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Quick suggestions for playing Latin/Cuban music?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by BertBert, Jun 21, 2003.

  1. BertBert


    Nov 9, 2002
    Some help, please, with the following situation:

    The good news is that I got a call today from out of the blue from a guy in a local Latin/Cuban band wanting me to sit in and rehearse with them. (Evidently their bass player just left the band and they are needing a replacement.) The bad news is that it's TOMORROW and while I have listened to this style of music in the past, I have never really sat down to think about it or play it seriously.

    I'm currently in a frenzy of listening to audio clips of Tito Puente, Puerto Rico AllStars, etc. on the internet and I think I'm getting the overall feel of how the bass guitar works in this style of music, but it's a lot different than the genres I usually play (rock/blues/stuff in church). For example I am used to playing in sync with the bass drum, but in Latin it seems more like you ARE the bass drum and you play more in sync with the horn section. Even having a horn section is quite different.

    Can anybody dispense some useful, generic, QUICK suggestions for playing this style of music with the correct feel? This isn't necessarily an audition for a full time gig, and I am not chomping at the bit to get into the band, but I'd rather not embarass myself tomorrow! Thanks...
  2. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    "Latin Music" is a huge multifarious category that encompasses many different genres.

    One characteristic that many of them share is that the bass does NOT play on the one; you will be playing lots of dotted quarters and eighths/sixteenths tied to other things across bar lines. If you are playing any downbeats, they will be often appear in the middle of two- (or more) bar figures. If you're not used to this, get used to it! While Latin basslines are not technically difficult, they require a lot of time to internalize mentally if you are used to playing standard blooz-rock. I recommend taking some time to write out or read the lines so you get a feel of where the accents lie.

    The drumset is a latecomer to Latin American music, so the bass drum isn't necessarily what you want to lock in with. A typical Latin rhythm section usually includes a timbale player and a conga player. At least one of these guys will be maintaining a clave, though the instrument it's on may be anything (often a cowbell or woodblock though). That's your timekeeper. Follow it if you get lost.

    There's really too much to cover generally, so if you run into any problems after your gig, I recommend posting more specific questions on this forum.
  3. BertBert


    Nov 9, 2002
    Well, I'm back from the gig and it went well although I feel like I've been through the mental wringer. One thing that dawned on me last night was: This group has a horn section, which means... flats. Lots and lots of flats in the key signatures. And I was on the money with that one. You really haven't lived till you've sight-read an uptempt Brazilian dance piece in D-flat at regluar tempo with a VERY talented band. :eek:

    I see what Christopher meant about the downbeat and following the percussion. Good advice there. This group has a drummer and a percussionist but unfortunately the perc. guy didn't show up.

    The group had a very detailed library of charts, but one thing I found was that in some places (such as the D-flat piece) trying to read the notes on the page was just confusing me... so I tried to listen for the patterns in the line and just follow those. I noticed that when I detached from the sheet music like that, the drummer was a lot happier.

    So I had a good time, made some new musical acquaintances, and learned a few things about playing this kind of music. I got lost a few times but didn't panic and held my own. I think that got me a lot of good marks from the band members. So it's all good.