Principle 4: Find and feel the groove before you play

Principle 4: Find and feel the groove before you play.

I believe that the groove is the most important element of music. What is the groove? The groove is something you feel, not hear. Groove is a combination of many elements, especially the rhythm, sound and feel of the music. We must find and feel the groove when we play, especially when playing with other people.

To find the groove, feel for it. Groove lives in the body (especially the hips and lower body) not in the mind or ears. In the next exercise you will practice finding and connecting your body to the groove without your instrument.

This track has several short selections of different grooves. Relax, empty your mind and listen to and feel the music in the track with the various progressive focus points and intentions as I outline in the exercises. By the way, this is all music that I have produced.

Exercise 4A: Find the on the beat and move your body in time to it.

The "beat" is the primary pulse of the music, the heartbeat of the music. It is consistent, steady, and in all of these examples 4 beats to a measure. 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4, etc.

Listen through the music and find that pulse and move your body with it. Tap your foot, your finger, clap your hands, dance, whatever you like, but get moving with the music focusing on the main beat of the groove. Be accurate in moving in time with the beat. Practice this several times until you can easily and immediately pick up the beat and start moving in time to it.

Exercise 4B: Focus on the drums and percussion.

Shift your focus now to the drums and percussion, noticing as many of the parts as you can and how they fit together. Can you pick out the basic feeling of the drum beat and play along a little bit on the table with your hands, or something else around you? If so play along! If you can't, keep you body moving and you'll get there soon. There are a few tracks without drums on them, so new drummers, it's up to you to be the drums and play a part that fits in with the rest of the music. Repeat this until you can hear the drum parts clearly and play along successfully with all of the selections.

Exercise 4C: Follow the bass.

The most underappreciated instrument, the bass is also the most important. It sets the foundation of the music both harmonically and rhythmically. Shift your focus to the bass, and repeat the process you used with the drums in exercise 4B. First learn to listen for the bass, then feel the bass groove. Once you understand the bass try to pretend you are playing the bass along with the recording. Hold your hands out like you are playing "air bass" and really get into the feeling of laying down the musical foundation. Repeat this exercise until you get your first gig on bass, which should be in a few weeks. ;)

Exercise 4D: Feel the other instruments (piano, guitar, horn, synth, etc.) and vocals and their role in the groove.

The piano, guitar, synth, horn and vocals all have a role in creating the groove. All musicians must protect and strengthen the groove for a band to succeed. Listen to the other parts and see if you can pick out their rhythmic contribution. Don't listen to lyrics, harmony, melody, or other non groove elements. Just listen for the rhythm of the instruments and how it fits in with the overall groove. Any of these instruments you want to also play air versions of go ahead. Pick up a microphone and sing away, blow an air trumpet, but focus your playing on the rhythm and the groove of what those instruments are doing. Repeat this until you can pick out the other individual parts with your ears and feel what they are doing for the groove.

Exercise 4E: Feel now for the total groove.

This time, pull out your focus and feel for the entire groove. Feel the groove as a single thing, a whole system, and keep your body moving. Let yourself move now however it wants to without conscious control. This would be a good time to dance. Enjoy the music, feel the power of the groove over you. Repeat until you're bored of my music.

Exercise 4F: Pick your own song that you want to learn to play and repeat these exercises.

Now take a song that you would like to learn to play and repeat this entire process. Find the beat, drum along, learn the bass groove, other instruments, and total groove. Listen many times with the goal of getting the groove into your body. Pretend to play all the parts. Repeat until you are dying to pick up a real instrument and start playing this song.

Supplemental Material

The master of groove, Victor Wooten has a great approach to learning music and his "Groove Workshop" is a gem.

Victor Wooten's Grove Workshop DVD