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TUMBAO

Tumbao is an even pattern of 1/8th notes played in a band on the bass and conga drum. Unlike some hand-drum traditions where a given name refers to a certain rhythm (usually associated with a certain dance or music), tumbao is a collection of different patterns all of a certain type.

Typically, every 1/8 note is played in tumbao and there are usually no pauses as in other common rhythms. The arrangement of slaps, open notes, bass notes provide the rhythmic identity to a given tumbao while "touch" and heel-toe fill in the other beats producing the even sound. The pattern of open tones in particular tends to give identity to each different tumbao.

When a conga player [known in Spanish as a "conguero" (kohn-GAY-roh)] was added to dance orchestras in the 40s and 50s, they played tumbao on a single conga drum. Supposedly the first modern orchestra using a conga and bongos (about 1940) was a Cuban band leader named Arsenio Rodriguez.

Of course the folk use of the Conga drums extends clear back to Africa. These original African drums were slightly smaller and rope tuned. The metal conga tuning hardware is a modern "improvement". The single drum tumbao was later expanded to 2 drums. Typically, what were played as bass notes on the single drum were moved to a lower pitched open note on a second conga drum. Then, congueros went to 3 drums to allow more melodic phrasing from the open tones. Today even 5 congas are seen (For example Raul Rekow of Santana plays 5 congas with the open tones tuned to an opening phrase of a popular latin tune he likes).

Tumbao is relatively modern springing from the time when congas were introduced into the orchestras in Cuba. In the United States the tumbao would be called the "groove". A "groove" is a term musicians use to refer to a repeated rhythmic figure that drives a song. The name comes from the days of old 78 RPM phonographs. At times the old records would become damaged and repeat a given groove over and over each time the record would go around. Hence the term came to describe similar repeated phrases in music.

Single Drum Tumbao:

A common traditional single drum tumbao is given below in box notation. To modern players the pattern is rather old and boring, but nevertheless it is rather ubiquitous in conga playing. You hear it often in modern pop and rock (non-latin) music as percussionists have become more of a fixture in pop bands. Patterns for traditional tumbaos are for a single drum since early players used a single conga. Basic tumbao. 3-2 or 2-3 clave. Also is called Marcha.

H T
T H T

H T
T H T

Note the left hand "touch" after the slaps. Below is a variation of the basic tumbao with double strong hand slaps. Here the "touch" in the weak hand is replaced by a slap in the strong hand.
H T

H T

H T

H T

>When starting a tumbao the first note should always be a strong open tone on the high drum to help anchor and lock the rhythm.

T
T H T

H T
T H T


T

H T

H T

H T

While occasionally a tumbao starts with a "pickup" note such as a slap on beat "4", usually the pattern will start with the open note on "1" as shown. After the first measure the open note is replaced with the usual "heel" note. But even with a pickup note, the "heel" on note "1" is always replaced by an "open" for the starting measure.

A bass note can be used instead of the touch after the beginning open tone for even further emphasis to kick off the tune. Below are several variations of the basic single drum tumbao used in 2-3 Clave

H T
T H T

H T
T H T

H T
T H T H
H T
T H
H
H T
T H T

H T
T H T

Note that the variations revolve around the open tones at the end of each measure. Bass notes can also be used as variation substitutes. This is 2-3 clave.  
H T
T H T
H T
T B
B
A further modification using bass notes in 3-2 clave for a single drum is given below.
H T
T

H T
T H T

This is what is known as a Mambo or what is called today a "Salsa" tumbao. "Salsa" (SAHL-sah) is the Spanish word for sauce (usually a "hot" sauce) and the name came from a dance style in New York clubs which is basically the same as the older "mambo" although "salsa" does add some other dance styles into the pure mambo style. Thus, comes the name "sauce" implying a mix of ingredients.

The word "Mambo" (MAHM-boh) refers to a repeating instrumental section of a song known as montuno and refers to the dance done in that section. It does not refer to a specific type of rhythm or song form. But, popularly it is used to refer to the kind of music one does the "mambo" dance to. It is alleged that the modern "mambo" dance from which salsa springs also originated in New York City when traditional rumba bands became influenced by the swing craze of the 40s.

Two Conga Tumbao:

The single conga tumbao was expanded to two congas by such pioneers as Carlos "patato" Valdez, Mongo Saintamaria, Ray Romero and a number of others. The above mambo tumbao is easily transferred to double congas by simply changing the bass notes to open tones played on a second lower-tuned tumba.

Standard 3-2 clave Mambo 2-drum Tumbao

Conga
H T
< <   T

H T
T H T

Tumba

In 2-3 clave the measures are reversed to keep the low drum played in the "3" portion of the clave. This form of Mambo tumbao is also played for cha cha cha and son montuno.

Standard 2-3 clave Mambo 2-drum Tumbao

Conga
H T
T H T

H T
T

Tumba

Or the first measure can just be repeated

Conga
H T
<   <   T

H T
T

Tumba (Do not forget to replace the first "heel" with an Open tone on the high conga when starting!) A "modern" version sometimes alternates between the bass notes of the older single drum tumbao and the low opens of the above pattern. This gives a bit more interest to the patterns.

It is probably clear, that players might wish to have more expression available than a standard tumbao that goes on forever. They might, for example, wish to step up the intensity of the tumbao for certain sections of a song. There are a number of variations to the mambo tumbao that can accomplish this.

For an increased intensity the "toe" after the first "heel" can be changed to a slap as seen below:

Conga
H S
< < T

H S
T

Tumba With the more intense variations one typically starts and stops the tune with the basic tumbao. The increased tumbao is then used if required in an inner section of the song. Another Mambo tumbao variation would be: Conga
H T
T S O < H T
T< S< O < <
Tumba

A still more intense mambo tumbao variation is given below:

Conga


O < S
O S
O < S<
O < S

Tumba While a discussion of clave is rather beyond what we are trying to do here we will mention in passing that in playing two congas, clave is usually defined by playing the low drum on the "3" side of clave. However, some of the intensification patterns are exceptions.

 





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