Chekere Latin PercussionLatin Percussionist Newsletter Issue 9 Fall 1999

The Quinto Lock

David Peñalosa Latin PercussionistThe Quinto Lock

by David Peñalosa 

Rumba is an Afro-Cuban folkloric hybrid, originating from Havana and Matanzas. There are three main styles of rumba: yambú, guaguancó, and columbia. The lead drum of rumba is the high pitched conga drum called quinto. Rumba quinto from Matanzas has a beautiful configuration and a more formal structure than its counterpart from Havana, especially as it was played in the past. The first two recordings made by Los Muñequitos de Matanzas 1 offer the clearest example of this; they are a "quinto bible" for every student. The quinto player you hear on those records is Esteban Domingo Vega Bacallao, better known as "Chachá". Now in his seventies, he carves drums in his modest home and is also recognized by many as the greatest living batá drummer of Cuba.

The Quinto Spot

The most fundamental stroke of quinto is the subdivision immediately following the first downbeat (3-2 clave). I call this place in time the quinto spot.

The Quinto Spot

The Quinto Root

Quinto root is the name I give to the three most important strokes played by the lead drum in rumba. The quinto root is the basis for quinto in all forms of rumba, be they from Matanzas or Havana. This figure is rhythmically the same as the "3 side" of son clave (tresillo), but it begins on the quinto spot. The quinto root can also be interpreted in a triple feel, in which case it's based on the off-beat six cycle.

Example 02. The Quinto Root on next page

The Quinto Root

As is revealed in the above example, the quinto root echoes the first three strokes of clave, sounding on the pulses immediately following clave. Son clave is given here because it was the original clave used in yambú, a form of rumba older than guaguancó. Also, the dramatic contrast between son clave and the quinto root may offer some insight into the origins of quinto. Although all forms of rumba quinto employ both triple and quadruple divisions of the beat, yambú and guaguancó tend to be more in a 4/4 feel while rumba columbia, has a strong 6/8 feel. Often rumba's various parts, even the rumba clave itself, have a feeling of both 4/4 and 6/8, or being somewhere in between the two. This rather esoteric aspect of the music is best understood over time, through constant listening.

The Quinto Lock

The recordings made by Los Muñequitos during the 1950's present the clearest example of classic quinto; these renditions became archetypes for the stylistic developments of the following decades. This classic quinto has three main modes. For this article we shall deal with the first mode: the lock. The quinto lock is an alternating tone-slap phrase based on the quinto root; it typically spans two cycles of clave.

The alternating tone-slap aspect of the lock does not mean that the tone-slap sequence is reversed exactly. As a general rule, we play more tones than slaps as you can see from the following example of the basic lock mode. There are two open tones in both claves of the lock. Although the distance between the tones is the same in both claves, their relationship to clave is different.

Example 03-KEY to symbol

Example 03-KEY to symbol

Example 04-Basic Lock

A helpful rule of thumb is that tones are followed by slaps and vice versa. In other words, if you end a phrase with a tone, you begin your next phrase with a slap; conversely, a phrase ending with a slap is followed by a phrase beginning with an open tone. This dynamic is present in all the quinto modes.

Example 04-Basic Lock

Example 05-Three Primary Variations of the Lock

The primary variations of the lock are created by doubling any or all of the three strokes of the root. Quinto variation 1 doubles the first stroke of the root; quinto variation 2 doubles the second stroke of the root; quinto variation 3 double the third stroke of the root. Variation 3 is the least used variation, presumably because it falls on the fundamental open tone of the segundo.

These example are presented as a structured, methodical prototype for a fluid music. They ordinarily are not played verbatim as shown here. Typically, the pattern you play is not an exact rhythmic mirror image of the previous clave. Consider these exercises a good start on your path to quinto playing. There is no substitute for the total immersion in the music and the skills gained from consistent practice over a long period of time.

example 05 variations of the lock

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

The more flamboyant nature of the quinto's cross-rhythmic patterns are what most student drummers seem to be attracted to. It's common for us to pick off riffs from recordings, gradually adding more and more riffs to our vocabulary. The lock is an elusive and less well known quinto ingredient in the United State. It is the quinto part that when combined with the tumbao and segundo, creates the standard three drum melody.

Example 06 KEY

example 06 KEY

rumba clave

One advantage to learning the lock is that it forces one to play in a state of hyper clave awareness. Manipulation, or what I call the "torquing" of clave, is the key to mastering the art of improvising in this music.

Applications for Modern Band Drumming

The quinto root was also integrated into the popular band conga drum tumbao in the style know as songo. The doubling of the strokes of the quinto root are common variations in songo as well.

Example 08 KEY

example 08 KEY

ex-08-rumba clave

About the Author:

David Peñalosa is on the faculty of the annual two-week long course Explorations in Afro-Cuban Dance and Drums held on the University of California, Arcata campus. He also answers musical questions at the "Ask Dr. Clave" webpage at David's full quinto lesson plan will be included in his upcoming book: Clave: The Key / Rhythmic Principles for Playing, Improvising, and Composing Clave Music.