Written by Jason Boyd – Professional Drummer
When Jason Harlow invited me to write an article, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about first… Groove. Groove is such an important element of music that I find is too often overlooked. In my opinion it is what makes music truly enjoyable. I really look forward to hearing everyone’s input on this topic. As musicians we should always try to learn from one another, so your input is valuable to all of us!
A bit of history… I have always considered myself a mediocre drummer. When we look at people who are “experts” on our particular instrument, we normally tend to gravitate towards the ones who are extremely technically proficient. This always left me feeling a bit “less than” as a musician. However, I started noticing a pattern, especially moving to Houston, TX. What I noticed was that I could be on the call list with drummers who were without a doubt more technically proficient than I, yet I would still get the call. The only thing I can contribute this phenomenon to is that I tend to get the same compliments. These compliments are “You have a great feel” and “I love what you don’t play”. That last one felt kind of offensive the first time I heard it, but it is probably the best compliment I’ve ever received.
Is groove something learned or is it something you either have or you don’t? This is the question that I’ve wrestled with more than any other. I think for the most part it can be learned, but not in the same sense a learning a new riff. To me, groove is a feeling and a state of mind. As a kid, I remember when my dad would say “find the groove god”. It sounded ridiculous back then, but makes complete sense now. Groove is kind of like a dance. It has multiple layers that I’ll expand upon below.
Tempo: In order to have great groove you need great tempo. Tempo is the foundation that a good groove is built upon. Without this solid foundation, everything else WILL crumble. Most of us have heard those dreaded words, “can you play with a click?”. Those words used to throw me into an immediate panic attack until I was forced to do it. After a little experience with a click track, I began to love it! Now I welcome a click track and realize that it relieves a lot of pressure off of me. Try to look at the click as another band member in your mix and embrace it.
Listen: It’s impossible to find the groove if you don’t know where all of the pieces are! Listen to your bandmates and compliment them! It’s not all about you!
Beat Placement: Now this is the hardest element for me to explain, yet it’s critically important. In a 4/4 measure there are 4 beats, yet where you choose to place them is critical! You can play ahead, on or behind the beat. This is the element of feel that’s so elusive, yet it’s what gives a song life. This is the “dance” part.
Relax: It’s next to impossible to find the groove if you’re stiff. Relax and play with confidence! We’re human beings and will never be perfect. Those imperfections are the subtle life of the song. This is why a “perfect” computer will never replace an imperfect human musician.
Again, this is a tough subject to teach, but I hope this has given you a few things to think about. If you are constantly working on new riffs, I urge you to stop and analyze your feel first. There are so many bands out there that are technically talented, yet I could care less about listening to them. I appreciate the technical abilities of Neil Peart, but I enjoy listening to Steve Jordan more any day of the week! My dad was a brilliant musician and could groove like no one I’ve ever met. Something he said about my old band The Mutt Brothers that always stuck in my mind was this… “Y’all are like a locomotive that’s getting ready to derail, yet you’re right on track”. Be a beautiful trainwreck and embrace your human imperfections. You’ll be a better musician and probably get more jobs if you do.