Claves Claves, percussion instrument, a pair of cylindrical hardwood sticks about 8 inches (20 centimetres) long and one inch (2 1/2 centimetres) in diameter, one of which is held in the player’s fingertips over the cupped hand (a resonator). When struck together they produce a sharp ringing sound.

Claves were originally used in Afro-Cuban folk music and are among the instruments that maintain various fixed rhythmic patterns in Latin-American dance bands. They are modern examples of concussion, or rhythm, sticks, one of the most ancient musical instruments, used in many cultures since ancient times in ritual, in accompanying work, and in calling attention, as well as for musical rhythm.

With both models, the player holds one (or the larger) stick in the cupped palm of one hand and strikes it with the other stick held by its end in the other hand. Claves produce a sharp, clear and penetrating sound that can hold its own in even large ensembles. While its technique and the rhythms played on it are simple, in Afro-Cuban musical practice only a really strong musician should play the claves because its part is central to holding the entire ensemble together.