Groove, Space, and Dynamics

Groove, Space, and Dynamics. Three things that we can always have more of in the music we create.

No matter if you make your livelihood playing music, or if you’re a newbie, it’s good to be reminded of the fundamentals of playing music together. I’ll often use these as talking points as we begin our rehearsals.


~ Groove is the sense of propulsive rhythmic "feel" or sense of "swing" created by the interaction of the music played by a band's rhythm section (drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards). (source: Wikipedia)

~ It requires a common pulse. We need to be feeling that underlying regularly recurring beat…maybe we’re all bobbing our heads at the same time (but not like metal heads, no offense metal heads)

~ It is set up by the correct tempo. There’s a reason songs are written at a certain tempo: they work that way! (and yes, you should use a metronome or click)

~ We must always listen and respond to each other. Focus on interacting musically, call and respond, give each other room.

~ Know what makes the song “work.” Is it the kick drum pattern, a downstrum pattern on the guitar, a piano riff?

~ Ask “Are the parts fitting together? Do they ‘lock’ in place?” (fight for that sense of lock!)

~ Ask “Are we playing on the same ‘side’ of the beat?” The more you play on the “backside” of the beat, the deeper the groove. If one of you pushes the beat and another one drags the beat (even if your both paying the identical tempo) it won’t groove.


~ Unless you’re playing with professional musicians, you’ll need to ask for space.

~ The notes are as important as the space (or the “not notes”)

~ Ask “Where can I add space or lay out?”

~ Ask “Where am I not needed or crucial to the music?”

~ Ask “Where can I let someone else shine?”

~ Ask “Can I play fewer notes, beats, harmonies?”

~ Ask “Would my part sound full if I played it alone?” If so, then it’s likely too much. Play things that would sound too empty if played solo.

~ Use the 100% rule – a song is made up of how much each person plays. If all five of you play 50%, you have an awful 250% song. If there are five of you, each of you can play 20%. If there are two of you, each of you play 50%. This is saying “less is more” using math.

~ What if you had a rule that said that on every verse of every song, at least one person has to lay out?


~ Dynamics are relative. Different moments in each song should be bigger or smaller than others.

~ Ask “Am I playing as ‘small’ as I can? Am I playing as ‘big’ as I can?”

~ Ask “Do I need to play the whole song?” “Does everyone need to start playing at the beginning of the song?” (think like a symphony)

~ Ask “What number is each section?” Assign a number (1-10) to each section, for example, Intro: 8, Verse One: 4, PreChorus: 5, Chorus One: 7… (idea credit: Dan Wilt)

Here are some ideas for how to play with different dynamics on each instrument:


  • One hand – two hands
  • Block chords – moving/arpeggiated rhythms
  • Play a higher register – play a lower register
  • Play a melodic riff/pattern only – play the chords
  • Lay out – play

Acoustic Guitar

  • Capo high – no capo/full chord
  • Pick – strum
  • Muted strum – full ringing strum
  • Finger pick – pick using a pick
  • Lay out – play

Electric Guitar

  • EBow – picked lead
  • Muted strum – full ring strum
  • Clean – distortion/other effects
  • Melodic lead – strum
  • Lay out – play


  • Play staccato – play legato
  • Play higher strings – play lower strings
  • Play whole note rhythms – play quarter, eighth, or sixteenth rhythms
  • Lay out – play


  • Hi-hat/kick pattern – hi-hat/snare/kick pattern
  • Closed hi-hat – open hi-hat or crash “hi-hat”
  • Straight groove/beat – lots of fills
  • Use lighter sticks/hot rods – heavier/wood sticks
  • Lay out – play

Aux instruments

  • If you play woodwind, strings, or brass…please don’t play all the time! You’re beautiful, really, but hearing a wondering clarinet though a whole set is just not helping the overall sound. A flute is the ketchup, not the burger.


  • Sing light and breathy – sing with full voice
  • Sing melody – sing harmony
  • Sing lower in your register – sing higher in your register
  • Lay out – sing