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How To Do A Band Rhythm Check

Red Hot Chili Peppers Catch The Groove

   One of the things that will be an ongoing quest for your live band is your ability to play consistently in the groove. What is a groove? That’s when your band locks into a certain rhythm which defines the overall feel of the song. There’s a rock groove, funk groove, R&B groove, country groove, jazz groove and many other types of grooves. Playing in a groove can also be called “playing in the pocket.” It all comes down to a very simple concept and that is how all the parts being played by your band interlock rhythmically. Today I’m going to tell you about a very simple but very effective way for your live band to do a groove check, or rhythm check if you will.

   Here’s how to do a rhythm check. First choose a song from your bands playlist. Then have everyone mute their instrument so that no actual notes are being played. Keyboard players can pick a single note to play. Now have everyone play the song by only playing the rhythm of their parts. That means if the bass guitar is playing a steady 1/8 note line, the bass guitarist should just beat out an 1/8 note rhythm on the muted string. The drummer should play their normal drum part. The guitarist should beat out whatever the rhythm is for the guitar part and the keyboard player should do the same. Now listen to what’s happening. All the rhythmic parts that everyone is playing should fit together. It should sound like a tribal rhythm happening. There should be an underlying pulse and everyones parts should be hanging off that pulse in a proper place to create a groove. You should be able to dance to what’s happening. Another way to do this is to have everyone grab a drumstick and tap out their parts together. Again, you should be able to get a groove going rhythmically with everyone tapping out their parts.

   Doing a groove check is a very simple thing to do and it can point out some glaring problems with your band. It can also expose certain players weaknesses in the rhythm department so be ready for that. Don’t let a rhythm check devolve into a petty argument about player skill. Players of any skill level should be able to adjust their playing to play in a groove. The whole purpose of a groove check is to find out where your skill level is when it comes to playing in a groove. With that knowledge you can adjust your rhythmic playing to match your skill at playing rhythms.

   I’m sure you’ve played with players that have a tendency to overplay. Overplaying is almost always an instant groove killer. You’ll want to have the players in your band tap out their fills where they would normally play them while you’re doing a rhythm check. This will let you hear how a fill can change the groove rhythmically. Too many fills will definitely kill the groove.

   A groove check can also help players focus on putting a definite rhythm to their fills.  It may sound cool when your guitarist plays a 1/32 note scale, but during the rhythm check that may sound lifeless and boring. Your guitarist may find that a series of pauses or held notes linked together with groove based rhythms will suit that scale much better within the context of the song.

   When it comes down to basics, the most important thing that goes into making a song work is the ability to have a good rhythm. That’s why I highly recommend taking the time to do a band rhythm check and then taking the time to fix rhythmic problems. Once you get the rhythm all locked in together, the groove will come naturally and your live audience will respond by getting up out of their seats and dancing the night away.


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2 comments to How To Do A Band Rhythm Check

  • Al

    I think this idea is a little unrealistic. I have a feeling that band members would not want to do this and say it is “retarded”. I think it would be an excellent way to compose music however. Work with only rhythmic components.. and then separate them into instruments. The thing about it is that melody and rhythm go hand in hand and you can’t fully grasp the power of one without the other. Its a neat idea though. Great Blog btw!

  • Hey Al, this excercise isn’t something that you would do a lot. It’s more of a spot check type of excercise and it’s a great way to find out who in the band is weak on rhythm. The most resistant band members are usually the ones with the worst rhythm or the members that have a tendency to overplay and ruin the groove. The excercise is designed specifially to help them. So if someone in your band is calling it “retarded” they’re probably the most rhythmically challenged. I tell the guys in my band to just pretend we’re in a big drum circle at a Grateful Dead concert but we’re using our muted instruments as drums.

    I agree with you that melody an rhythm go hand in hand. This excercise is more a study about “playing in the pocket” with the rest of your band. Most of the time in a band you’re not playing the melody but a harmonized rhythm that supports the melody and this excercise simply helps you focus on how your timing locks in with the other members of the band.

    I checked out musichopper.com, it’s pretty sweet too man! Thanks for the comment on this post. -Matt-

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