What's groove? pt. III
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
When I was young, I used to go to the Carnival parades in my village here in Switzerland. I was always very impressed with the music the ‘Guggemusig’ played. To me that was groove, that was party, and I wanted to sound just like those bands. After listening to those bands, I always wanted to go home and play drums. And I’d be trying to sound like them.
Today I listen to these bands and I can’t imagine how anyone could think that that is groove. The bands usually consist of amateur drunk musicians that have had way too little sleep and just want to party. Sure, the energy and enthusiasm of the musicians translate to the audience, but to me it isn’t grooving. Am I just a grumpy musician that has suffered a severe case of music elitism and now I’m not able to enjoy music in its rawest forms?
Yes, but not exactly. I just think my taste buds have evolved over time. Again, groove is very subjective. What might feel like groove to me now, doesn’t have to feel like groove to me in ten years. It’s just logical that my extensive studies of music have influenced my relationship with music. When I was a child I had not yet been exposed to as much music as I am now. And in ten years I will have been exposed to a vast variety of music more.
So do non-musicians actually enjoy music more or in a better way than musicians? Musicians have spent years developing their ears to detect details about the music they’re listening to. That’s a really good thing, but when it comes to simply enjoying the moment those skills can get in the way. A teacher of mine always tells his students to learn and practice as much as possible, but then when it’s time to perform music or to listen to music one should forget everything one has learned. Forget is maybe the wrong word but you know what I mean. Those skills shouldn’t be the screen through which you project everything (when performing) or the filter through which you experience.
Letting go of one's biases and opening yourself up to a new experience is key. Non-musicians don’t have to deal with that issue, but since they’re not as involved in the subject (music) their level of experience is not as deep as the one of a musician if that musician can actually be in the moment. Even though I just said to forget everything you learned and you actually did, the only thing you let go of is the stuff you have not yet internalized. But the stuff you have internalized is not in the way of a great experience because it’s already part of you and no longer a filter in front of you. It’s the skills that you do not yet fully possess that get in the way. Many music students struggle to really enjoy music exactly because of that reason. We’re more aware of what we still have to learn and don’t yet know. And we keep forgetting that there are skills deep inside ourselves that have become second nature to us and that we can rely on. Drugs can be a cheap and short-term way to bypass this issue.
Metronome & Co
While working on cruise ships, I decided to start using clicktracks during performances. I went over all the music and checked the tempos. During rehearsals we’d discuss the tempos as some tempos just didn’t feel right for a live performance. I tried to use the click on as many songs as possible and initially I thought that I could use it for every single song in our repertoire. Also, I really wanted to use the click as it made my life much easier.
But I ran into some trouble. Basically, everything we played that was recorded before the 80s just didn’t work with click. Most songs from the 80s until now felt fine played with a click. Sometimes I’d try to play e.g. a Motown tune with click without telling the band. While playing the song they would look at me confused and irritated. After finishing the song, they would ask why I changed tempos during the parts, or why my time was suddenly so bad, and some musicians didn’t know that something was happening with the tempo but still felt that something was off. That was a really interesting discovery for me.
Most musicians today agree that in order to groove metronomical precision isn’t required. Many musicians even go as far as to say that by using the metronome groove is simply not possible. Also, a quite common opinion is that quantization destroys groove. Rick Beato has some great videos on YouTube showing how quantization changes the feel of the music.
Metronomical accuracy is highly praised nowadays, and everybody tries to play as consistent as a metronome. Why do most musicians agree that groove doesn’t come from metronomical time, but yet they’re still trying to have time consistency like a metronome?