You’ve probably heard musicians talk about the “groove” but what does it really mean? Originally borrowed from the groove on a vinyl record, this hard-to-define term relates to the ability to play a particular style with a steady beat, but it’s more than that. To complicate matters, “groove’ is both as a noun, I need a better groove for this tune and a verb, That band really grooves hard.
“Just because a record has a groove don’t make it in the groove.” – Stevie Wonder
Here are additional words musicians use to describe the groove:
- Feel – Stylistic and rhythmic essence of a particular genre.
- In-the-pocket – Play with a steady and inspiring beat.
- Lock-up – Feel the groove with others.
- Cook – Successfully bring together all of the elements of a style to create an appealing “stew.”
- Hot – Drive the groove by playing on the front of the beat.
- Cool – Lay back on the beat for a reserved, relaxed feel.
Ideas to help to improve your groove:
- Drop your inhibitions and improvise dance moves to music you love even if it’s only in your private space. In addition to making mundane tasks like housecleaning more enjoyable, frequently moving to a beat increases rhythmic awareness.
- Apply by allowing subtle body movements to become part playing your instrument.
You’ve got to move to groove. – Bradley Sowash
Know that a steady beat is more important than right notes.
We all have a tendency to pause and fix unintended notes at the expense of a steady beat,especially when learning new music. To get around this, separate learning notes from the beat.
- Practice the notes in a small section sequentially out of time.
- Now, play the same section with a steady beat noticing, but not fixing, any note mistakes.
- Repeat by repairing note mistakes out of time. Then, repeat with a beat.
Play with others.
If practicing and playing alone is your only musical experience, you’re missing one of the great joys and learning experiences of being a musician. Look for opportunities to sit in with more experienced musicians. Then, be like a sponge, absorbing the feel of the groove being generated around you.
Practice with backing tracks.
Metronomes are fine but auto-accompaniments built into digital keyboards or in software such as Garage Band, Band in a Box, or the iRealPro app are the next best thing to playing with a band. You can also play along with a recording of the tune at hand.
Embrace the backbeat.
Traditional genres such as folk songs, classical styles, waltzes, or marches emphasize downbeats 1 and 3, but contemporary popular styles accentuate backbeats 2 and 4. As the saying goes, “Friends don’t let friends clap on one and three.”
- Clap all four beats to an infectiously rhythmic tune.
- Now, omit beats 1 and 3 by letting the first beat slide by. Check yourself by counting aloud while clapping.
- Transfer clapping to tapping your feet while playing your instrument. Start with your right foot (right, left, right, left) just like you were walking down the street.
- Finally, put a Toebourine™ or similar foot percussion only under your left foot. With a silent right foot, the backbeats in your left foot are easily heard. In time, you can omit tapping your right foot at all leaving it available to work piano pedals, guitar stomp boxes, or stomp for emphasis.
For the beat to be sweet, tap your feet. – Bradley Sowash
Get friendly with all subdivisions.
Displacing simple rhythms is a great way to develop a more intuitive feel for all eight 8th notes in a measure of common time. Here’s one possibility to clap or play on your instrument. Notice that the same beat keeps moving later and later in the measure.
Learn accompaniment styles.
Drummers often approach new tunes by playing “stock” patterns, which they adapt to the tune at hand. To develop a vocabulary of common grooves, basslines, strumming patterns, chord riffs, or stylistic melodic patterns, imitate recordings, analyze sheet music, or study with a teacher experienced in teaching pop/jazz styles.
Any of these tips will improve your groove while bringing toe-tapping delight to those around you.