Identify The Groove Of A Song With These 3 Exercises

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For beginning musicians and engineers, it’s sometimes difficult for them to find the groove of a song. That’s usually because they haven’t been exposed to a groove-monster player who makes everything sound better just by laying it down. That experience will forever stick in your brain and you’ll always know a groove the second you feel it. Until that happens, the next best thing is to listen to some hit recordings to help you learn to identify the groove.

What Is “The Groove?”

The groove is the pulse of the song. It’s that undeniable feeling that makes you want to get off your seat and shake your booty. You don’t have to know what it is as much as recognize it when it’s there, or when it’s not. Despite what you might think, it’s not only dance music that has a groove. Every kind of music, whether it’s R&B, jazz, rock, country, or some alien space music, has a groove, but the better the music is performed, the “deeper” the groove is.

Contrary to popular belief, a groove doesn’t have to have perfect time because a groove is created by tension against even time. As a result, the playing doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be even in its execution. In fact, music loses its groove if it’s too perfect, which is why a song can sound lifeless after it’s been quantized in a workstation. It’s lost its groove.

Another misconception is that the groove always comes from the drums and/or bass, but it could be other instruments as well. For instance, the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” has the rhythm guitar establish the groove, Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” uses a synthesizer line, while many of the Motown hits of the 60s relied on James Jamerson’s or Bob Babert’s bass.

Regardless of what instrument is providing the groove of the song, if you want a great arrangement or mix, you’ve got to find it and develop it first before you do anything else. Here are a few exercises from my Music Mixing Workbook that should help.

Exercise 1

In order to hear a groove at its best, let’s go to the masters. Play any song by James Brown, Prince, Sly and the Family Stone or George Clinton. 

◻︎Can you feel the pulse of the song, the groove?

◻︎Can you identify the mix elements that are providing the groove?

Exercise 2

A) Pick one of your favorite songs and have a listen. 

◻︎Can you feel the pulse of the song? 

◻︎What mix elements are providing the groove?

B) Play a song at random. 

◻︎Can you feel the pulse of the song? 

◻︎What mix elements are providing the groove?

C) Play a song from a genre that you seldom listen to. 

◻︎Can you feel the pulse of the song? 

◻︎What mix elements are providing the groove?

Exercise 3

Now listen to all of those songs again. 

◻︎What makes the groove stand out? 

◻︎Is it the balance of the mix elements? 

◻︎Is it because the mix elements providing the groove are louder? 

◻︎Is it the tone of the mix elements? 

◻︎Are they punchier sounding than the others?

As stated above, you’ll never have a great mix until you have a great groove. Once you identify the groove, you’ll find that the mix seems to come together much easier.

You can read more from The Music Mixing Workbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

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