Time is not a click.

This is a blog post article by Martan Mann
Author of JazzSkills for Piano®
View other posts at MartanBlog.

Music is not about perfection.  It is about feeling.  Jazz, in particular is about groove.  It is groove which gives jazz it’s identity, it’s purpose, it’s joy.  You know groove when you hear it.  You know what it feels like.  The main issue is . . . how to develop a great groove in your playing?

I’m pretty sure that ALL great players practice to a metronome.  Practicing to a metronome develops an internal “click” in the player’s subconscious.  However the click is only a reference point.  If you have recorded your music, you, and all the players on the recording, have probably listened to a “click track” while recording.  All the players have the same reference point of time.

But this does not create a groove.  The groove is a point of “off-ness”.  Being “off” of the click of the metronome creates emotion.  If the player simply attempts to duplicate the metronome click, the music is “groove-less”.  It won’t swing.  It won’t have the required emotion.

I think of “time” as a pressure, not a click.  It feels like water coming out of a hose.  It is continuous.  It never “let’s up”.  Once you have identified this pressure (I often feel it in the small of my back), then identify with it.  The pressure is not dependent upon what you are playing.  It is just “there”.  It is automatic.  It is constant.

How do you develop a particular groove?  (In fact, there are many different grooves in jazz.)

First, you have to specifically identify the groove you want to develop.  Is it a deep blues groove?  Or, maybe an intense “Chick Corea Groove”?  Perhaps it is a “Stan Getz Bossa Groove”?  You might be trying to duplicate an “Oscar Peterson Groove”?

Second, listen to a recording which exemplifies the particular groove you are trying to develop.  This is important:  sing the groove.  To sing the groove, don’t think about the chords or melodies.  Make up a scat language which sounds like the groove.  You don’t have to sing on pitch.  Just approximate the feeling and timing of the groove.

Third, you need to develop an accompaniment pattern to play with a simple chord change.  I often suggest using a diatonic turnaround, i.e.:  I, VIm, IIm, V7.  Play a looped pattern over and over as an accompaniment pattern.  For instance: you can use a simple “chunk, chunk” in the left hand, playing quarter notes.  Or, if you are more advanced, play a simple bass line.  Play this chord pattern over and over while singing the groove.  Perhaps, for example you can play a Boogie Woogie groove using a 12-bar blues.  Make sure the accompaniment pattern you choose is easy for you to play.

Once this is automatic, then start singing improvised simple melodies over your accompaniment pattern.  The sung melodies do not duplicate the groove.  You have to imagine that you are a singer or instrumentalist singing off of the accompaniment pattern.

Finally, apply this groove to an actual song.  Start by just learning the accompaniment and chord changes of the song.  Then, very slowly add in melody.  Adding in melody is a significant level of difficulty.  Remember not to play the melody as a groove.  The melody is separate from the groove.

Always return to the recording of the original groove that you are attempting to learn.  Keep reinforcing it in your subconscious.  Do it every day until the groove is permanently part of your subconscious language!


Martan Mann is the author of the Online Jazz Study Course, JazzSkills for Piano (jazzskillsforpiano.com).  His website:  musicmann.com.  He can be contacted at (831) 338-4986 and martan@jazzskillsforpiano.com.MartanSide2013