Good Time Charlie

Feb 27, 2020
Groove is, of course, one of those slippery things, easy to mention and hard to describe, much less teach. But if you're going to play fingerstyle guitar, groove is one of the essential things to consider, and probably the first one worth paying attention to. Because as a solo guitarist, you're it; you're responsible for keeping the timing and the feel together, and there's generally no one else to get that from. (Even if you are playing with, say, bass and drums, you still have a responsibility to know where the time is, but that's a whole other rant). Music takes place in time, so if you can't groove, it doesn't matter how tricky or beautiful your repertoire is; it won't sound as good as it can if your time's not good.

And groove is, at its simplest, good time. When I say groove, I mean: is your alternating or steady bass solid? Can you switch from chord to chord without breaking your stride? Have you gone through the tunes in your repertoire and cleaned up all those little hiccups where you pause, even for a fraction of a second, before grabbing the next note?

That's the work of getting your groove together. It's not super-mystical, really. It's the practice of noticing where your playing slips a gear, and going in to clean those spots up. That alone will make the things you play start to sound better. You've probably heard most if not all of these things before: Slow things down. Work with a metronome. Record yourself and listen back objectively. Isolate your trouble spots instead of just playing whole pieces over and over.

It's detail work, and it's not the same as hanging out and picking your guitar for fun. But it is tangible: you can sit down to do most of these things and actually know if you're doing them or not. It's also cumulative: getting your groove together on one tune will make you that much more capable of sitting down to clean up the next one. And, it's satisfying, even if that satisfaction takes some time to kick in: focus on your right hand coordination, on taking apart and understanding your trouble spots, on slowing down and tightening things up, and you will start to sound better. Because even the simplest things sound better when played well, when played with good time.

This week's lesson wraps up a six-part series on fingerstyle grooves. The more I listen to jazz, the more I realize how heavily my favorite improvisors rely on the basic vocabulary of the blues. So in this lesson, we'll look at how to apply E blues licks to a swing-style bass line. (To hear a closely-related instance of this lesson's chord progression, give Fletcher Henderson's "Christopher Columbus" a spin.) You can check it out here:

Blues Licks Over a Swing Bass

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More soon,