Groove is arguably the most important word in a drummer’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, trying to define it is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. Metal drummers almost certainly perceive groove differently than funk drummers, who see it much differently than punk or rock or jazz drummers. To make matters worse, used in its most common constructions (“get into the groove”; “feel the groove”; “get your groove on”) the word gets so loaded down with retro kitsch baggage it can be hard for anyone born after the Carter Administration to say it with a straight face.
But like it or not, it’s the only word we’ve got to describe that sublime synthesis of time and feel, that magical moment when sound molecules click into perfect alignment, when every member of the band locks into the exact same frequency, and what was merely meh suddenly becomes Whaaaaaah?! And just like that it makes you its slave, willing to play with anyone, anytime, anywhere for another chance to capture that fleeting feeling. You need to, because for drummers, mastering the groove is an absolute prerequisite for greatness.
Hey, don’t just take our word for it — four out of five drum instructors agree. Well, at least the four we talked to anyway. To help us get a clearer picture of this crazy little thing called groove, we herded Tim Pedersen, Bernard Galane, Ernest Tibbs, and Charlie Waymire into a practice room at Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, California one evening in December to hear what insights their years as M.I. groove oracles have garnered. And while each man hails from a different corner of the groovosphere, their experiences as players and teachers have left them with only one possible conclusion: You ain’t got nothin’ if you ain’t got groove.
Dig it, daddy-o.
(Left) Charlie Waymire
DRUM!: Do you think it’s the drummer’s responsibility to keep the groove alive, or is it the job of the whole band?
PEDERSEN: I think it’s definitely the drummer’s responsibility. And it’s funny, when I was a kid, I didn’t think so. I thought everyone should keep time. But if the drums are in time and they feel good ... We joke all the time: If you’ve got a good drummer, you’ve got a good band. You just do. If you’ve got a great drummer, you’ve got a great band. If you’ve got a great band and a bad drummer, you’ve got a bad band. It’s the bottom line. You can have a lousy band and a great drummer and it’s going to feel good. It would be nice if everybody was just keeping time for themselves but ...
WAYMIRE: ... But if you get four different people trying to keep time, it’s like, who’re you going to follow? Like, Ray Luzier’s got the thing with Army Of Anyone where the bass player’s the timekeeper. But most of the time I look at it where we’re like the field general. If we can’t get the thing pointed where it’s got to go, who else is going to do that?
GALANE: But you still try to adjust.
WAYMIRE: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Always. You have to.
GALANE: And you can make it better.
DRUM!: Do you think the emphasis on having perfect or near-perfect time can take away from the emphasis on groove and feel?
PEDERSEN: No, I mean, I tell my kids — and they’re really trying to be careful with this more in the last few years, because this thing where they taught like that before, you can really crush people, really fast, for years. I mean you could ruin someone for playing. Like, if they have something kind of cool and you make them focus on [timekeeping] too much, it ruins them, you know, breaks them. Then you have nothing. You’re just another lousy drummer.