5 Ways to Improve Your Groove
When I used to consider the concept of “groove,” I thought of it mainly as a 1-dimensional word on paper, all lower-case, boring font, etc.
These days, I visualize the word “GROOVE” as a collection of 3-dimensional stone carvings, where the letters are taller than I am and I can walk in and around them, touching the texture of each letter and shaking my head in awe.
Pretty drastic transformation, huh?! Well, this level of development is available to anyone with the patience and discipline it takes to use a metronome creatively, as well as pre-recorded play-along tracks.
The following suggestions are not comprehensive, but they are my most-used techniques for developing my appreciation of (and ability to) GROOVE.
BURY THE METRONOME
One of the first exercises I developed came as the result of my trying to “bury” the sound of the metronome under the volume of my playing. By “bury,” I mean that when I’m perfectly in sync with the metronome, it can’t be heard. Try playing quarter notes at 47 bpm and you’ll get an idea of how challenging this exercise is. This type of exercise is more like a game than any of the others, so have fun with it. *Slow tempos are obviously the most difficult since there is so much space! Keep track of both your lowest and highest tempos at which you can “bury the metronome.”
Next, the age-old concept of “2 and 4” gets the first crack at breaking you out of your cliché doldrums with your metronome. Simply decide at what tempo you are going to play and divide it by two. Now, there’s your “2 and 4.” You’ll initially hear the beeps, clicks, or claps as 1 and 3, but that’s EXACTLY why this is your first exercise. This “backbeat” play-along is priceless in helping develop your sense of swing. You may or may not be familiar with the concept of swinging, but don’t be afraid that your rocking vibe might be transformed into wimpy jazz. Oh, nooooo… As a matter of fact, only the BEST players swing whatever they’re playing. You can hear unmistakable swing in the playing of rock guitarists Keith Richards and Slash, as well as heavy-hitting drummers John Bonham and Carter Beauford.
Now that we’ve established that a metronome can be used to play fewer actual sounds in the subdivisions, let’s just carry this idea to the next level: set your tempo, divide it by 4, and there’s your downbeat on beat 1. Now, YOU have to supply the subdivision for the rest of the measure. Fun, huh?! It’s a humbling experience, but worth the trouble. Your innate sense of time will grow leaps and bounds as a result of these “gap” exercises.
My next couple of methods of working on groove require a smartphone or device that can operate apps.
FLEX YOUR GROOVE
Time Guru is an excellent app for developing your “inner time-keeping muscles.” This app was developed by John Scofield’s sideman, Avi Bortnick. It is very easy to use and it is challenging at the same time. With it, you are able to set a repeating pattern of sounds and silences (notes and rests). Also, you can set it to “random” and “gradual random” to keep you on your toes! I’ve only been using this one for a short time, but I’m a big fan!
DON’T FAKE IT
Next up is a “fake book” app for iPhone known as “iReal Pro.” This app is most popular as a way to replace the huge books of chord charts that musicians take on gigs for the tunes they don’t know by heart. iReal Pro does way more than give you charts, though! It has a neat play-along feature where you can “mix” the instruments that you hear: you can turn up (or down) the bass, piano, or drums. This is a great feature that will keep your groove developing while you’re learning new songs!
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Lastly, I suggest using a straightforward play-along. Some instructional books come with play-along CDs or downloadable material. Otherwise, you can play along with recorded music that was either recorded with a click track (what a metronome is called in a recording studio) or is so steady that it sounds like it was.
So, there you go…5 great ways to improve your groove. Make up your own method and let me know if there’s something that I’m missing.