10 Afro Cuban Drum Beats and Rhythms (With Sheet Music)

Afro Cuban Drum Beats and Rhythms

If you want to really develop limb control on the drums, learning how to play Afro Cuban beats is one of the best ways of doing it. 

Afro Cuban is quite a broad term, with most Latin grooves falling under it. So I’ve put together a list of ten Afro Cuban beats to learn.

Many of these are dance grooves, so you need to play them with quite a bouncy feel. They’re all tricky to learn, so remember to take things slowly while learning all these main rhythms of the Afro Cuban style. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 1

Afro Cuban 1

This first groove is quite a basic form of an Afro Cuban played in a three feel. This kind of groove is often notated with 6/8 and 12/8 time signatures, but you’ll get the same sounds from playing it in triplets. 

The easy part of the groove is playing your bass drum and hi-hat foot on all four quarter note counts of the bar. That repeating rhythm will ground the beat and keep it pushing. 

For your ride cymbal, you’ll play on the first and last notes of the first group of triplets. You’ll then play on the “trip” count of beat 2. That’s if you count “1-trip-let, 2-trip-let etc.” 

You’ll play the same rhythm on the ride for beat 3, and then the last ride note will land on the downbeat of beat 4. 

The last part to add is the cross-stick rhythm on the snare drum. The cross-sticks will land on the “let” count of beats one and two and the downbeat of beat 4. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 2

Afro Cuban 2

This next groove has the same feel as the first one, but your note placements will be a bit different. While keeping the same driving rhythm with your feet, you’re going to play around the drums to get a bouncy vibe. 

On beat one, you’ll play the ride on the “1” and “let” counts. You’ll also play a cross-stick on the “let” count. 

You won’t play your hands on the downbeat of beat 2, and you’ll follow that with a ride on the “trip” count and a rack tom on the “let” count. 

You’ll repeat the same rhythm for beats 3 and 4, but you’ll move to the middle tom on beat 3 and the floor tom on beat 4. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 3

Afro Cuban 3

Here’s another groove with the same feel as the last two but slightly different note placements. 

You’ll keep beats 1 and 2 the same as what you played in Afro Cuban Drum Beat 2. 

On beat 3, you’re going to play the ride cymbal on both the downbeat and the “trip” counts. You’ll then play a cross-stick on the “let” count.

You’ll play the same rhythm for beat 4, but you’ll play a floor tom at the end instead of a cross-stick. 

This is one of the most popular Afro Cuban drum beats, so it’s arguably the best one on this list to learn. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 4

Afro Cuban 4

This beat has the same hand pattern as the last one, but you’re going to switch up what you’re playing with your feet. 

While the driving quarter notes are played a lot, it’s also common to leave a bit of space with your bass drum to get more of an open feel.

For this groove, you’re just going to play your bass drum on the downbeat of 1 and on the “let” count. You’ll then leave your kick drum for the rest of the bar. You’ll play the hi-hat pedal on all the quarter notes to keep time. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 5

Afro Cuban 5

You’re now going to keep the same foot pattern but change things up with your hands again. You’re going to play straightforward triplets between your ride cymbal and drums. 

There will always be two ride notes, followed by a single note on a drum with your left hand. 

On beat 1, you’ll play a cross-stick with your left hand. You’ll play a high-tom for the “let” counts of beats 2 and 4. You’ll play a floor tom for that same count on beat 3. 

This groove has a cool back-and-forth feel, which is very common for Afro Cuban rhythms that are played in 3s and 6s. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 6

Afro Cuban 6

Moving on to a few different Afro Cuban ideas, this groove is a basic form of a Cha Cha. It’s a mid-tempo dance groove that needs to be played quite lightly on the kit. 

You’re going to play straight quarters on the hi-hat while having a bit of interplay between your left hand and bass drum. 

You’ll play a bass drum on beat 1 and the “and” of beat 2. You’ll then play a cross-stick on beat 2, followed by two high toms at beat 4. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 7

Afro Cuban 7

Here’s another popular Latin groove known as a Songo. The key thing that most Songo grooves have is a repeating bass drum pattern that only has two notes in every bar. 

The first bass drum note falls on the “and” of beat 2. The second one falls on the downbeat of beat 4. However, this Songo groove that I’ve written out is played in double time, so you’ll see four bass drum notes in the bar. 

You’re going to play the bell on the ride cymbal for all the quarter notes, anchoring the groove with quite a strong driving rhythm. 

Your snare drum is then going to fill in all the gaps. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 8

Afro Cuban 8

Here’s another version of a great Songo drum beat. You’re going to keep the same rhythms on the bell and bass drum that we played in the last groove. 

The snare part looks a bit different, though. You’re going to add in quiet snare hits to make the beat sound a bit more dynamic. With the snare drum being so busy in Songo grooves, ghost notes always make them sound a lot better. 

You’re also going to play two rack tom notes at the end of the bar. These sound good when you play them loudly. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 9

Afro Cuban 9

The last Afro Cuban drum beat we’re going to look at is called a Rumba. It’s also a commonly played dance beat, but it’s usually played a lot slower than a Songo. 

The key thing that distinguishes most Rumba grooves is a group of triplets on the snare drum near the beginning of every bar. 

For this groove, you’re going to play those triplets and then end the bar off with eighth notes between your rack tom and floor tom. 

Afro Cuban Drum Beat 10

Afro Cuban 10

Here’s another variation of a Rumba style beat on the drums. You’ll still play the triplets at the beginning, but you’re going to play sixteenth notes on the snare drum and floor tom near the end. 

Make sure to play those sixteenth notes quite gently, as having them played too aggressively will affect the lighter feel that you should be going for with this kind of groove. 

Tips for Learning Afro Cuban Drum Beats

Listen to Latin and Jazz Music

The best way to immerse yourself in a style is by listening to it. Afro Cuban rhythms can regularly be heard in both Latin and jazz music, so you should listen to as much of it as you can. 

You get deep Latin music, where all the rhythms are played by percussion instruments. You also get modern jazz, where those rhythms are applied to a drum set. That’s what we’re trying to achieve by playing the grooves on this list. 

By listening to these styles, you’ll hear how the drummers play, and then you should aim to do the same kind of thing when you’re learning the grooves. 

Work on Limb Independence

The biggest struggle when playing Latin drum beats is that your limb independence may not be good enough. All the grooves we looked at above require good control over your limb coordination. 

To have the best chance of getting good at playing Afro Cuban drum grooves, you need to be comfortable with doing different things with each limb at the same time. 

Bossa Nova grooves are a good place to start, as they’re slow and often don’t incorporate the left foot much. Once you get comfortable playing those, you can move on to trickier Latin beats. 

Practice with a Metronome

These grooves have the tendency to fall apart if you’re not using a metronome to keep solid rhythms. 

Make sure to practice them with a click when you first learn them. After doing that for a while, you’ll understand how the rhythms work together.

A metronome also helps to play the rhythms faster with much less effort on your part. 


Out of all the Latin grooves out there, Afro Cuban drum beats are some of the most fun to play, especially when playing them in a 3 or 6 feel. 

While these may be tough to learn at first, work through them very slowly and make sure to get your muscle memory trained. You’ll be playing them at high speeds in no time!

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