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The Groove

Mat Marucci By

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The groove, feel, pulse, beat, pocket—whatever it is called—is the essence of the feeling of the music being played. Musical genre has its own concept and texture—almost a personality.

(In classical music the composer is the main force in the music's texture and interpretation. Very specific instructions for the feeling of a piece and dynamic markings are included by the composer to guide the performer's interpretation of the music. Percussion is used mainly as a coloring for the music and as a support for other sections of the orchestra.)

Whatever the feeling or essence of the music being played, it is the drummer's job to help create and maintain that essence. Rhythms, fills and short solos should be played in the context of the music and musical form to maintain the "groove."

All music is written with definite patterns or sequences of melody, harmony and rhythm. This is called the "form" of the music. Even avant-garde or free-form music actually can be considered to have form because once a tonality or rhythm is established that becomes the "A" section of the piece—if it changes to another tone center or rhythm, that would be considered the "B" section and the form would be AB. If it never changes, the form would simply be A—but it would have form even if considered "open" form. If the music has a beginning and an ending it has "form."

The two most common forms of music the drum set player is likely to encounter are the 12-bar blues and 32-bar song forms. The 12-bar blues or some derivative of it is used in all styles of popular music from country to rock to jazz, etc. It is a twelve bar chord progression based

on the first, fourth and fifth notes of a diatonic scale. The chords are developed on those notes. If the music was in the key of C then the scale would be C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. That would mean the I chord would be a C chord, the II chord would be a D chord, the III chord would be an E chord, and so on. This blues chord progression is written I-IV-I-V-I and would be C, F, C, G, C and is usually played:

I (4 bars) IV (2 bars) I ( 2 bars) V (1 bar) IV (1 bar) I (2 bars) totaling the 12 bars for the blues form.

There are different variations of this including the 24-bar blues, but once the 12-bar blues progression is understood all other derivations are easily followed.

The 32-bar song form is very widely used in contemporary music from pop to jazz to Broadway shows and movies. This form is designated A-A-B-A and is formed as follows: an 8 bar phrase of a melody and chord progression (A); the same phrase repeated (A); a completely different phrase (this is call the "bridge" or "release") (B); the original phrase repeated again (A).

There are many different forms. Some examples:

1) Phrase (A); bridge (B); phrase (A)—ABA form

2) 16 bar song form: 8 bar phrase (A); different 8 bar phrase (B)—AB form

3) 8 bar phrase (A); different phrase (B); a third phrase (C); the original phrase (A)—ABCA form

4) Rondo type form: phrase (A); different phrase (B); original phrase (A); another different phrase (C); original phrase (A)—ABACA form

Knowing the form of a piece of music is immensely helpful in making logical sense of the music and following an arrangement of that music. Everything that is played by the drummer must be in correlation to that particular form of the music or it is inappropriate. The drummer must play the tune!

"2" & "4": The Drummer's Beats

It was explained to me by a jazz pianist and musicologist why the drummer's hi-hat should have a strong "chic" sound on beats "2" and "4." He said it was one of the elements of swing—the bass played long tones on "1" and "3" and the hi-hat cut them off with a strong "chic" on "2" and "4."

Accenting the second and fourth beats also creates momentum in another way. The tonic chord of a song is the chord of the key signature. For example, a song in the key of C has C for the tonic chord, a song in F has F for the tonic chord, etc. Songs most often begin and end on the tonic chord and these chords generally are played on beats "1" and "3." Therefore, songs most often end on beats "1" and "3." If the drummer is accenting those beats the feeling will be sluggish (like a march) and will also give a possible feeling of finality whenever a tonic chord is played. However, when the drummer accents "2" and "4" momentum is created because it feels like another beat should follow. Songs do not generally end on "2" or "4" so another (''1" or "3") needs to be played. The drummer then answers with another accent on "2" or "4" and a feeling of forward motion is created until the end of the song when everyone ends together.

Hence, the song has a "groove."

Slow Grooves

The longer time duration between notes makes keeping a slow tempo accurate much more difficult than fast tempi (tempos). The slower the tempo the more difficult it can be.

One method for keeping slow grooves even is to subdivide the beat in your head while playing. For example, four quarter notes at a very slow tempo such as a metronome marking of 44 would normally be counted:



By subdividing to eighth notes, your counting could be:



Or even to sixteenth notes:



This puts less space between the notes in your counting and helps to keep the time accurate.

The Metronome

The first job of the drummer is to keep time. Without good time, nothing else will work. You cannot have a great groove unless the time is there first.

The metronome is one of the best ways to develop a musician's time—and contrary to some opinions it will not make your playing stiff, just accurate.

The markings MM on music stand for Maelzel's Metronome. Setting the metronome at a quarter note = 60 means that each tick will represent a quarter note. This would be indicated on music as MM[insert quarter note]=60. Actually, that is one beat per second. (A metronome set at 120 ticks is at two beats per second.) Of course, you can use any note valuation you want....quarter note, 8th note, 16th note....as the value for each click of the metronome.

There are many ways to use a metronome, the first being to set the tick at each beat in the measure as described above. Accuracy can then be improved by setting it to tick every other beat and then once a measure. For example, if working on a technique or piece of music in 4/4 time @ 160, first the metronome would be set at 160, then at 80, then at 40—but the musician would still continue playing at 160, therefore hearing just one tick per measure and having to rely on his own accuracy rather than a tick on every beat.

The time spent with a metronome is invaluable and the first time a drummer is called on to play along with a "click track" in a recording situation that value will be greatly appreciated.
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