaps muttering something to the effect of, "I'll never be a dancer". But if you'd started with a Box Step and worked your way up slowly, you might someday achieve that advanced routine.

Likewise, if you've ever caught yourself thinking, "I'll never be musical enough to find the 1 beat", it's probably because you're pursuing music that's way too advanced. Latin music is especially difficult because it's highly syncopated with a great deal of saturated orchestration, and in some cases includes a bass line that's especially deceptive. So start by studying instead something more attainable -- the musical equivalent of the box step -- and work your way up.

The tricky thing about music is that for every rule there are a thousand exceptions. The ongoing joke in my music school went something like this: "X is always true, except when it isn't." At best you'll find a few things that are typical, but it's not long before you stumble upon the exception.

So rather than having someone like me list for you certain set of easily breakable rules like, "Lyrics usually start on count 1" or "The first beat of a song should start with the 'tonic' chord", a better approach is to start with songs you know, and deconstruct them to figure out what types of things give clues to the 1 beat. This type of training is far more effective because your ear picks up on things naturally on a much deeper level and in much greater quantity than you'll achieve through conscious analysis.

Lyrics make great cues, so pick songs with words, and use those words to cue you to 1. For example, if you like Oye Como Va, and you know that the syllable "Oy" is always on 1, you'll forever be able to dance easily on time to that song. And in the meantime, it'll teach your subconscious many other lessons about music in general, so you'll be able to naturally find the 1 in similar sounding songs with different lyrics.

(continued in next post)
Re: Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by Waltz123
6/29/2015  9:32:00 PM
(continued from previous post)

Since Oye Como Va starts with lyrics on 1, it might be a good idea next to learn a song or two whose lyrics specifically don't start on 1. Our Love Is Hear to Stay is an interesting Foxtrot with two notable qualities (i.e. "broken rules"): First, the lyrics start 3 beats early, with "It's very clear...". The word "clear" lands on 1. The phrase continues with "Our love is hear to stay", with the word "stay" landing on another 1. So the *ending* of each mini phrase is the *beginning* of the measure. Secondly, the "tonic" or "I" chord typically begins most songs since it does the best job of establishing what key the song is in. But this song begins with the "II" chord on the word "clear", and doesn't resolve to "I" until the word "stay" in bar 3. Learn this song, and you've added to your repertoire of what your ear naturally understands.

Pick your favorite 50 songs with lyrics, and work on 2 to 3 a week. They don't have to all be ballroom -- In fact, save ballroom music for later, or at least for the end of the list. It's more important that your list be varied in style, increasing only gradually in difficulty, and that it be comprised entirely of songs to which you know the words. Try to figure out where beat 1 is, and if you can't, have someone help you. Then memorize which words or syllables occur on the 1, and clap or tap along like a metronome, emphasizing 1 in each measure. Don't overdo it -- 2-3 songs a week maximum, but listen and clap along every chance you get. The brain needs time to process all that information.

The next 50 songs can be without lyrics. At this point your brain should be able to process certain melodic cues, harmonic progressions, or rhythmic accents that you can sing, either literally out loud or within your own head, that you can memorize as landing on beat 1. Again, get help if you need it to start, then memorize, memorize, memorize. Each song is not just another entry in your repertoire of songs, but another entire set of rules and exceptions that applies to music as a whole. The more songs you add, the less you'll need outside help to figure out the next one.

Sooner or later you'll be able to add music specific to ballroom. Each style has some elements that make identification easier, others harder. Overall, however, I'd say non-authentic march-like Tangos are the easiest overall, followed by Samba, then anything modern pop music-related, like non-authentic Cha Chas and slower Swings. Save authentic Latin music for last, especially Salsa, Mambo, Bolero, etc. Waltzes, both slow and Viennese tempo, run the gambit from least to most difficult, because while 3/4 and 6/8 music in general has a clearer agogic accent, stylistically there are many (especially en vogue today) that are very melodic and orchestral, making the beat itself more difficult for beginners to find. So as easy as some Waltzes might be, I'd save it for last, just in case.

Bottom line: Forget about 2, 3, 4, or anything in between. Forget conga drums, claves, slaps and tones. Forget this style and that style, and zero in on a single job: Find the 1. Everywhere. Every style, every rule, every exception. Listen actively and listen often. Until your ear is fully trained in this single exercise, the finer points will be lost on it. And remember: You can't have a 2 without a 1. So find 1... 2 is the beat that comes right after it. (c:

Re: Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by nloftofan1
7/4/2015  1:56:00 PM
Jonathan's comment "So find 1... 2 is the beat that comes right after it" really struck a chord. I have a friend who is an instructor (35 years experience) who teaches what he calls "Mambo/Salsa." His idea is that not many people dance Mambo, while Salsa is popular, because Salsa is easier. To do Mambo you have to break on the 2 beat, while Salsa breaks on 1 (I know that there are some exceptions to this rule). He thought people had trouble finding the 2 beat; he even said that he couldn't find the 2 beat. That last made no sense to me. I can find the 2 beat; just as Jonathan said, it's the beat after the 1 beat.

Maybe he was exaggerating when he said he couldn't find the 2 beat. "Hey, you're breaking on 2" he said once when I was dancing.

But now the point. Jonathan's advice is to find the 1, and there is a perfect song to help you work on finding it. Look for "One," from the musical "A Chorus Line." Try to find the original cast version. If somebody wanted to write a song designed to help you find the 1 beat, they could hardly do better. Not only is it a great Foxtrot (sorry, not a Cha-Cha), but the whole song is about counting--with emphasis on 1, obviously.
Re: Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by Voco
7/12/2015  11:03:00 PM
Thanks Jonathan and all the commentators for this discussion. Very interesting and helpful.
Re: Conga Drum in Cha Cha
Posted by Voco
7/12/2015  11:39:00 PM
Hi Jonathan,
To which version of Our Love Is Here To Stay are you referring? There are a half a dozen foxtrots of that song. Who is the singer? Or do you have a link? Thanks.

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