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Glossary Of Latin Music Terms

D Hier gibt's die deutsche Version

This little Glossary is mainly meant to help people who are getting into the latin music understand what the others are talking about...

As long as we don't have our own searching machine for the glossary, you might want to use the 'Find' function of your browser.

If you find there's something missing, too short or not correct please feel free to inform me at The information is contributed by many different people, most of them musicians. Their names are listed below.

Bachata - Dominican Republic; Dance. Dance and music style in 4/4 measure, originating from the Dominican Republic. A minimal band consists of Guitar, Bongo, Güira and vocals. (ffm)

Baião - Brazil. Derived from a folk dance in the north east of Brazil (Ceará, Maranhão, and Bahia), the baião is played by a small group consisting of guitar, piccolo flute, and rhythm section. Melodies tend to be in the mixolydian or lydian b7 modes. (th)

Batá - Cuba; Instrument; Percussion; Drum. Sacred, two-headed drums. Especially used in Cuba. They come from the Yoruba people of Nigeria. (uw)
More info at the Ebo Okokán pages.

Bongos - Instrument; Percussion; Drum. A pair of small drums, usually held between the knees and played with the fingers. The smaller drum is called the macho and the larger drum is called the hembra. The heads usually consist of goat skin. The macho is tuned to a "c" and the hembra is tuned to an "a". (md)

Boricua - puertorican. Originated in the indigenous language of the island (kr)

Borinquen - Puerto Rico. Originated in the indigenous language of the island (kr)

Borinqueño/-a - see Boricua

Bossa nova - Brazil. A style of music developed in the south east of Brazil that merges samba rhythms with jazz-influenced harmonies and melodies. (th)

Caja vallenata - Colombia; Vallenato; Instrument; Percussion; Drum. Hand drum mainly used in vallenato orchestration. (jewg)

Campana - Instrument; Percussion; Drum. (spanish: bell) A bell ('cow bell') attached to the timbales-stand or held in one hand, played with a wooden stick. In Salsa it often plays a very steady rhythm (1st and 3rd beat of the measure). (kr)

Cascara - see Palitos

Catá - see Palitos

Choro - Brazil. 1. A musical style closely connected with samba that originated in Rio de Janeiro as a way to play waltzes and polkas. Tempos are usually extremely fast with melodies that emphasize 16th notes. 2. A small ensemble, usually comprised of cavaquinho, guitar, seven-string guitar, clarinet, trombone, pandeiro, and surdo, where one member acts as the soloist. (th)

ClaveRhythm. a two-measure rhythmic pattern, consisting of five notes, which is the rhythmic basis of much Afro-Cuban, Antillian, and Brazilian music. There are various clave rhythms for different kinds of Cuban, Brazilian, and West African Music. (sr)
Sound sample: (au, 22kB)
See also: Curtis Lanoue's 'Afro-Cuban Folkloric Rhythms'

ClavesInstrument; Percussion. A pair of hardwood, cylindrical sticks which can be used to play clave rhythms. While the typically zthe sticks are of equal size, the African Clave consists of differently sized sticks. The bigger one is hollow (like a tube) and has an additional opening in the middle, where the supporting hand forms a resonating body. (sr, ffm)

Conga - Instrument; Percussion; Drum. 1. the most important hand-drum in latin music. Usually about 30"/75cm high, the complete set of congas contains three drums with different diameter: Quinto, conga and tumba. The quinto may be left away. If not, the quinto (and sometimes a "super quinto") is used for soloing or variations. 2. (or Tres Golpes) mid-sized hand-drum in the Conga set, abt. 11.75"/30cm (kr), (uw)

Cuíca (or Guica) - Brazil; Samba; Instrument; Percussion. A small to medium sized drum with a thin rod attached to the drum skin on the inside. The rod is rubbed with a wet flap to create a variety of squeaking sounds. It is predominantly used to play syncopated rhythms in sambas. (th)

Cumbia - Colombia; Dance; Rhythm. The most popular dance rhythm of Colombia and the one that has been the most widely spread throughout Latin America. Cumbia is not a clave-based rhythm, but as with many rhythms can be played "in clave." (jewg)

Frevo - Brazil. A dance oriented music that emerged in the north east of Brazil (Recife) at the end of the last century. It uses military band instruments, and can be described as a highly syncopated up tempo march. (th)

Guagua - see Palitos

Guajira - Cuba; Rhythm; Musical style. In music it refers to a rythm and style that incorporates a tres guitar or two, maybe piano, and slow, smooth percussion. Look at Cachao's "Master Sessions Vol 1" for the prototypical and beautiful guajira. (m)

Guajiro/a - Cuba. 1. A Cuban peasant. Cuban country folks are known as guajiros. It is not a put down. (m)

Guica - see Cuíca

Güira - Dominican Republic; Merengue; Instrument; Percussion. A metal percussion instrument used mainly in Dominican merengue music. The sound is produced by scraping the textured surface with a metal fork-like scraper (sr)

Güiro - Instrument; Percussion. Percussion instrument used throughout Latin America, made from a dried, hollowed gourd, into which grooved ridges are carved on the surface. The sound is produced by scraping these ridges with a stick (sr)

Güícharo - Instrument; Percussion. Percussion instrument similar to the güiro, but generally smaller and with thinner ridges. It is played with a metal fork-like scraper. It is used primarily in Puerto Rican music (sr)

Hembra - Cuba; Instrument; Percussion; Drum. The bigger drum of a pair of bongos. (md)

