One of the most common features of Salsa music is a "clave" rhythm, of which there are several. The most common clave rhythm in salsa is the so-called "Son Clave", which is eight beats long and can be played either in 2–3 or 3–2 style.
Most teachers and aficionados of salsa music would probably say that all salsa music and dance is governed by the clave rhythm, and that even when the clave rhythm is not played on its own, it is "implied" and functions as a rhythmic foundation. At the risk of being a heretic, I respectfully suggest that this is debatable. In any case, the clave is often omitted from all or parts of a song, yet dancers still manage to hear and dance to the beats, and the other musician still manage to hear, count and play their respective parts.
The word clave means "key" in Spanish. Musicians and players refer to the Clave rhythm as the key rhythm of the music, the one which all the other instruments' rhythms are laid over.
Salsa songs often switch clave sides in the middle. It's not uncommon to find a song that starts with 2-3 clave, and then moves to 3-2 clave. (Examples needed)
- "Abre Que Voy" by "Miguel Enriquez" starts with 7.5 measures of 3-2 Son Clave
- "La Salsa Nunca Se Acaba" by Susie Hansan starts with 4 measures of 3-2 Son Clave
- "Maria, Maria" by Carlos Santana starts with 2-3 Rumba Clave played