Most successful wedding bands feature very talented musicians and do not play the “Chicken Dance” or “The Hokey-Pokey.” Instead, you’ll find most wedding bands play a mixture of jazz, Latin, Motown, disco, contemporary pop, and some ethnic music. You will need to know a variety of Latin grooves. In the world of bandleaders, there’s usually only “bossa” (nova) and “Latin” (which translates to “you figure it out”). While there is no substitute for being familiar with the actual songs you play, if you have a variety of styles under your belt your ability to fake a song can become undetectable. If you’re playing in a society-style orchestra you should also be familiar with common ethnic styles like the horah, polkas, samba, cha-cha, mambo, rumba, soca, reggae, and many others. Let’s check out some grooves you’ll need to know.
This common groove is prehistorically simple and couldn’t be more widely used. It’s played for a variety of older dance styles, and also works for rock, country, polkas, horahs, Dixieland, and jazz. If the leader calls out a song you don’t know, using this pattern can work until your ears figure out whether it’s a compound or simple meter feel.
Ballads are usually easy and are played in either 4/4 or 12/8.
You’ll need decent jazz skills to adequately cover swing tunes like “In The Mood” and Frank Sinatra classics. Most of the time, think swing, not bebop. Depending on the type of band you play with, the dinner music set may let the musicians stretch a bit.
When drum set players perform Latin or other ethnic songs on a kit, we imitate the effect of several percussionists. Our ride cymbal’s bell is used to cover cowbell parts, our bass drum covers the surdo part, our pedaled hi-hat is a shaker rhythm, rim clicks impersonate the clave part or conga slaps, and our toms become congas. There are a lot of grooves here, but they’re all required for this sort of work. Don’t hesitate to learn variations of these patterns. These are some of the trickiest grooves you’ll need to know. You like to practice, don’t you?
Think four-on-the-floor. Disco grooves may be more fun for bass players, but facility playing two-handed sixteenth-note grooves, upbeat grooves, and 1 e & 2 e & cymbal variations is needed.
You can play Motown songs in a more modern backbeat style, but if you know this groove and when to use it your R&B playing will be much more authentic.
Knowing a basic shuffle and a two-handed shuffle are useful for making ’60s-era rock and blues songs sound authentic. Playing a Purdie shuffle over a ’60s song will either make you sound inexperienced or too hip for the tune.
Basic rock grooves can fit a variety of styles. Four-on-the-floor works well for a lot of older songs. Funkier grooves work for funk and R&B. When in doubt, outline the bass player’s rhythm with your bass drum. Ah, teamwork.
If you don’t play brushes, learn. A detailed description of even basic brush technique is beyond the scope of this article, though there are some excellent DVDs and books available on the subject. YouTube and its brethren can also be helpful ways to learn some basic motions and techniques. The ability to play jazz ballads, mid-tempo, and up-tempo songs with brushes is required in most bands. It’s also a good idea to know some brush grooves in 3/4 for jazz waltzes. I often play with a brush in one hand and a stick, mallet, or dowel rod bundle in the other for contrasting timbres. On some gigs I never pick up two sticks.