Locking your notes onto the groove

November 28th, 2014

As a teacher, one of my concerns over the years has been rhythm.

I don’t mean keeping time—that’s the easy part.

My concern has been, how do you teach students how to lock in their playing to the groove so that it’s perfectly in time?

The other day, I had a sudden epiphany.

The answer is to let rhythm do your playing for you.

Don’t try to force your playing, don’t be too aggressive. Let go and let rhythm do the playing for you.

On the surface, this may sound like a simple concept but it’s not so easy to implement.

To be able to do this, you’ll first have to develop an impeccable sense of time, then you’ll have to develop good finger control, and when you’ve achieved mastery over these two areas, you’ll have to have the confidence to let go and let rhythm and your fingers do your playing for you.

You’re probably aware of the quick-finger syndrome of inexperienced players when they first attempt to do pull-offs.

In their anxiety to perform the technique, and perhaps through lack of finger control, they usually pull off too quickly, resulting in rushed slurred notes.

That’s an extreme example of what can happen when we become too aggressive in our playing.

But the problem is not confined to beginner players.

I’ve found that a similar problem exists even in advanced players, although to a lesser degree.

Instead of rushing through slurs, many players have small rhythmic inaccuracies in their playing either because they’re too anxious to perform the notes or because they lack rhythmic precision, or simply because they don’t know how to lock their notes onto the groove.

These inaccuracies are so subtle that sometimes not even the players are aware of it themselves.

So how do you lock your notes into the groove?

First, become deeply aware of rhythm, feel it in every part of your being. It has to become second nature, you don’t even have to think about it and yet it’s there, burned into your sub-consciousness.

Then, relinquish control and let rhythm take over.

Practice this first with slurs—hammer-ons and pull-offs. Villa Lobos’ Etude #3 is a good piece to practice this on.

As you play the slurs, imagine that your fingers are totally under the control of your rhythm. They’re no longer independent entities with a will of their own. Feel the eighth note subdivisions and let them play the slurs for you.

When you master rhythmic playing with slurs, do it with regular notes. Make sure you lock in your notes onto the groove so that the notes are perfectly aligned with the beat.

As an aside, this is not to suggest that you playing should be rhythmically strict and stiff. Your groove can be free and flexible. The important thing is that no matter how free your groove is, your notes are always locked onto it.

When you do this, it will seem as if your fingers are driven by some unseen energy, as if they’re self driven. And the amazing thing is they will be totally in time, locked onto the groove.

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