Before we bring you our four tips to improve your groove, we need to take a look at what we are aiming to achieve. When we talk about groove as a drummer, we are almost always referring to what is known as “pocket drumming”. This involves setting up a beat which is so strong and compelling, that it lays down a groove with such a solid tempo that it produces a “comfortable pocket” for the rest of the band. So we are talking about a very steady technique, with few fills or frills, which drives the music on. So, now we know what pocket drumming is, and how groove sets the mood, let’s take a look at those tips:
1. PRACTICE WITH A METRONOME.
You can either use an old fashioned mechanical metronome, or some digital alternative for this. The key to laying down a great groove, and staying in the pocket, is timing. There is an old musician’s joke which goes something like this: Q: How do you know when a drummer is knocking at your door? A: They get faster! Although this is intended as a joke, there is a lot of truth hiding in there. Many new drummers when joining a band, have a tendency to become exited, and the byproduct of this is often that they start increasing the tempo of the music. Practice with a metronome so that you become skilled at maintaining a steady tempo at all times.
2. CUT OUT THE FLASHY STUFF (FOR NOW).
Sure, we all like to be recognized as accomplished and skilled musicians by adding our own personal flair to our beats from time to time. However, with pocket drumming it’s all about the groove, not the sound. What do we mean by this? Well, when playing in the pocket, our task as a drummer is to drive the music, not to add to its content. So cut down of the fills, and set the groove instead.
3. PLAY BEHIND OR IN FRONT OF THE BEAT.
This is one of the most effective techniques to turn a drum beat into pure groove. Unfortunately it is also one of the hardest to master! Playing a drum note just before the true beat, or just after the true beat, is a fantastic way to add heaps of groove to even the simplest beat. Questlove, the drummer for The Roots is incredible at this. Practice this technique with a metronome, it will take time to develop but is well worth the investment in time.
4. LEARN TO RELAX AND RIDE THE GROOVE.
So far we have spoken about some techniques that need to be learned, and then applied as you play. This is of course essential. The problem is that groove is usually about feeling, and concentrating too much on your playing is a sure fire way to lose that grove. The secret to great pocket drumming is to not only play the music, but feel the music, you are laying down a comfort pocket for the entire band to exploit, and this includes you, have fun with it!
So there we have four very simple tips to help you improve your groove, and the techniques you need to use as a pocket drummer. Don’t be fooled into thinking that pocket drumming is simple, just because it does not contain much in the way of flash drum play. It is one of the most difficult techniques to master, and these tips should help you get a head start.