Better time, 1

Check out part 2

So I’ve been actively working on my time and groove for the last six years.  Hopefully I can pass some ideas on to you!  Check out these ways to work on your time/groove.  For me, 5 things have helped my time and groove the most.

  1. Dancing to music (with a partner especially)
  2. Playing drums and percussion
  3. Playing with a drum machine
  4. Playing with with recorded music
  5. Warming up in the morning with a metronome

Dancing to music (with a partner especially)

Dancing and music live hand in hand.  Without one, where is the other?  Think about all the types of music that revolves around dancing or moving your body. And also remember that a lot of music may not have dancing now but it used to. Salsa, samba, reggae, funk, waltzes, flamenco, jazz, hiphop, electronic, rock and roll, blues, zydeco, irish jigs, baroque classical music, rnb, neosoul.

Dancing taught me about really deep groove because after about an hour of dancing you feel like you’re floating in the air.  And you feel the beat pulse through your body.  Lining up your whole body with the beat of the music is the same as lining up your hands with music.  It feels similar.  When my whole body knows what the music feels like, then I can play the music better.  Try dancing to a whole album of P Funk and then sit down and play some funk guitar.  Some styles that I have learned about in this manner would be funk, salsa, samba, reggae, hiphop, rnb, neosoul, irish jigs, waltzes, swing, 2nd line that I can think of offhand.

Dancing with a partner motivates you to internalize a good rhythm even more.  You gotta keep track of time for yourself, but also know what your partner is doing. So if you’ve internalized the feel really well, you’ll be good but if you aren’t sure where the beat and groove are there’ll be  some mix-ups.  It’ll be apparent and you’ll realize that you mixed up the time.  Not a big deal, but something that helps you feel the groove better.

I definitely found about partner dancing when I started learning to dance salsa.  The one in salsa isn’t always obvious because the bass doesn’t always land on the one and sometimes there are unexpected breaks.  After dancing for a couple of years, I improved a lot.  Right now I am kind of rusty because I always seem to be playing music instead of dancing but I am making a concerted effort to get back onto the dance floor.  Remember your earplugs!

Playing drums and percussion

Playing drums has taught me so much about the magic of time and groove.  By focusing only on time and rhythm, I’m learning a lot about what makes people move to music and keeping solid, steady time.

Drumming connects with dancing at some deep soul level.  When your drum lines up with the beat just right and you play good accents, you start to feel the music float.  If you start rushing or dragging the music starts to feel funny.

Every morning I wake up and play drums for 5 minutes with a metronome.  If I keep the same beat going for awhile, I start to feel that groove expand.

Playing drums enlightens the mind to many of the fundamental truths about music.  Applying the knowledge to guitar playing allows your music to reach a higher level.

For example, I play in a jazz group without a drummer.  My main roles are to keep the time going and the harmonies apparent.  Until recently I tried to play complicated rythmic patterns to keep the music interesting and build intensity.  But after playing drums for awhile, I realized the groove will naturally grow on its ownAll you have to do is create the pocket and stay in the pocket.  After that there’s plenty of cool things to do but you have to keep it in the pocket for every millisecond of the song!

I remember a quote from a drummer that defines groove concretely:

Groove is where you play the same thing over and over again with good time.

While this oversimplifies the process, it helps me to keep things in perspective.  Play the same beat over and over again.  It’s challenging after awhile.

Playing with a drum machine

I started practicing with a drum machine when I found Beatcraft. I program the frameworks of the different beats I need and then practice songs and improvisations along to the beat.  I enjoy this more than playing with a metronome because I add a crash cymbal to mark 4 bar phrases.  This has helped me get a good feel for phrasing and also insures that I am playing in 4 bar phrases instead of 3 1/2 bars, which I sometimes did with a metronome.

To practice straight-ahead jazz, I put a hihat on the 2 and 4 and a cymbal on the 1st beat of the 4 bar phrase.  Then, I practice songs by playing the melody, soloing, maybe comping, and playing the melody again.  You know when you are in time and in place both by the cymbal crash as well as watching where you are in the phrase.

Watching where I am in the phrase helps with more uncommon time signatures like 7/4, 11/8 and trying to learn flamenco, too.  It’s something I’d like to practice more.

Playing with with recorded music

Every day I hope to play along with great music.  I think this helps me get a feel for what some great musicians were doing.  I feel like I have a lot to learn and learning from records provides so much fertile ground.  I like So What by Miles Davis a lot because the chords and scales are simple and the tempo is pretty mellow, so it’s great to warm up to.

In general, I play along with So What every day.  If I have more time, I then play Milestones and Giant Steps and Witch Hunt. On drums I play with Burning Spear and New Birth Brass Band.

Warming up in the morning with a metronome

Every morning I play drums with a metronome to get a feel for a solid groove.  After a few minutes, I have the groove locked in more or less and there’s something about feeling the groove locked in that settles everything down in the body.

Then I warm with simple strumming at a slow speed (like 38 bpm).  This helps me warm up my hands as well as get a feel for a very slow steady pace.  After I go through the warm up I play a rumba at a medium tempo (like 80 bpm)

Over time I believe this has helped me solidify my time.  While I have a lot to learn in this regard, I also have learned a fair amount.

Special thanks to photographer LASZLO ILYES.



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