Afro-Cuban Drums


Authored by Mark Walker


Course Code: OPERC-324

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


More than ever before, today's drummer is called upon to be a versatile, creative force. Afro-Cuban Drums is designed to strengthen your overall versatility as a drummer by exposing you to the rich grooves and rhythmic concepts of Afro-Cuban music, a genre that has become increasingly popular since its inception in the 1940s and now influences many other styles, including pop, gospel, jazz, rock, hip-hop, country, and classical.

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This course explores popular Afro-Cuban styles, such as the guaracha, mambo, songo, cha cha, and 6/8 (bembe), and how to orchestrate them on the drum set. You'll learn the traditional percussion patterns and rhythmic roots of the styles, as well as modern adaptations. You will learn to play with an authentic sound and feel, and connect different time feels smoothly, mastering the basics of coordination, soloing, dynamics, tone production, control, and vocabulary.

The course provides a solid method of coordination practice, which can be applied to any situation or style, in addition to ways to effectively accompany other musicians and improvise in order to strengthen your own unique musical identity. You will also become more familiar with the musical styles of Cuba and the compositions of some of the most representative Afro-Cuban composers.

Afro-Cuban Drums features video demonstrations and listening examples from classic recordings of Latin music, among others. You will work on practice exercises based on essential patterns, breaks, and solos for percussion and drum set and then apply what you have learned with end-of-lesson assignments performed with play-along tracks. The target audience for the course is drummers who want to be able to apply Afro-Cuban rhythms to the drum set whether in a traditional Latin, jazz, pop, or other musical setting, or who would like to improve their tone production, time feel, knowledge of rhythms and poly-rhythms, coordination, and soloing. Armed with the knowledge of this course, you will be able to apply Afro-Cuban rhythms to your playing situations - from traditional to modern - with authenticity and confidence.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Recognize different Afro-Cuban styles, such as guaracha, mambo, cha cha chá, songo, and bembé (6/8)
  • Know, recognize, and feel the clave (key) direction
  • Play son clave, rumba clave, and 6/8 clave on the drum set with different orchestrations
  • Adapt various Latin percussion patterns to the drum set
  • Play the cascara (shell) pattern on different parts of the set
  • Play the bongo and mambo cowbell patterns
  • Coordinate the dominant right-hand patterns with clave
  • Play and coordinate the tumbao (conga part) on the drum set
  • Coordinate the bass drum tumbao and various foot patterns for hi hat
  • Make smooth transitions between different sections in the music
  • Improvise solo phrases "in clave"
  • Perform cierres (breaks) with and without percussion
  • Apply Afro-Cuban rhythms in different contexts
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: The Clave in Afro-Cuban Music

  • Son Clave
  • Rumba Clave
  • 6/8 Clave
  • Clave Direction: "2-3 or not 2-3?"
  • Mambo
  • Bembe
  • Songo
  • Playing the Clave on the Drum Set

Lesson 2: The Cascara 

  • Playing the Cascara Pattern on Timbales
  • Playing the Cascara Pattern on Drums
  • The Accents of the Cascara Pattern
  • Filling in the Cascara with the Left Hand
  • Adding the Clave

Lesson 3: The Tumbao and Foot Patterns

  • What Is the Tumbao and Who Plays It?
  • The Tumbao on the Tumbadoras
  • The Tumbao on the Bass Drum
  • The Tumbao on the Left Hand
  • Hi-Hat Foot Patterns
  • Adding the Tumbao to the Cascara and Clave

Lesson 4: Campana: The Bongo Bell Pattern

  • The Bongo Bell and Its Function
  • The Chorus and Montuno Sections
  • The Bongo Bell Pattern and the Tones of the Cowbell
  • The Two-Measure Tumbao
  • Common Foot Patterns

Lesson 5: Contra-Campana: The Mambo Bell Pattern

  • The Mambo Bell pattern, Its Sound, and Its Function
  • The Mambo Bell Pattern in 3-2 and 2-3 Clave
  • Left-Hand Options for the Mambo Bell Pattern
  • Playing the Mambo Bell and the Bongo Bell Together
  • Mixing the Mambo Bell Pattern with Other Patterns

Lesson 6: Common Breaks and Figures in Mambo, Salsa, and Latin Jazz

  • The Abinico (Fan)
  • Cierres (Breaks)
  • Transition Fills: Ramping Up and Breaking Down
  • Sounding Like an Entire Percussion Section Using Only the Drum Set

Lesson 7: 6/8 Styles: Bembe 

  • Bembe
  • Shekere Patterns and Bell Patterns on the Drum Set
  • Tumbadora and Bass Drum Patterns
  • Playing Shakers, Bell, and Tumbadora Patterns on the Drum Set
  • Polyrhythms Applied to 6/8

