UNDERSTANDING SALSA MUSIC
What do you mean salsa is "in four"?
You often hear that salsa is in four/four time. Well, what exactly does that mean and why do I need to know that? Read on and hopefully that will become clearer...
Music is often said to have a pulse. The unit of pulse is called a beat. When you tap your foot to music, you are simply tapping with the beat.
Tempo refers to the speed or rate at which beats pass. If you describe a piece of music as fast, you probably mean it has rapid tempo, not that it occupies a short time span. When the beats continue at a regular rate, we say the tempo is constant. A clock's ticking is a good example of constant tempo. Most salsa tracks have a constant tempo, however there are several where the tempo speeds up at the end, Medley's also commonly have varied tempos which makes them interesting to dance to.
If the passage of beats is rapid, the speed is called "up tempo".
The beats in music are rarely undifferentiated. They are usually heard as being grouped. Meter describes the type of grouping. Our perceptions of grouping results when sequences of beats are set off from each other. This occurs in several ways. Every third or fourth beat may be louder or longer than the others. It may be distinctive because it has a different pitch or tone quality. Those differences are perceived as emphasis or accent. If we hear a sequence of beats grouped in fours, it may be due to a pattern of accents which creates this effect: ONE two three four, ONE two three four, ONE two three four. Sound familiar! That pattern represents a meter, which you would say "is in four".
If the beat falls into the pattern, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, you would say that, the time " is in three" or "waltz time". In some music the beat falls into the pattern, ONE two, ONE two, ONE two, this is common of Merengue described earlier.
Each group of beats is called a measure. When the meter is three, there are three beats in a measure; when the meter is four, there are four beats in a measure.
So the reason you need to know that salsa is in four time is that you need to find the accented first beat or the ONE. One way of doing this is to listen out for the tumbao pattern of the conga drums described in the next section.
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