Groove, the rhythmic feel or sense of swing: how do you get it?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 3, 2022

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Groove is the sense of propulsive rhythmic “feel” or sense of “swing” created by the interaction of the music played by a band’s rhythm section (drums, electric bass or double bass, guitar, and keyboards).

Ubiquitous in popular music, groove is a consideration in genres such as salsa, funk, rock, fusion, and soul. The word is often used to describe the aspect of certain music that makes one want to move, dance, or “groove”.

Musicologists and other scholars began to analyze the concept of “groove” in the 1990s.

Add groove to your music

They have argued that a “groove” is an “understanding of rhythmic patterning” or “feel” and “an intuitive sense” of “a cycle in motion” that emerges from “carefully aligned concurrent rhythmic patterns” that sets in motion dancing or foot-tapping on the part of listeners.

The term “groove” was taken from the groove of a vinyl record, meaning the track cut in the lathe that makes a record.

The different elements that create groove

Groove is created with syncopation, anticipations, subdivisions, and variations in dynamics and articulation.

Syncopation is the displacement of the regular metrical accent (usually on the strong beats) by occasionally placing significant accents where they would not normally occur.

Anticipations are notes that occur slightly before the downbeat (the first beat of a measure).

Subdivisions are the separation of a beat into specific subdivisions. Variations in dynamics and articulation are variations in how loud or soft, and how staccato or legato, the notes are played.

The elements that create groove can be found in many types of music, from salsa to funk to rock to fusion and soul.

How to get a groove in your own playing?

Try syncopating your rhythms by displacing the regular metrical accent by occasionally placing significant accents where they would not normally occur.

Anticipate notes slightly before the downbeat to add a sense of anticipation and excitement to your playing. Break up beats into subdivisions, especially half-notes and quarter-notes, to make them more dynamic and interesting.

Finally, vary the dynamics and articulation of your notes to add more interest and variety to your playing.

Practicing with a focus on groove

Practicing your groove will help you to develop a feel for the music and make your playing more exciting and dynamic.

It can also help you to better understand the connection between the different elements of music and how they work together to create the overall feel of a piece.

When you have a good understanding of groove, you will be able to add your own personal style to the music and make it your own.

To develop your groove skills, try practicing with a metronome and experiment with different rhythms, sounds, and phrasing. You can also listen to music that emphasizes groove and learn from the masters of this style.

With time and practice, you will be able to create grooves that are uniquely your own!

Examples of groovy music to listen to and learn from:

  • Santana
  • James Brown
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Marvin Gaye
  • Tower of Power
  • Earth, Wind & Fire

Putting it all together – tips for developing your own groove

  1. Experiment with syncopation by displacing the regular metrical accent.
  2. Try anticipations by playing notes slightly before the downbeat.
  3. Subdivide beats into half-notes and quarter-notes to add more dynamics.
  4. Vary the dynamics and articulation of your notes to create interest

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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