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.