Groove is a key concept for all bassists to understand and, as we will find out, is especially important to worship bassists. To start things off, let’s play a little game I call, “Groove or No Groove”.
…Watch the following videos and decide for each if the music grooves or doesn’t groove.
1. Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah –
2. Lincoln Brewster and Norm Stockton Jam –
3. Chris Tomlin – Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) –
4. The Isaacs – He Ain’t Never Done Me Nothin’ But Good –
5. Hubn Bubn Polka Band – Line Dance Polka –
OK, have your answers? Since I can’t tally everyone’s responses, here is a set of answers that would not be unusual:
“Steve, easy game, dude! Lincoln and Norm ~g-r-o-o-v-e~! You can feel the groove as soon as the downbeat hits! As for the rest: “Hallelujah Chorus” absolutely does not groove. “Amazing Grace” is a lovely tune, but doesn’t groove. “He Ain’t Never Done Me Nothin But Good” is a great country song, but is a country song, not a groove. And the polka…well, you’re a funny guy, Steve.”
What about your answers? Agree? Disagree? Final answers, please…
What if we consider the possibility that all of these pieces groove?
It has become common, particularly among bass players, to make “groove” synonymous with “funky”. In worship circles, songs that have a strong gospel feel will be labeled as having groove. While music with funk and gospel feels may indeed groove, it is very important to realize that groove is completely independent of musical style, tempo, or meter.
If groove is an independent element, what is it exactly? One definition from Merriam-Webster Online is, “a pronounced enjoyable rhythm”. I’m not sure that captures the meaning of groove completely, so I’ll offer the following:
Groove is the underlying, defining pulse of music that provides a foundation for the rhythmic and melodic elements of a song.
So, back to our quiz: The “Hallelujah Chorus” is certainly not funky; however, there is a strict 4/4 groove that the piece is based on. You can sense the sharp pulse upon which long phrases and staccato accents are laid to create beautiful music. Lincoln and Norm are absolutely in a groove – this one just happens to have a funkier feel (not to mention fantastic bass work by Mr. Stockton!). “Amazing Grace” has a slow tempo, but still has a groove! The pulse can be felt like a heartbeat, which highlights the depth of the music that is following this groove. “He Ain’t Never Done Me Nothin’ But Good” is chock full of groove! Take a look at the people in the audience if you have any doubt that there is groove in that room. Finally, yes, the polka has groove! When you watch the video, notice the movement of the players – they almost can’t help themselves from moving to the groove. They feel the pulse of the music – the groove – and build the rhythms and melodies on top of that pulse.
The game was fun, but there’s actually more to the understanding of groove than word play and semantics. Groove is the underlying pulse that bassists have to understand and feel in order to create bass lines that have musical depth. Groove is everywhere, but many bassists tend to only tap into the groove when the music is interesting to them. Here are four fictitious examples: Song 1 is funky, so there is a deep connection to the groove. The bass lines fit in the pulse, which is felt by the drummer, which creates a pocket for the music to reside. Song 2 is full of static eighth notes playing the roots of chords, so the groove relationship is absent. The lack of this connection makes the music “flat” and weakens the interconnectivity among the group. Song 3 has a bass solo spot, so the groove can’t be stopped. Bassists tend to want solos to sound great, so we instinctively lock into the groove so that we have a home base from which to improvise. Song 4 has 32 measures of rests, 8 measures with whole notes in each, and 64 measures of rests, so why even bother finding the groove? In pieces like this, those 8 measures are often climactic and need to be filled with the groove.
When bassists don’t tap into the groove, another definition from Merriam-Webster Online fits:
Groove: a fixed routine : RUT
This happens in worship all of the time. Worship bassists decide to turn groove on and off depending on whether they like the song, whether the song is exciting to play, whether other musicians enjoy the song, and a plethora of other reasons. Here is the problem with this: the worship bassist isn’t just providing the base for the worship music, but is providing the foundation upon which the entire worship experience rests!
This was brought to my attention on a recent Sunday. We had a song on the set list with which I didn’t connect. I wasn’t feeling the groove and initially my playing reflected this lack of connection. This changed when we started the song and I noticed a woman on the front row. She was singing, dancing, and was absolutely filled with the song! She felt the groove! This song was speaking to her in a way more powerfully than I ever would have thought. I realized that each and every song requires attention to the groove so that the worship experience is built to the fullest.
Groove is powerful! Depression, fear, anxiety, and other negative emotions that someone might carry into the worship service create barriers between that person and the worship. Music that is immersed in the groove can destroy these barriers and let the worship flow freely. In contrast, people can have their joy, happiness, and hope drained when we choose not to tap into the groove and bring our best to worship. It is a responsibility of the worship bassist to hear, understand, and play with the groove on every song, regardless of any other factor!
I’d like to offer a challenge: in the next service you play, tie every single song into the groove. Fill yourself and your playing with the groove regardless of tempo, meter, your like/dislike of the song, or the influence of anyone else. Be the absolute rock upon which the worship rests. If you truly commit to this challenge, I bet that you will experience worship in a way you never have before and your playing will never be the same! In fact, I anticipate that you will receive compliments for the “feel” of your playing. This will happen without changing any notes or tempos, but simply feeling the groove and translating it into your bass lines. Let me know your results – leave a comment or join me in the Bass Musician Magazine Community – I can’t wait to hear what happens!
Until next time, I hope that your bass playing is blessed and that you can bless others through your bass playing!