Part 1 Theory
Question: How many musicians didn’t get the gig because their groove wasn’t quite right? Let’s explore:
In my last Blog “Finding Your Groove”, I discussed a little “groove” philosophy; in this Blog, let’s take a look at some practical exercises that can actually help you develop and fine tune your groove.
First a few definitions:
- Rhythm - any measured flow or movement, symmetry; recurring with measured regularity; A general term used to refer to the position of musical events in time; The variation of the duration of sounds over time; a beat or meter; The tempo or speed of a beat, song, or repeated event; A flow, repetition or regularity; A general term used to refer to the position of musical events in time; The variation of the duration of sounds over time; a beat or meter.
Rhythm is simply the organization of music with respect to time. It is the sum total of pulse, meter, tempo and groove.
- Pulse - The recurring basic equal beat which may be explicit or implicit (that is, heard or not heard, but there nonetheless).
- Meter –The organization of pulses into units. These units constitute the time signature which is simply the numbers of beats in a particular unit of measure.
- Tempo - the rate (slow, medium or fast) of some repeating event such as a pulse; the speed at which a musical composition is, or is supposed to be, performed; an artistic form of auditory communication incorporating instrumental or vocal tones in a structured and continuous manner.
Tempo therefore is simply the space or length of time between each pulse.
- Groove – The “feel” or interpretation of the basic rhythm; the rhythm superimposed over the tempo which helps project the musical idea.
“Feel” is accomplished by characteristic volume contrasts (dynamics), syncopation* and orchestration*.
- Syncopation - a temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent causing the emphasis to shift from a strong accent to a weak accent
- Orchestration - The art of arranging a musical composition for play by a large array of instrumental forces.
Groove is the right feel dictated by the musical style, and it enables one to produce the desired emotional impact. It actually makes it possible for the general audience to listen easily and without confusion no matter how complicated the musical details. It sweeps the listeners off their feet and makes for an inspired and professional performance.
A metronome or click track, for example, has good time, or tempo, but make no mistake about it…. It doesn’t groove! It is just a pulse generating device which is awaiting a groove!
Part 2 Exercises
Playing accurately in time with dynamics and emotional content is a function of total control of one’s instrument in respect to one’s intention and communication. In order to develop this control, there are certain exercises that are helpful if practiced correctly. It is a fact that if you develop good control of your instrument relative to the pulse and the subdivisions of that pulse - quarters, eighths , triplets, 16ths and their permutations etc - than you’ll be able to a) play in time and with “feeling” (very important) by yourself and b) with others who can do the same. You should never lean, either intentionally or worse yet unintentionally, on other musicians for the time; on the contrary, each player has to have good time and then while performing, cocreate the time and groove and thus play and interact telepathically together. Time is not subjective while playing, it is a constant. However what you causatively superimpose over that time is your self expression and to the degree that you are causative determines a) your level of control and b) your resultant communication. There is only one time; you're either in time or your not…. the only exception being moments in a performance that intentionally are retarded or accelerated.
Basic exercises therefore would be:
a) Playing one note per beat (quarter notes) on your instrument at various tempos with a metronome until you are accurate. (Subdivision of one)
b) Playing two notes per beat (eighth notes) on your instrument at various tempos with a metronome until you are accurate. (Subdivision of two)
c) Playing three notes per beat (triplets) on your instrument at various tempos with a metronome until you are accurate. (Subdivision of three)
d) Playing four notes per beat (16th notes) on your instrument at various tempos with a metronome until you are accurate. (Subdivision of four )
More advanced variations of above would be adding ties and rests to these subdivisions and then syncopations and accents which help to create various stylistic grooves. Then I suggest improvising with these various subdivisions again playing to a metronome or drum machine. Once you begin noticing where you get out of time – rushing or dragging or dropping beats – then you’ll be able to not only correct these times of bad control but you’ll eventually be able to effortlessly create without any attention on your time.
If you have a sequencer program such as Logic, Cue Base, Digital Performer or ProTools etc, then you can actually record your performances and then go into the MIDI Events Editor and look at your accuracy. At first you may want to give up but just keep on practicing, you’ll eventually begin noticing that your time and subdivisions are getting better and better. Once you develop good control and accuracy, then you can practice “laying back” - playing a little behind the beat (pulse) as in blues, gospel and funk etc or pushing the beat as in Latin music etc.
At this point in your practice I would suggest listening to a lot of your favorite artists and doing transcriptions of their performances noticing their use of subdivisions, syncopations, dynamics and their over all “feel” and groove. Then lastly and if you can, practice playing along with them trying to duplicate not only their notes and phrasing but their emotional content. Its quote a trip and a worthwhile one if your serious about finding and developing YOUR groove!