Lesson 8: Cha-Cha-Chá 

  • The Percussion Instruments and Patterns of Cha-Cha-Chá
  • ell
  • Guiro
  • Tumbadora
  • Cha Cha Patterns on the Drum Set
  • Adapting to the Situation

Lesson 9: Improvisation in Afro-Cuban Music

  • Common Timbale and Conga Phrases
  • Solo Concepts
  • Soloing with the Clave
  • Phrase Freely in duplComme and Triple Meter
  • Expanding Timbale and Conga Phrases to the Drum Set

Lesson 10: Songo

  • The Evolution of Songo and the Drum Set
  • Songo and Experimenation
  • Great Songo Drummers
  • Basic Songo Patterns
  • Orchestrations and Variations

Lesson 11: Coordination Studies

  • Coordination with the Clave
  • Coordination with the Cascara for Snare Drum and Bass Drum
  • Coordination with Bell Patterns for Snare Drum and Bass Drum
  • Mastering Basic Phrases Played with the Left Hand and/or Bass Drum

Lesson 12: Putting It All Together

  • Form, Orchestrations, Breaks, and Solos
  • The Mambo Track
  • The 6/8 Track
  • The Songo Track
  • The Cha-Cha-Chá Track


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Music Theory 101 and Drum Set Performance 101, or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. You should also have two years of playing, be able to control the sticks and pedals in time and have experience in basic coordination studies.



  • Students are required to record video while performing with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • Webcam (using either video recording software, or the video recording tool that is built into the learning environment)


  • Acoustic or electronic drum kit
  • Drumsticks
  • Mambo or bongo bell
  • Cha cha bell
  • Percussion mount, such as LP Percussion Claw, or an extra cymbal stand


  • Students are required to capture their drum performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required):
      • Electronic drum set connected directly to audio interface (recommended non-acoustic option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • Electronic drum set connected directly to computer via MIDI/USB to control software samples
      • XLR microphone(s) and audio interface (recommended acoustic option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (recommended option; required if multitracking and/or input monitoring a microphone)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need XLR/instrument cables and microphone stand(s).
  • Music stand
  • Recommended: Isolation headphones, such as Vic Firth SIH2 Stereo Isolation Headphones
  • Recommended: Printer, if you would like to print out examples used in the course.


  • Metronome (hardware or software/app)

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Mark Walker

Author & Instructor

Grammy award-winning drummer, percussionist, author, and educator Mark Walker hails from "Central America" (Chicago, Illinois). He began playing drum set at the age of 10 and played his first professional club, concert, and recording gigs barely out of high school. After studying with the great Roy C. Knapp, he gained valuable experience performing a wide range of styles in the Chicago area and later became a first-call session drummer and percussionist, playing on film scores, jingles, and record dates.

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Since moving to New York in 1995, he has performed on many Grammy Award winning albums and earned several Grammy nominations (including Best Instrumental Composition in 2008) for his work with various artists, including Oregon, Donato Poveda, Paquito D'Rivera, and Caribbean Jazz Project. He has also earned the Indy award and the Jazz award (German record manufacturers) for his work with Oregon. In addition to these artists, he has performed and recorded extensively with Michel Camilo, Dave Samuels, Andy Narell, WDR Big Band, NDR Big Band, Eliane Elias, Lyle Mays, David Liebman, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Rosa Passos, and many more. He has appeared on major television shows such as "Late Night with David Letterman," "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," "PBS presents…," and "BET On Jazz." He also appears on screen with Paquito D'Rivera in Fernando Trueba's Latin jazz documentary Calle 54 (Miramax).

Walker currently resides in the Boston area, where he is a professor in the Percussion department at Berklee College of Music. At Berklee, he has created new curriculum, served on the Education Committee, and taught drummers, percussionists, and ensembles since 2001. He has also served on the faculty at Drummers Collective in New York City and has conducted master classes, clinics, and workshops in South America, North America, and Europe, both as a solo artist and with such groups as Oregon, Paquito D'Rivera Quintet, the Caribbean Jazz Project, Sakesho, Lyle Mays Quartet, Chucho Valdes, Bill Watrous, and others. His book World Jazz Drumming (Berklee Press/Hal Leonard), which features recorded performances by Paquito D'Rivera, was released in 2009 to critical acclaim. He also wrote for the all-star instructional drum set book Killer Grooves, published by Carl Fischer.

Walker continues to tour with Oregon and Paquito D'Rivera. He writes for and leads Rhythm of the Américas, a jazz octet incorporating Caribbean and South American rhythms. His solo projects include the sample/loop discs Chameleon Drums, Vol 1 & 2 (Sonic Emulations) and Ritmo De Las Americas (Sampleheads). Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Afro-Cuban Drums can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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