Beyond Salsa for Beginners Intro for Dancers and Fans


Beyond Salsa for Beginners: An Introduction to Latin Music for Dancers and Listeners  is the flagship volume for the sprawling Beyond Salsa series that includes multi-volume sets of books on each instruments of the Cuban rhythm section: piano, bass, drums, timbales, bongó, congas, clave, ensemble, and so on.

The complete, unabridged 248-page book is available in print and as an eBook as well as in the abridged online version that you’re currently reading here. There are 110 free, downloadable audio files and another 200 audio files available as a $10 download.

Buy now

Read more and download free audio (LPM)

Table of Contents

The introductory volume alternates between two different types of chapters:

Listening Tours

Clapping, Singing and Dancing Exercises

The Listening Tours cover the full history of Cuban music: Afro-Cuban folkloric music, rumba, changüí, comparsa, son, danzón, son montuno, songo, timba, salsa et al. For each genre we have a “highlighted track” – analyzed with time stamps to point out the main features. After a short history of the genre and its place in the overall scheme of things, we have a Further Listening list. The idea is to make a playlist of the highlighted tracks and listen repeatedly to develop an emotional connection with the music before studying the chapter.

Interspersed among the Listening Tours are four Rhythmic Exercises chapters on clapping, counting and singing the basic rhythms on which all of this music is based: clave, the basic dance steps, cinquillo, tresillo, and all the other essential rhythms of Latin music.

This is the Table of Contents for the complete print and eBook versions of Beyond Salsa for Beginners: An Introduction to Latin Music for Dancers and Listeners.

download PDF of TOC


Listening Tour 1: Pre-Revolution (1900-1959)

Category Track Source
son Tres lindas cubanas Sexteto Habanero: Las raíces del son – Tumbao Cuban Classics (YouTube)
danzón Mi gran pasión Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Mi gran pasión – Pimienta Records (YouTube)
son montuno Tintorera ya llegó Arsenio Rodríguez: Legendary Sessions –Tumbao Cuban Classics (YouTube)
danzón-mambo Arcaño y su nuevo ritmo Arcaño y su Maravilla: Danzón-mambo – Tumbao Cuban Classics
“jazzbands” Qué bueno baila usted Beny Moré: The Great Beny Moré, Vol. 3 – Black Round Records (YouTube)
1950s charangas Fajardo te pone a gozar José Fajardo: Chachachá in Havana – Panart (YouTube)
1950s descargas Descarga cubana Cachao y su Ritmo Caliente: Cuban Jam Sessions – Balboa (YouTube)


Listening Tour 2: Post-Revolution (1960-1989)



Song Source


Plástico Rubén Blades and Willie Colón:Siembra – Fania (YouTube)


Nace en Cuba el mozambique Pello el Afrokán: Nace en Cuba el mozambique – Orfeon (YT)



Ponte para las cosas

Los Van Van: Colección, Vol. 2 –EGREM (YouTube)

modern charangas


Baila si vas a bailar

Ritmo Oriental: La historia de la Ritmo, Vol. 2 – QBADisc (YouTube)

modern jazzbands


Bacalao con pan

Irakere: Bacalao con pan – Escondida (YouTube)

modern conjuntos


A Bayamo en coche

Son 14: Grandes éxitos – EGREM (YouTube)



Changüí clave

Elio Revé y su Charangón: Volume 2 – BIS (YouTube)


Listening Tour 3: Timba

Group Year Song Source
NG La Banda 1994 Picadillo de soya Simplemente lo mejor de NG La Banda – BIS
Charanga Habanera 1996 Nube pasajera Pa’ que se entere La Habana– Inspector de la Salsa
Issac Delgado 1997 Se te fue la mano Exclusivo para Cuba – Ciocan
Paulito FG 2000 Enredadera de amor Una vez más … por amor –PROMUSIC (YouTube)

Manolín el Médico

1997 Pegaíto, pegaíto De buena fe – Metro Blue (Caribe) (YouTube)

Manolito y su Trabuco

2007 Hablando en serio Hablando en serio – EGREM


1997 Consejo a una amiga Concierto Eurotropical I –Eurotropical (YouTube)


1999 Ya no hace falta Ya no hace falta – Ahí Namá

Azúcar Negra

1998 Te traicionó el subconciente (different version – look for demo) Azúcar Negra –
Los Van Van 1997 Esto te pone la cabeza mala Te pone la cabeza mala –Caribe
Los Que Son Son 2004 De la Timba a Pogolotti Mi timba cerrá – EGREM
Elito Revé y su Charangón 2005 Dale agua al dominó Se sigue comentando – BIS
Havana d’Primera 2009 Cosas de un amigo Haciendo historia – Ahí Namá


