By understanding the music, the dancer can stay on beat and fully express themselves to the musical nuances. Here is some basic information that the dancer should know……..


Salsa tempo ranges from 160 beats per minute to 220bpm with a few exceptions. Most songs you will hear range between 175bpm and 200bpm.


For beginners learning to dance salsa, we recommend the following songs, because they have rhythms that are easy to identify and have a slow to medium tempo.


      Yamulemau by Joe Arroyo

      Para Bailar Casino by Adalberto Alvarez

      Muevete by D.L.G.

      Hong Kong Mambo by Tito Puente

      Anacaona by Cheo Feliciano

      Anything by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico:

                        Azuquita P’al Café,  El Menu,  Vagabundo,  Brujeria,  El Menu


Musical instruments include clave sticks, conga drums, bongo drums, timbale drums, maracas, cowbells, trumpets, trombone, bass guitar, violins, piano.


Salsa Music is written in 4/4 timing. The musical phrasing is 8 counts and so the dance also has 8 basic counts. As dancers we also perceive the half counts so that sometimes feel all 16 beats while dancing.


Clave, pronounced claw-vay, is the fundamental rhythm in salsa. It establishes the feel of the music. You can feel the clave even when it is not explicitly played. The other instruments align themselves with the clave by playing rhythms that compliment it so that you can implicitly feel the clave during the song.


Some basic salsa rhythms are:

         Clave played with the clave sticks or jam block.

         Tumbao(marcha) played with the conga drums.

         Son Montuno played with the piano.

         Cascara played with the timbales drums.

         Martillo played with the bongos.


Clave                          Conga Drums                           Cowbell                       Bongos  










Given 8 basic counts and 8 half counts, the rhythms can be depicted this way:














































Salsa music has several categories. The categories you are likely to hear out dancing are the following:


Mambo/Classic Salsa of the 1940s/50s/60s. This is characterized by classic salsa beats. Popular artists include Tito Puente and Arsenio Rodriguez.


SalsaDura- originating in the 1970s, it is characterized by lots of horns, a really fast tempo, intense instrumentals, and dramatic musical hits. Popular artists include Sonora Carruseles, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, Hector Lavoe, and any artist under the Fania Music label.


SalsaRomantica- characterized by lyrics about love, soft flowing melodies, lack of jazzy or hard musical hits. Popular artists include Frankie Ruiz, Gilberto Santo Rosa, Marc Anthony, Eddie Santiago.


Salsaton- a mix of reggaeton and salsa rhythms, salsaton often has lyrics that sound like rapping. Popular artists include Daddy Yankee, Victor Manuelle, Andy Montanez, Clave Cubana, Gente de zona


Timba- our personal favorite at CubanSalsaCincinnati.  Timba originated in the 1990s with bands such as Los Van Van and NG La Banda. Popular bands today include Havana de Primera, Timbalive, Paulo FG, & Maykel Blanco. The music is highly percussive and staccato and often has many musical rhythms playing simultaneously. It can be funky and jazzy or soft and melodic. For more information on Timba style salsa music, go to www.timba.com.






Timbale drums with jam block, cowbell, & bongo bell