Jibaro - caribbean term for a person from the country, the hills... people normally regarded as humble, unsophisticated, hard working... the salt of the Earth, if you will. Sometimes a certain music indigenous to the Islands is called "Jibaro music" (esp)

Macho - Cuba; Instrument; Percussion; Drum. The smaller drum of a pair of bongos. (md)

Maracas - Instrument; Percussion. "Hand-held rattles or shakers, made from gourds, coconuts, wood or rawhide and filled with beans. Found throughout the Americas as well as Africa." (RM) In the modern Salsa music the maracas became on of the most important percussion instruments because they add a driving pulse in the high frequency spectrum. Perhaps their importance to Salsa is like the role of hihat and snare drum in Pop/Rock music. (uw)

Merengue - Dominican Republic; Rhythm; Dance; Dominican rhythm and dance. The basic step of the dance is an extremely simple two-step pattern, but it's only Merengue with the right, somehow contrary, hip movement - wich adds the main difficulty to learn the dance. (kr)

Palitos - Instrument; Percussion. (Spanish: sticks) Two sticks played against the side of a drum in rumba. Other terms are guagua, cascara, and catá. The rhythms they play are slight elaborations on clave. They serve the same purpose in that they play the same two bar pattern without variation for the whole tune. (cl)

Quinto - Instrument; Percussion; Drum. Smallest drum in the Conga set with the brightest sound, abt. 11"/28cm diameter (kr)

Rueda de Casino - Cuba; Dance. A salsa group dance. The couples form a circle or wheel (= span. Rueda). The "Cantante" (leader) anmnounces the next combination, which all other will start dancing with the next measure. (ffm)

Salidor - see Tumba

Salsa - Rhythm; Dance; Music style. A blend of different Caribbean rhythms and music styles, strongly influenced by the Cuban Son, which started it's way out to the world from 'El Barrio' in New York during the early sixties. From there it was first spread to the Americas (North, Central and South) and then all the other continents. Important instruments are timbal, conga, bongo, claves (all percussion), trumpet / trombone and latin piano. The dance is a 3 step pattern (on a 4/4 measure) with quick-quick-slow rhythm. (kr)
See also: My attempt on 'What's Salsa?' (D 'Was ist Salsa')

Samba - Brazil. A dance oriented music that emerged in Rio de Janeiro, São Paolo, and Bahia in the early part of the century. Songs are characterized by simple but highly syncopated melodies in binary meter with the accent on the second beat. (th)

Son - Cuba; Rhythm; Dance. The Cuban root of today's Salsa. (uw)

Son Montuno - Cuba; Rhythm; Dance. (spanish: 'Mountain-Son', but son also comes from the mountains...) A son that begins on the coro section, so there is no largo or "verse" to it. For instance, Castellano Que Bueno Baila Usted starts right with "Castellano..." and then Beny improvises, then coro again. This is different from, say Son De La Loma which has a whole verse section before it gets to the coro. According to musicologist Andres Alen and his brother Olavo, the verse section shows the influence of European music with its closed form. The coro/soneo section shows the African influence with its open form, i.e. the singer improvises til their done and then takes it out. (cl)

Surdo - Brazil; Samba; Instrument; Percussion; Drum. A low tom played with heavy mallets. Used to keep the beat in sambas. (th)

Tambora - Dominican Republic; Merengue; Instrument; Percussion; Drum. Two-headed drum mainly used in Merengue. (kr)

Timbal - Instrument; Percussion; Drum. Typical Salsa drum set consisting of 2 tuneable drums (different in pitch), 2 cow bells ("campanas"), cybal(s) and possibly woodblock. Played with two sticks. (uw)

Tres - Instrument. (spanish: three) Cuban guitar with three pairs of strings (kr)

Tres Golpes - see Conga

Tumba (or Salidor) - Instrument; Percussion; Drum. Largest drum in the Conga set with the deepest sound, abt. 12.5"/31.75cm diameter (kr)

Tumbadora - Cuban term for congas. (cl)

Tumbao - Rhythm. Most important standard rhythm for congas, played on tumba and conga. (uw)

Vallenato - Colombia; Dance; Music Style. (spanish: babe whale). It's origin is from the atlantic coast of Colombia (South America). (pc)
Vallenato actually refers more to an orchestration than a specific rhythm. A traditional vallenato group consists of an accordion, a scraper called a guacharaca, and a hand drum called a caja vallenata. Vallenato groups traditionally play four rhythms called son, paseo, merengue (6/8), and puya. (jewg)


Contributions by:

(cl) Curtis Lanoue, St. Louis
(esp) Edward-Yemil SantoPrieto, New York University
(ffm) Frank, Deutschland
(jewg) Juan Eduardo Wolf Greve (
(kr) Klaus Reiter (, Germany
(m) Marcelo, Miami, FL
(md) Matthew J. Dubuque (virtual@leland.Stanford.EDU), Stanford University
(pc) Patty Cordova
(sr) Steve Roitstein (, Riot Music, Miami
(RM) citations taken from the glossary in: Rebeca Mauleon, Salsa Guidebook for Piano and Ensemble
(th) Trevor Hyde (
(uw) Ulrich Wode (, Germany. Homepage: Sals@lemania

If you'd like to contribute any new term, corrections or more detailed information, please feel free to send eMail to Klaus Reiter ( Please don't forget to say if you'd like to be mentioned by name and/or eMail-address.


Editor: Klaus Reiter ( Last Updated: 01.04.2008. WEBCounter by GOWEB
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