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


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.”


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Cuban Masters Series - Cuban Tres