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Latin Percussion: Introducing Some Heat to your Beat

Author - Woodwind & Brasswind

Year after year Latin percussion is becoming more popular… so learning how to play the variety of instruments that are encompassed in that category is becoming a must for performing musicians everywhere. With infinite capabilities in seemingly endless genres, it’s no wonder this style of percussion is taking the world by storm.

Before deciding on one specific instrument, it’s important for musicians to understand how the general sound of Latin percussion works. Focusing on consistency of sound and overall playing quality will help you long-term, allowing you to get the most out of your play. Below are some starting guidelines for musicians being introduced to these instruments for the first time:

The importance of practicing percussion with recordings can’t be stressed enough. Playing along with a mix of styles, as well as jamming with already established players, will advance your skills leaps and bounds. Soon enough you’ll be keeping the beat along with the best of them.

  1. Start by understanding clave
  • Practice the different methods of clave
  • Practice with recordings
  • Practice in a group setting


  1. Begin with a single conga first
  • Practice the full tonal spectrum
    • Open tone
    • Dead stroke
    • Heal-tip technique
    • Close slap (be patient)
    • Open slap
  • Repetition of sound is key
    • Be consistent
    • Play basic pattern first
    • Practice in a group setting
    • Practice with recordings
  • When comfortable, upgrade to two drums


  1. Advance to bongo
  • Follow steps similar to the conga
  • Focus on the martillo pattern
  • Practice in a group setting


  1. Understand timbales
  • Choose between 12" & 13" or 14" & 15" arrangements
  • Practice the full tonal spectrum
    • Open tone
    • Closed / muffled tone
    • Rim shot
    • Abanico
    • Cascara / shell pattern
  • Work on blending cascara and clave patterns
  • Practice with recordings


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