Listening Tour 4: Folkloric Music

Category Song Source

Yoruba: batá

Oru seco

Abbilona – any of Volumes 1-8 – EGREM

Yoruba: güiro


Antología de la música afrocubana, Volume 8 – EGREM

Yoruba: iyesá

Cantos a Ochún y Oyá

Afroamérica: Chants et rythmes afrocubains – VDE-Gallo

Yoruba: bembé


Grupo AfroCuba de Matanzas: Raíces africanas – Shanachie

Carabalí: abakuá

Ritmo abakuá

Muñequitos de Matanzas: Guaguancó matancero – TCC

Bantú: palo


Les danses de dieux – Ocora (Harmonia Mundi)

Bantú: makuta


Iyabakuá: Afrekete – Pan

Bantú: yuka

Palo, yuka and makuta

Conjunto Folklórico Nacional – YouTube video  Latidos

Dahomey: arará

Tierra arará

Los Hermanos Arango: Las estrellas del folklor – BIS

Dahomey: tumba francesa

Tumba francesa

Ballet Folklórico CUTUMBA de Santiago: Ritmos Afrocubanos, Vol. 1 – Academy of Cuban Folklore and Dance

Dahomey: vodú


Ballet Folklórico CUTUMBA de Santiago: Ritmos Afrocubanos, Vol. 1 – Academy of Cuban Folklore and Dance

12-8 in popular music

Oyan coro

Elio Revé y su ritmo changüí – (vinyl-Siboney) (YouTube)


Loma del chivo es

Grupo Changüí de Guantánamo: Bongó del monte – EGREM

Conga de comparsa

Conga oriental

Ban Rarrá: Con sabor del guaso – Mayulí

Rumba: guaguancó

La gitana

Muñequitos de Matanzas: Rumba abierta – West Side Latino

Rumba: yambú

Conga yambumba

Muñequitos de Matanzas: Live in New York – QBADisc

Rumba: columbia

Campana de oro

AfroCuba de Matanzas: Cuba in Washington – Smithsonian

Rumba: guarapachangueo

Callejón de los rumberos

Yoruba Andabo: Callejón de los rumberos – Universal Latino

Chapter 1 is all about feeling the basic groove of Latin music and choosing your favorite of our six methods for learning the clapping and singing exercises:

1) just listen and copy (fast and slow)

2) matrix notation (dots in squares)

3) X&o notation

4) standard 16th note notation

5) standard 8th note notation

6) special “build-the-rhythm” method
(doesn’t apply to the exercise below – only for harder rhythms)

You can download all of the audio files for this chapter for free, in a zip file, here. (Future note: these files will also be useful for readers of the upcoming Beyond Salsa Percussion Vol. 1 for Beginning Drums and Timbales). 

Excerpt from Chapter 1:

Ruedo con Ritmo - photo by Patrick HickeyRyan & Sidney of Rueda con Ritmo – photo by Patrick Hickey

With music, you’re measuring time. If the smallest subdivision you’re feeling is one beat, that’s like having a yardstick with only the inches marked. If you measure someone’s height as 5’9”, that’s fine for most purposes, but if you used this level of accuracy to measure a critical part for the space shuttle, you’d be putting people’s lives in danger. Playing or dancing with an accuracy level of one beat will not kill your audience, fellow musicians or dance partners, but it may very well make themwish they were dead. To play or dance Latin music at a professional level, you have to feel four subdivisions per beat and you have to make sure your audience and dance partners feel them too.

Let’s learn a short repeating rhythmic figure, or rhythmic cell. This one is called main beats, and consists of a percussive sound (or stroke) on the first of every group of four subdivisions. We use a black dot, or bullet (•) to indicate each stroke of the rhythm. Listen to Audio Track 1-3a and/or Audio Track 1-3b while following along with each of the four diagrams. We provide two audio tracks of each rhythmic cell – “a” (faster) and “b” (slow motion) and, later on, two others: fast and slow “c” and “d” versions using our special method of building rhythms event by event. If you prefer a different tempo, there are many free or inexpensive software programs that will allow you to change the tempo or loop sections to create longer practice tracks.

Note that not all types of music use this “four groups of four” type of grid. Three groups of four (e.g., waltz time, or 3/4) and four groups of three (e.g., shuffle time, or 12/8) are common and all sorts of other combinations occur in classical music, modern jazz, some pop, and many types of music from India and Eastern Europe. In every major genre of Latin popular music, however, it’s always four groups of four. The only exception that we’ll eventually need to concern ourselves with is Afro-Cuban folkloric music, which often uses four groups of three, but every popular music rhythm in this book can be expressed very clearly with these four-by-four grids. We’ll study Afro-Cuban folkloric music in Listening Tour 4 and the special chapter on rhythmic perspective.

Chapter 2 consists of basic rhythms that repeat after only two beats.

Excerpt from Chapter 2:

Exercise 2-2 is commonly called tresillo. It creates the feeling of “three-over-two” but the durations have to be “squared off” to fit into eight subdivisions, with a spacing of 3-3-2.

