In Spanish, the word clave means a “key”, like a “key word” or the “key to a code”. In salsa music, the clave rhythm establishes the key or structure of the song.
Directly or indirectly, all the other instruments and the singers in the band are guided and structured by the clave rhythms. While it cannot always be heard in some salsa music, the clave’s beat always underlies the rhythmic structure of good salsa
The 2-3 Clave is found a little bit more in salsa music and is also called the 2/3 clave. In the first measure, the two beats hit on beats 2 and 3. In the second measure, the 3 beats hit on beat 5, the half beat between 6 & 7, and on beat 8.
The 3-2 Clave (“Forward Clave”) has 3 beats in the first measure, followed by 2 beats in the second measure. The first measure hits on beat 1, the half beat between 2 & 3, and on beat 4. The second measure hits on beats 6 and 7. This is also called the 3/2 clave.