How to choose Salsa dancing music: 5 Tips for Beginners plus Spotify playlists [Article]

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

You may be starting out on your journey into becoming a budding Salsero (Salsa Dancer), or you’ve been dancing Salsa for a little while now and you are starting to become more interested in Salsa music as a whole. But how do you choose the right Salsa music for dancing when you’re a beginner? In this post we give you some essential tips for choosing the right Salsa dancing music for your particular style of Salsa dancing and your level of proficiency.

1) Listen for the instruments

We talked about the structure of Salsa Music in Chapter 3 of our ‘Salsa Dance: A Guide to nearly everything you need to know about Salsa dancing’ and how the traditional Salsa band would have been arranged. While the Clave dictates the main rhythm of the music, the Cowbell, the Montuno rhythm and the Tumbao rhythm all play important supporting roles. Other instruments such as the bass, strings, and flute lead our ears towards certain beats in the music and so as dancers we need to tune our ears to listen for these.

The Cowbell is played on the 1, 3, 5, and 7, so being able to hear the cowbell will help you find those core beats. The Montuno rhythm is often played by the piano and loops over the whole 8 counts, so finding tracks with a piano can be helpful in leading you to the ‘1’ count which is when the piano loop is likely to restart. The Tumbao rhythm is played with the conga drums and has a distinctive “cu, cum.. pa… cu, cum… pa”. The most basic tumbao rhythm pattern is played on the beats 2,3,4, and 6,7,8 therefore those dancing ‘On2’ can find tracks with a strong tumbao rhythm most helpful for directing them to the ‘2’ and ‘6’ which are the breaks steps when dancing ‘On2’ or ‘contra-tiempo’.

It is important to remember that whilst any style of Salsa dance can technically be danced to any style of Son arrangement, tracks with particular instruments and rhythms that are dominant to the ear will sound more danceable to certain styles of Salsa dance.

2) Choose music according to your Salsa dance style