Video: Benny Greb on the Art and Science of Groove

Groove is an all-important topic for drummers. I spend a lot of time researching and practicing to strengthen my concept of groove, and to help my students boost their skills. It can be a challenge to precisely define this word because it is a very personal thing. If someone asks you to "make the music groove more," what do you change? Two different drummers might adjust different elements of the beat and still be able to improve the groove. Because this concept can't be notated on sheet music, it's necessary to learn from live concerts, audio recordings, videos, and teachers. The first step starts with acknowledging the utmost importance of good timekeeping, feel, and groove.

I am a fan of Benny Greb because of his musicality as well as his humorous and effective teaching approach in his instructional videos. His newest video is called The Art and Science of Groove, which is available online as a physical copy or digital download. Greb appeared on Drumeo's YouTube channel and summarized his new instructional video, answering questions and demonstrating his approach. Below is a list of the five main topics covered. I would highly recommend that you watch the YouTube lesson and order the actual video. He presents the concept of groove in a very clear method that is easy to understand and provides many useful ideas and exercises.

"My basic point is that time and groove is not a super advanced subject; it should actually be the first thing and the most important thing." - Benny Greb

Greb: these myths about groove are untrue - you have to be born with it, it takes forever to develop, and you can't change your feel.

1. TIME – "feel the quarter note pulse in parallel to what you are playing." The example Greb uses is to clap the "football clave" while vocalizing the pulse using a "chid" sound. He also recommends practicing with a "gap click" where the metronome is audible on the first bar and silent on the second bar.

2. FEEL – "everything that is lifelike has a certain pattern of breathing out, breathing in, like this exchange of downbeat, upbeat, in and out." He suggests thinking of a pendulum swinging side to side for regulating your breathing. "When something really grooves, it's an outgrowth of empathy."

3. SOUND – "just by the sounds and sound levels that you use, you can completely create new grooves." Greb demonstrates by playing a swung funk beat and gradually changing the balance of the bass drum and snare drum as well as switching from hi-hat to ride cymbal. This is a good example as the beat clearly shifts from a rock-type feel to something much more jazz oriented without changing the actual rhythm.

4. BODY – "if you have a weird posture or do something with your body, it can be that things you can do, suddenly you can't do them." In his example, Greb taps his foot at a normal 90° angle position, and then pulls his foot in under the throne to show that the foot tapping becomes impossible with the smaller angle. He also points out a common mistake where drummers breathe normally during timekeeping but hold their breath during fills. "Play a groove and pick a breathing tempo that's a fraction slower than you normally would breathe… You get into a very nice relaxed state by doing that."

5. MIND – this is the "most underestimated" part. "Your mind is the architect that makes musical decisions that guides what you actually do." Greb suggests changing your mindset by putting a question mark on any statement. "A fill has to incorporate tom-toms?" He says a player can come up with something fresh and exciting without spending hours practicing it. "A fill has to be something else than a groove?"

Q & A
How do you translate practice sessions to a live performance setting?

"First of all, make sure you record your practicing to see if it's really there and not an illusion. Make it's measurable. Do you have a recording? Did it sound bad or just feel bad?" If there is a definite difference between the practice room (great) and live performance (bad), "it is probably because you don't have enough headroom practiced." In a live situation, "you have less bandwidth available to execute things that you practiced."

Interview: multi-percussionist Patrick Graham talks music, sound, and groove

photo by Randy Cole

photo by Randy Cole

Recently I talked with Patrick Graham, a Montréal based percussionist who is doing really interesting work. The first time I heard Patrick perform live was in 2009 at the North American Taiko Conference (Los Angeles) evening concert as a guest artist with On Ensemble. I was immediately drawn to his playing and have become an even bigger fan as I've heard more of his music over the past seven years. In this interview, I asked Patrick about his background, musical training, his concept of sound and groove, and composing. His thoughtful conversation is in symmetry with his music so I would encourage everyone to check out the web links below for video, music, and additional details about his work.

Patrick's musical background and interests have a lot of overlap with my own. No wonder it was so much fun playing with him for an On Ensemble concert in the summer of 2014. It was one of those rare occasions where the music just comes together right from the beginning, as comfortably as if we had always worked together. It's a feeling that is hard to describe; maybe something like speaking the same dialect of our musical language. I also enjoy just hanging out with Patrick and talking about music or whatever. We live pretty far away from each other but I'm pretty sure we'll be collaborating in the near future. Stay tuned for that!

I have included music from Rheo, Patrick's album which came up in our conversation. The tracks excerpted in the interview are: King Worm, Liminality, Le Souffle M'envahit, Brilla, and Strata. It's a great album and I would recommend everyone checking it out at the links below.

From Patrick:
"I've been so fortunate to study with many fantastic teachers. I am indebted to them.
Bob Slapcoff at Vanier College, Pierre Béluse and D'Arcy Gray at McGill University, Trichy Sankaran, Glen Velez, Tokyo-based sensei Taichi Ozaki (stage name Kato Tosha), Kodo's Tomohiro Mitome led the taiko Koh-Kan workshops in 2000, Tetsuro Naito, Carlo Rizzo and Zohar Fresco."