Exercise 2-2: tresillo • Audio Tracks 2-2a-d

Audio Files – right-click to play or download

Audio Track 2-2a – full speed

Audio Track 2-2b – half speed

Audio Track 2-2c – trainer method – full speed

Audio Track 2-2d – trainer method – half speed

As explained earlier, the “four groups of three” grid shown above is used in more than half of the rhythms of Afro-Cuban folkloric music, but not in the popular music rhythms studied in this book.

When looped as a two-beat cell, tresillo and its close relative cinquillo (Exercise 2-4) are the core rhythmic feel of many genres, such as makuta, calypso, rumba flamenca, reguetón and the masónsection of tumba francesa. Tresillo is also half (the “3-side”) of the son clave rhythm, discussed in Chapter 3. We won’t cover clave in this chapter because it lasts four beats before repeating.

Tresillo also means “triplet” in Spanish, in which case it refers to the following 12/8 cell, with three strokes of equal length, spaced 2-2-2.

Chapter 3 consists of basic rhythms that repeat after four beats, such as clave, the basic dance step, and most of the basic parts of the timbales, drums, congas and bongó.

Excerpt from Chapter 3:


Exercise 3-8 is called 3-2 son clave.

The difference between 3-2 and 2-3 clave is obvious on paper – you just swap the first two beats with the last two beats. You’re simply starting at a different point in the same rhythmic cycle.

Tricky rhythms for beginners? Sorry about that, but there is a method to this madness. Here’s the problem. The premise of the book is to listen over and over to a playlist of classic tracks until you’ve fallen in love with them. Then,  the theory goes, you’ll be ready and willing to learn about the history, rhythms and backstory of your new favorite tracks.

This has presumably worked brilliantly with the first three listening tours, but no so much with folkloric music (rumba, changüí, batá, palo, abakuá et al). The problem is that this music has no piano or bass and if you weren’t born and raised in Cuba (or Africa), there are just too many ways that you can hear the rhythm and more often than not, you’ll pick the wrong one. Changüí will still sound great to you, but when you try to dance it with someone who grew up on it … well, it can get pretty ugly.

So … before moving on to the final Listening Tour on folkloric music, we start with an admittedly “tricky” chapter called “Rhythmic Perspective Problems”. We patiently break down all the most common mistakes that well meaning non-Cubans make with these ultra-sophisticated rhythms.

Excerpt from Chapter  4:

    Chapter 4: Perspective in Rhythm –
Common Misunderstandings

Rhythmic Perspective Problem 3: 4 Groups of 3 or 3 Groups of 4?

Hearing the beat correctly in Afro-Cuban 12/8 rhythms is the most common category of Latin music rhythmic perspective issues. To see it in action, all you need to do is attend a concert, class or clinicon Afro-Cuban songs and rhythms. Scan the crowd, focusing on the tapping feet and nodding heads of the audience members. You’ll find that some are tapping at one tempo while others are happily grooving away to a completely different tempo.

To understand why this is so common, think about the number 12. It’s divisible by both 3 and 4. The following table uses shading to show the two common ways that 12 subdivisions can be grouped, followed by the two most common folkloric rhythms, shown without shading.

Of course, not all music uses 12 subdivisions. Various genres use three groups of three, or (as in all the rhythms we’ve learned up to this point), four groups of four. But no major Cuban genre is grouped in three groups of anything. (The exception that proves the rule is frenté, from the tumba francesa family, which uses three groups of four). You can hear the rest of the Afro-Cuban folkloric rhythms in 3 groups of 4 (or 6 groups of 2), and you can enjoy what you’re hearing, but that’s not how the performers and dancers are feeling the groove.

So let’s look at the table again, this time adding the proper shading to the bell and clave patterns:

Exercise RP-5 is by far the most common and most important 12/8 bell pattern.

Exercise RP-5: main beats + standard 12/8 bell • Audio Tracks RP-5a-d

Audio Track RP-5a  (full speed)

Audio Track RP-5b (slow speed)

Audio Track RP-5c (trainer method – full speed)

Audio Track RP-5d (trainer method – slow speed) .

Dance in place or stomp your foot with the low kick drum sound and clap or sing the bell part.

It’s very important to learn this pattern with the main beats from the very beginning. The most common mistake made by students is to hear this pattern as three or six groups of two subdivisions instead of four groups of three subdivisions – i.e., as a waltz instead of a shuffle.

To drive this point home, let’s be aware of the wrong way to feel this pattern.

Rhythmic Perspective Problem 4: “Where’s ‘1’ in 12/8?”

The 12 possible displacements of the standard 12/8 bell pattern.
(If you really want to induce a headache, note that the first line is the same pattern as the intervals of a major scale.)

Buy now
Related Entries