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Tumbao in G minor for Guitar and Cuban Tres

Many guitarists I’ve talked to want to know how to play tumbao on the guitar. Don’t confuse montunos, which are a section of a tune, with tumbao. I created this for someone and decided to add the tres part as well. It’s not that difficult, but does show how the bass tumbao plays as well as the Cuban tres.

It’s based on a progression in G minor.

The tres is playing with substituted notes so that may be of interest to those of you playing jazz.

The guitar part is mimicking the Cuban tres, but also filling in with some chords. Again, using substitutions so you can emphasize those altered tones. It’s time to go beyond triads and sevenths.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions in the comments section. More exercises and mini-lessons are on the way as I organize my way too many overdue projects!


Tumbao in G minor for Cuban tres and guitar

Here is the .pdf file:

After talking to my friends and great musicians, Juan Vega and Robert Sink, I decided this wasn’t so phrygian after all, but basically G minor.


Cuban Masters Series – Cuban Tres Bolero

In this lesson, Leonel talks about the Cuban bolero and plays a fantastic solo. He also discusses the guajeo, or introduction to the solo.

Transcript (lots of playing on this one)

Let’s look at the tres bolero style.

This bolero was composed by the late Pedro Flores. It’s called “Obsession.” (demonstrates with the tres)

Montuno… (demonstrates with the tres)

We just played a montuno after the bolero.

This adds a lot of movement and creates what is known as guajeo.

The guajeo is a kind of segue to begin a solo… (demonstrates with the tres)

The solo… 

Cuban Masters Series Cuban Tres – Cha-cha-chá

In this lesson Leonel shows how to adapt the cha-cha-chá to the Cuban tres. Although cha-cha-chá is not normally played on the Cuban tres, it has been done and can be adapted for either ensemble or solo playing.



Let’s talk about the son in the cha-cha-chá… (demonstrates with the tres)

It is not very common to include a tres within the cha-cha-chá instrumentation, but is possible. In fact, there are recordings with the tres in the cha-cha-chá

Let’s play another cha-cha-chá variation (demonstrates with the tres)

Cuban Masters Series Cuban Tres – History

In this lesson Leonel “Guajiro” Gonzalez talks a little more about the history of the Cuban tres guitar. Its role and what music styles feature the Cuban tres.


The Cuban tres appears at the time when sextets—sones, habaneras, and guarachas—were in vogue, although it was not included in the instrumentation for any of them.

As Cuban music evolved, the tres [became] more and more popular, and I would say that it is at the height of its popularity

Nowadays, you can find a tres as part of the instrumentation in a typical orchestra, in a charanga, in a son orchestra, in a salsa orchestra, in a symphony, etc. You can find the tres in pretty much any type of musical group. The tres is as hot as ever, both locally and internationally.

Cuban Masters Series Cuban Tres – Introduction

Leonel discusses the origins of the Cuban tres, its tuning and shows a few patterns both traditional and modern son.

Transcript of Cuban Masters Series Cuban Tres – Introduction

Let’s talk about this Cuban instrument that originated at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the Cuban tres. This traditional instrument was born in the eastern province of Guantánamo. It is believed that the place of birth for the tres was in Maisí, but the exact location is not known.

Some people say that without the tres, there wouldn’t be traditional son. Other people call it the king of the son. Recently, there’s been a world-wide interest in the instrument.

The tres has different types of tuning. The original tuning is the one this has now: A, D, and F#. There’s other tunings, like the one used in Cuban schools: G, C, and E. All sorts of issues affect the tuning, one of them being the string gauges. As you can see here, we have the first string with a third string, two smooth third strings, and two thicker second strings.

This is how the tres sounds in a traditional son context… (plays the tres)

This tumbao is approximately from the 1920s. There’s also different modern son tumbaos, for instance… When the tres is added to a big band, the tres has to fit between the piano and the bass. In this case, the tres would play a contratumbao to the piano part.

This is a contemporary son tumbao played on tres … (plays the tres)

This is another variation… (plays the tres)

This ought to be played looking out for the piano harmony. The tres should never clash with the piano; otherwise, as we say in Cuba, you get into a “brawl.”

Cuban Masters Series Cuban Tres – Mambo

In this video Leonel talks about the mambo and how to play it on the Cuban tres. This is a somewhat advanced lesson, so make sure your fingers are ready!


Ok, let’s show how the Cuban tres is used in a mambo context. This is one of the variations… (demonstrates with the tres)

The tres can play voicings or do contra-tumbaos withthe horns. It can also play together with the bass and the piano. It should always match the piano harmony, without playing the same part. Look carefully at the harmonic progressions and avoid clashing with the piano.

Cuban Masters Series Cuban Tres – Roots of the tres

Roots of Cuban Music

In this lesson Leonel discusses Changüi, Nengon, and Kiriba with examples of course!


Let’s talk about tres’s roots.

I’ll be demonstrating a Guantánamo changüí pattern. (Guantánamo is a province in the eastern part of the country.)

This is a changüí pattern… (demonstrates with the tres)

There’s also other patterns based on changüí, such as: quirivá and nengón. These authentic rhythms are also from the Guantánamo province.

This is a nengón pattern…(demonstrates with the tres).

“Para ti, nengón. Para ti, nengón…”

There are variations from the changüí family.

Now, this is a kiribá… (plays the tres)

Cuban Masters Series Cuban Tres – Timba

Leonel talks about playing timba on the tres. This is an advanced lesson, but take your time and practice.


Now let’s try a little timba… (demonstrates with the tres)

The modern son… (demonstrates with the tres)

This is an example of the most current patterns.

Let’s play it at a slower tempo… (demonstrates the same song, slower)

Me Voy Pa’ Sibanicú private lesson

This is one of the few videos from my private lesson collection that I will release.

This was recorded in about 2004 at my house in Buena Vista with Leonel “Guajiro” Gonzalez schooling me on the Cuban tres. He is playing an old standard called:

Mañana me voy pa’ Sibanicú by Cuestes Castilla

This is going to be part of my new book called Clave, Tumbao, and Montuno, so enjoy this preview.

Lyrics/Letras (Spanish)

Cuestes Castilla

Mañana me voy pá Sibanicú

Señores les contaré

lo que a mí me sucedió

el susto que pasé yo

con una perra una vez.

Resulta que me encontré

al hombre arando la tierra

eso fue allá en una sierra

sierra de aserrar madera

y no sé de qué manera

saltó y me mordió una perra


Mañana me voy pá Sibanicú, mañana

Mañana me voy pá Sibanicú, mañana

El hombre dejó el taller

para curarme la herida

el animal se me olvida

y me pongo a hablar con él.

Luego me invitó a comer

carne y arroz de la sierra

y al terminar la comida

me volvió a morder la perra


Mañana me voy pá Sibanicú, mañana

Mañana me voy pá Sibanicú, mañana

Cogió una tranca la vieja

cogió un palo el viejo

yo llevé un palo en la oreja

que por poco me la arranca

yo quise coger vía franca

y la puerta se me cierra

y cuando yo vine a ver

me volvió a morder la perra