As I sit down to write this blog entry, I am returning home from visiting my mom and performing at an Open Mic in New York City. I'm driving home alone and to occupy my mind to stay alert I am listening to music on my iPhone in shuffle mode which include some of my favorite artists as well as tracks of mine from my CD's. As I listen, I ask myself what it is about certain songs that I find most pleasing and appealing to me. I really listen to the songs(an isolated drive will do that to you). As I do, I begin to notice a pattern emerging between the songs I really enjoy, those that I just like and those that make me wonder why they're on my iPhone. It's "groove" or a lack thereof.
By groove, I mean a repeating recognizable rhythmic pattern or motif that underlies the rest of the instrumentation, melody and harmonies of a particular song. The best songs seem to have a groove that is consistent tempo-wise throughout the song but which doesn't interfere with the lyrics or the melody, but becomes the integral basis for the song itself. Why should this be? Why should a song's groove become so important to be truly appealing? The answer to my mind harkens back to something I learned from Livingston Taylor in his class on State Performance Techniques. He pointed out that in order for an audience to "suspend their reality" in order to become genuinely involved with your performance, they must feel "safe". That is, the audience must feel comfortable with some recognizable and consistent aspect of your performance that puts them at ease. Livingston emphasized the maintenance of a consistent tempo throughout a song as the basis for a solid performance.
What a consistent tempo is to a live performance, I believe that "groove" is to a recorded song. In order for a song to become genuinely appealing to a listener, the song's groove must be recognizable, consistent as to pattern and tempo, and form the basis for the melodic and harmonic lines of the song. It seems to me that while drums seem to play a large role in establishing a solid groove, that role can be filled by a great bass line or a percussive, rhythmic guitar part. I recall being accused by Livingston of having my tempo to much established by my hands in my somewhat percussive, acoustic style. This may be true to the extent that I (like many solo guitarist, singer/songwriters I know) have a tendency to speed up my tempo during a song if I become excited or nervous during a performance. So I keep on working on this aspect of my performance technique as an emerging artist. But when I am recording, I generally play to a metronome which helps solve this problem. But what it also does is reinforce the song's groove as well. And listening to myself on my iPhone in my recorded material, I can tell the difference between when I play without a metronome in a rubato style and when I play along with a metronome.
As I drive home, I make myself a promise to both practice and to songwriter to a metronome to improve my tempo consistency and improve my "groove" for my music. After all, there's always room for improvement . . . .
Food for thought.
Yours in DADGAD