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Discovering the RUMBA Rhythm in Popular Music

music theory for guitar Aug 03, 2023

If you have a Spanish guitar-obsessed mind like I do, you notice its elements all the time in the most unlikely places. When I first heard the catchy Coldplay piano riff opening of the song "Clocks," I immediately thought, "Hey, that's a textbook Latin rhythm!" 

What makes it a rumba? That has to do with a typical rhythmic grouping you often find in Latin music: the 3-3-2 rhythm. One way of marking accents in a rhythm is to group a rhythm into accent units - if you count to three twice, and then to 2 (without stopping), you will be marking the accent pattern of a rumba. Even if you've studied music (and even Spanish guitar) before, you might not have encountered this method of interpreting rhythms, but it's a great way to really get the point quickly. A more common way of counting and reading this rhythm would be to play an entire measure of 8th notes in 4/4 time with an accent on the 1st beat, the "and" of 2, and the 4th beat:

If you notice in the above example, two groups of three and one group of two. So why not write it and think of it that way? Let's take a D chord, and Am chord and an Em chord and strum them using the 3-3-2 grouping:

*I have transposed this song down a half step to make it more playable on the guitar. To fully adapt this riff to the nylon string guitar we can add some bass notes to it and take it up an octave. Let's dive into this riff in the following tutorial:



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