Exploring Afro-Cuban 6/8 Vocabulary Using Ted Reed’s Syncopation

Some of the main rhythms in West Africa are based on 6/8 feels and the essential concept of clave. The application of Afro-Cuban 6/8 on drumset opened the way for new rhythms and ideas, involving coordination, independence, and polyrhythms.

With this article divided into two parts, I introduce a lesson to develop your coordination and independence, playing Afro-Cuban 6/8 bell pattern and using Ted Reed’s Syncopation to play counter-rhythms around the drumset. This will prove to be a serious exercise for the intermediate and advanced drummer, expanding your Afro-Cuban 6/8 vocabulary.


We start off with the primary rhythm, combining the classic 6/8 bell pattern along with the dotted 8th-note bass drum pattern and the left foot hi-hat in 8th notes. You can choose to play the 6/8 bell pattern on the ride bell, ride, cowbell, or the side of the floor tom. Be sure to master this rhythm first to proceed with the exercise.

afro-cuban 6/8 bell pattern

Using the “exercise one” p. 38 from Ted Reed’s Syncopation we play the counter-rhythms with the left hand, on snare or cross stick. The key to mastering this exercise is to understand how the left-hand part, written in 4/4, can be applied to the Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythm.

The image below shows the first four bars of the exercise. Considering that every beat/quarter note of the first staff is equivalent to 3/16, you can easily understand how the two parts are fits together. Every 8th note on the downbeat is equivalent to 2/16 (or 1/8), the 8th note on the upbeat is equivalent to 1/16, and the quarter note to 3/16. The same for rests. That’s it! Once comfortable go ahead with the next bars focusing on accuracy and a perfect balance between the various parts involved.

afro-cuban 6/8 drumset application
Exercise I

The next step is to apply the exercise around the drumset, playing the 8th notes on the snare or cross stick and the quarter notes on toms. If you get well acquainted with the previous exercise, you won’t have any problems mastering this application. Once completed the exercise close the book and start improvising creating your counter-rhythms.

afro-cuban 6/8 on drums
Exercise II


Things get harder. This time we apply the previous exercises with a different primary rhythm, playing the 6/8 clave with the left-foot hi-hat. Be sure to perfectly balance hands and feet, avoiding any flam. Take your time to master this advanced application. Keep on drumming!

afro-cuban 6/8 left foot clave
Afro-Cuban 6/8 Left Foot Clave Application

Recommended books: Afro-Cuban Rhythms for Drumset by Frank Malabe and Bob Weiner, Funkifying the Clave: Afro-Cuban Grooves for Bass and Drums by Lincoln Goines and Robby Ameen, Advanced Concepts by Kim Plainfield.


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