Here are three fill concepts heard in Latin jazz and salsa music that will help give you a more authentic feel when playing these styles.

It’s very common to start a tune by playing what’s called an abanico. This is a pickup played as a roll that starts on the fourth quarter-note of a measure and ends with an accent on the 1 of the first measure of the tune. The roll can be played as any stroke roll. 

You can use clave to set up the abanico by adding a note of the clave rhythm prior to playing your roll. In 3:2 clave we can play an accented quarter note on the 3, which is the last note of the five-note clave rhythm, and then add our abanico (Ex. 1). If the clave is 2:3, you’ll want to play an accent on the & of 2, which falls on the 3 side of the clave, and then play your abanico (Ex. 2). 


To immediately drop the dynamics, play the 4 & of the last measure of a musical phrase. Both notes are accented and commonly played on the snare of high timbale, and can be played in either clave direction (Ex. 3). In the Caribbean musical diaspora, the percussion section will often play the 4 & fill after one or more plays a call, or separate fill, to signal a response as the fill on the 4 &. One such call is two low notes on the & of 3 and the & of 4, followed by two high notes on the & of 1 and 2 (Ex. 4).

The clave and abanico can be combined to move the music dynamics up, as well. In 2:3 clave, use the 3 side to fill, accenting a snare and crash hit on the & of 2 after bass drum hits on the 1 and 2 followed by an abanico (Ex. 5). To add a little spice, add the & ah of 4 on the floor tom on the 2 side of clave (Ex. 6). When playing 3:2 clave, the fill starts on the 2 side. With a bass drum hit on the 1, our accent is now on the 2 with a snare and crash. To change it up a bit, play the abanico into a floor tom hit on the 1 with a snare accent on the & of 1.  This helps set the feel for a 3:2 groove (Ex. 7). You can then add the floor tom on the & ah of 4 on the 3 side to spice up the fill (Ex. 8). 

BRIAN ANDRES performs with numerous Latin, Caribbean, and African ensembles in the San Francisco Bay Area and leads the critically acclaimed Latin jazz group The Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel. He is a Bosphorus Cymbals artist and an Artist Endorser for Canopus Drums. brianandres.com