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THE SIX CORE MOTIONS - IN DEPTH

CORE MOTION A - [palm-tip] - 

This is the basis of the simplest and, possibly, most central item in the whole congas lexicon: the tumbao. In it this movement functions as an underlaying pulse, over which all the main open and slap accents are woven. On its own, played continuously, it is the most basic form of ostinato in the independence studies initiated by the great Changuito, and a lot of the exercises in this method will be expansions of, or digressions from, his seminal inspirations.

In progressing with your technique and proficiency - this is particularly directed to beginners and intermediate students - always keep in mind this golden rule: a good sounding, fat tumbao can only go as fast as the speed in which you can still execute the palm-tip movement WITH YOUR RIGHT HAND (for right-handed players) in a relaxed, comfortable and musical way. Anything faster than that will need some attention. It is therefore important to make the exercises of this group a daily routine.

CORE MOTION B - p-[p-t-t-p-p-t-t-p-] - RLRLRLRL -

(“base del guaguancó” or “baqueteo”)

Again this is one of the most common and basic elements of the congas vocabulary. It is often mentioned as the “base de la rumba”, or also “baquetéo”, and a lot of times you will in fact hear players starting with this module before embarking on a full blown guaguancó. This is a way of settling into the pulse, locking into the claves and creating a solid bottom layer over which the final groove can flourish and be constructed. Exercises based on this movement will often consist of phrases and accents inspired by the rhythms of the rumba and comparsa family.

Similarly to the role of the palm-tip pulse of the left hand in the tumbao, or “salsa” rhythm, the basic principle behind this series of exercises is that the main sequence of p-t-t-p-p-t-t-p is constant, and whatever happens in the realm of the open tones and slaps will replace the respective sound on the p-t-t-p-p-t-t-p grid, and will always return to it.

CORE MOTION C - [p-p-t-t-p-p-t-t-] - RLRLRLRL -

("base del tres dos matancero")

This Core Motion is so strictly related to the one above that it may as well have been called B1. Also a “base” for the rumba, it is originated from what is the undercurrent of the tres-dos in the guaguancó of Matanzas. To my judgment however, it appears to be a sort of dead end in the instrument’s lexicon, and it only finds limited musical applications outside of its own traditional occurrence; this is also reflected in the amount of exercises dedicated to it in this method. That noted, and despite it being arguably an end to itself, it is nevertheless due its own rightful place in this list.

CORE MOTION D - [p-t-p-t-p-t-p-t-] - RRLLRRLLRRLL - 

This is basically a double stroke, applied to the palm-tip motion; many of its possible utilisations are in fact straight transpositions of most snare drum rudiments into congas, and for these there is already plenty of literature available elsewhere. It differs however, from the double-open / double-slap so common in contemporary congas playing, and for which, again, the best reference is the Gene Krupa and all commonly available studies on the snare drum rudiments. For its very nature, a number of studies on this method will be speculations and digressions of the general idea of double-stroke rolls, contextualised however specifically for congas.

CORE MOTION E - [p-t_p-t_p-t_p-t_] - (LLRLLRLLRLLR) - 

Without the last eight of the triplet, which in most cases can be treated as a ghost note, this is the ternary equivalent to Core Motion A. This is due to the way many Afro-American rhythms have naturally evolved, which manifests an interchangeability between certain binary and ternary constructions, and may be clarified in the following example:

These two rhythmic cells (which, to be clear, have exactly the same sticking), and the many steps one can gradually go through while morphing between one and the other, are the key to understand the elusive “swing” that many African and especially Latin-American rhythms have, both binary and ternary.

Similarly to CORE A, many of my studies employ it as an ostinato for independence exercises. Taken singularly, and not as a repeating pattern, it is on par with CORE D the familiar double stroke useful for embellishments, ruffs, drags, and also a useful grid filler to readjust sticking while playing main parts with the other hand. Again, similarly to CORE D, all the studies that are basically transposition of traditional snare drum rudiments are left out of this method, or at best only suggested as a starting point for individual exploration.

CORE MOTION F - [p-t-t-p-t-t-p-t-t-p-t-t-] - (RLRLRLRLRLRL) - 

Here is an interesting subject. This particular combination of the palm-tip movement doesn’t appear in any pattern of the entire traditional repertoire of the congas; yet it feels almost like a natural consequence, almost like it’s always been there, but never manifested itself. Something similar, at least the basic sticking, is quite frequent in the ghosting of West-African drums, and djembe playing more specifically. Here, it has been made idiomatic for congas, and will form the basis for many interesting exercises.

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