The first thing to understand about the Cuban tres is that it is a rhythm instrument. Even though it looks like a guitar, the actual playing of it is rhythmic with melodic lines. Chords are seldom “strummed”, and in many styles the Cuban tres strengthens the melody line a 3rd or a 6th above with rhythmic fills in between.
The traditional tuning of the Cuban tres is as follows G,C,E where the E string is the same as a guitar high E. In a modern context the tuning is often up a step and is A,D, F# or an open D chord.
Books and other stuff about the Cuban Tres
My book Cuban Masters Series: Cuban Tres goes into much more depth about all aspects of the Cuban Tres and includes many more examples and patterns. Get it here: Cuban Masters Series: Cuban Tres
Example 1This first example is from Con Sabor Al Guaso, De Guantanamo, and features an almost Changüi feel. It is not really Changüi for several reasons.
- The bongo is playing martillo.
- The phrase starts on the beat, where Changüi would start with a sixteenth note pickup beat.
- There is a 2-3 clave pattern where Changüi would really have quarter notes (clave hadn’t been invented yet!).