So ... what are the instruments used in salsa/mambo music?


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Following on from Cat's thread on Lack of Salsa Music Knowledge I thought it might be interesting to try and devise a "definitive" list of the instruments used in salsa/mambo, but first, some information I found in previous posts here. To try and have a comprehensive list, I am going to create another post which will start the list of. If you are going to add an instrument/explanation, please copy the list and add to it :D

For further reading :wink: :arrow: What musical instrument moves you emotionally

:arrow: Pelao wrote in Percussion Instruments in Salsa Music
Theres the timbales, which are metal looking drums. There are two, one is the macho (small one - higher pitch), and the hembra (big one - low pitch). They use plastic patches (usually remo brand). There are three attachments commonly used (at least 2 are always used). One is the [optional] clave. The other is the cha cha cha bell (kinda small lookin). The other is the mambo bell. This one is critical in salsa/mambo music. This one is played in the mambo parts of a salsa (salsas, just like other music, have different phases they go through [i.e. - montuno, mambo, moña, etc.]). It has a distinct rhythm, and another instrument played with it is the bell from the bongo (during mambo though - commonly). Also, in parts where its not in the mambo phase, we play whats called the 'son' (or we also call it 'cascara' because of how the timbal plays the cascara) - here the timbal plays the cascara (the shells of the timbales); it has a distinct rhythm too (also called the cascara). The son is the part where theres not so much action, a bit quieter, and the singer is singing phrases where all the lines connect fluidly like a story (basically, this is not the chorus/mambo part yet).

The bongo, which is two small drums connected together, uses, traditionally goatskin patches. Now some people use cowhide (which I personally hate on any instrument). But remo has developed something better than that cowhide crap - fiberskyn (an artificial skin). It feels a lot like goatskin and it has a good sound on both congas and the bongo. Once again, the small one is the macho, and the big one is the hembra. The macho is tunes pretty high, and the hembra low (an octave apart tuning). The most common rhythm played is the 'martillo'. All played on on beat. The slaps/fills are played on the upbeats (these are the parts you can easily hear in salsa cause they're louder than the usual volume of the martillo - this means that the bongo has to change volume a lot too, the way the timbal does too). In the part where the mambo is being introduced, you won't always here the bongo bell come in yet, because its like the intro of whats to come - something heavy you know. So in this part where only the mambo bell of the timbal is playing, the bongo does a bunch of repiques (fills) usually - this is like building-up to something big. Then finally, there might be a little break here or there, or maybe not - but right on the 1 beat of the loop (usually 16 beats total which is 4 measures long), the bongo bell comes in. This is the actual mambo of the song, and is also the chorus part (the 'llamado y respuesta' [something percussionists also do when they play together] is how it is characterized, and/or having 'pregones' too).

The congas (actually its a conga and tumbadora, and/or a quinto - all different sizes and pitches). Usually, they play the same tumbao rhythm throughout the song (this rhythm is so distinct and known by everyone, I know all of you already know it - so I won't explain it). Throughout the rhythm theres always one hand you always use, and then the one that does the covered slap, open tones, and open tones on the tumbadora also. The other hand is used less, but is the one that is most audible in the tunes.

:arrow: looyenyeo wrote in Percussion Instruments in Salsa Music
There are commonly four out-and-out percussionist types/roles in afro-cuban music:

Conga (conguero)
Provide the underlying steady rhythmic stream (the bedrock of the song), with a few variations and occassional solos/breaks. There are four different sizes in decreasing order of head size: tumba, conga, quinto, requinto. The last two are mainly soloing/accenting drums, the requinto is not common to salsa music.

Bongo (bongocero)
Higher pitched, the bongo tones ride above the conga patterns and provide the rhythmic accents and fills i.e. like a lead guitar to the conga's bass guitar.
Usually the bongo player changes to the bongo bell upon entering the montuno passage, playing the open tones on 1,3,5,7. This has the effect of giving the song a stronger rhythmic pulse for the clave to push/pull against, and is played early to give the song more drive.

Timbales (timbalero)
Originally derived from the timpani, now smaller and high sounding. The timbale array commonly features a chachacha bell (small high pitched bell), timbale or salsa bell (longer, flatter bell with a versatile range of tones), wood block (for clave and caña brava style sounds), and cymbals (splash, crash, ride).

A highly syncopated rhythmic stream is commonly played on the shells called casacara, although variants are played on the bells and cymbals as well. The role of the timbalero is to provide metallic ride patterns over the conga to push the song along. It's the loose equivalent of the rhythm guitar. The timbalero also plays fills and accents in a role similar to that of the bongocero.

Hand percussion
Would include clave, maracas, guiro, shaker, chekere etc. These provide a thickness to the percussion layer and tend to reinforce the pulse (except the clave). Vocalists are generally recommended to play them to improve their vocal phrasing.

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Re: So ... what are the instruments used in salsa/mambo musi

The list - please add to/move around the list, where appropriate :wink: inserting headings etc so that we can have a comprehensive list please. :banana: I am not a musician therefore, all mistakes made here are innocent :D

Percussion Instruments
- Timbales: two types, macho (small, high pitch) and hembra (big, low pitch)

Attachments to the Timbales
- clave
- timbale or salsa bell
- cha cha cha bell (kinda small looking)
- mambo bell
- bell from the bongo (during mambo though - commonly)
- cascara (the shells of the timbales)

Hand percussion
- maracas
- guiro
- shaker
- chekere
- cowbell
- cymbals

- tumba (1)
- congo (2)
- quinto (3)
- requinto (4) (the number 1-4 are all drums from the same "family" reducting in size)
- tumbadora
- bongo (two small drums connected together)

- trumpet
- trombone/trombons
- saxaphone

- flute

- guitar
- violin
- piano
- bass

Other = as in I don't know what category to list them under! :D
- wood block (for clave and caña brava style sounds)
- vocalist/singer

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