What Makes A Great Bassist? Part 3: Defining Groove

Photo Credit: Mika Hiironniemi

As bassists, one of our main goals is to make the band groove. The only problem is that the term can be vague. Many young players that begin their quest for the elusive groove are met with descriptions like, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”

In an effort to share ideas and bring us all to a greater understanding of what it means to groove, we asked members of the bass community to reflect and tell us how they define it.

How do you define Groove?

Norm Stockton

Norm StocktonA feeling of consistent, predictable and reliable forward motion in the music.


Sebastiano Mereu

Sebastiano MereuA groove comes to life when the rhythm locks in with the harmony and gives a vital heartbeat to the song.


Nick Iongi

Nick IongiGroove to me is when your natural instinct plays a tune that others can pick up on, like your communicating through music. then its like the flow of music can guide you to the next riff or playing variations of the same riff. Groove is just and expression of ones soul of creativity


Joe Lev

Joe LevWhen everyone is listening to everyone else and feeling the same pulse. It’s 4 or 5 players counting to 4 together. It’s how things SHOULD be. It’s about being unselfish. We used to toast the “almighty groove” Would that people lived the groove more and their egos less.


Matty Bryson

Matty BrysonGroove is the telepathic feeling that is shared by a group of musicians, or by musicians to listeners. It can be any emotion, transmitted and received.


John Clayton

John ClaytonGroove is that rhythmic feeling that everyone agrees is the perfect feeling for song, [though it’s] an unverbalized agreement. It’s like great food. When all the ingredients are there and it works perfectly to excite your tastebuds exactly the way they should be stimulated, you know it. You can’t define the amounts of the ingredients that are going into it or even what the ingredients are.


JRodney Collins

JRodney CollinsGroove for me is complete detachment from all notions of right/wrong, proper/improper. It’s letting go and with some convolution, immersing yourself in the pulse of everything. It’s rising above all and being conversant with all, intuitively. It prolongs the moment we all have experienced when it was “just right”… you didn’t know where it came from but you knew the moment you were the omnipotent Master then and how good and easy it had all become. Truth is you let go and felt when it was time, thought when it was time, listened, when it was time, you were aware that you were heard and was being heard. Groove is a state of mind.


Torben Scharling

torben-scharlingGrooving is the concept of uniting each musicians rhythmic pulse into one moving entity. It’s a sophisticated yet very natural way for human beings to communicate (through) music. When the groove happens, and it’s locked in/in sync – the sum makes for a grander, more profound, and ultimately better musical experience both for the listener, and the musicians involved.


Andrew Perera

The thing that makes the guitarists wish they played bass.


How about you?

How do you define groove? Tell us in the comments, or just leave a video of your favorite groove!

Check out more from this series: Part 1: Playing for the Song and Part 2: Expressing Yourself

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Share your thoughts

  1. “The thing that makes the guitarists wish they played bass.”

  2. An intuitive feeling that creates a sense of movement, of constant flow. A sensation shared by the musicians in that moment, and transmitted to the listeners. What makes you say: “I need to dance.”

  3. Getting the drummer and band tuned up with syncopation.

    • Thank you, but as a drummer I can tune up the syncopation myself. I need emphasis, maybe that’s what you meant. I think bassists are translators between drummers (rhythms) and the other band members (melodies). Without a bassist, bands’ rhythms seem to go anywhere despite of my efforts.

  4. Groove is the glue that holds the band together.

  5. Groove is lovely, but there are too many musicians who overcomplicate it. The simpler you get, the groovier it gets.

    • It’s what you leave out

    • The was a sculptor who was asked how he could transform a solid block of marble into such a beautiful a horse. He said, I simply chip away everything that isn’t horse.

    • Nah, not always, some people can groove as fat as f*** and be playing a lot of notes, unfortunately we aren’t all Rocco, and the people who cant do that and keep it grooving are the ones who just arent listening anyway, otherwise they would realise and sto pit….

    • totally agree… for a drummer, I really admire bassists like Bootsy Collins. You have to got guts to leave only the essence when that’s what it takes

  6. Groove is when you everywhere in the tune, feeling every pulse of the band then laying it down.

  7. Groove happens when the bass and drums play in perfect time, and it builds tension and magic with every bar that remains in time. As soon as there is the slightest variance in time the groove stops and has to rebuild tension.

  8. What is groove? Rhythmic syncopation between the bassist and drummer that becomes melodically infectious to everyone involved!

  9. It’s when all of the parts equal the sum, and the sum is one which is in sync, locked in, and everything is pretty much on auto pilot. You don’t think about what you are playing, you enjoy what everybody is playing.

  10. You know it’s “groovin” when your head starts to bob back and forth, side to side… then it tilts back and you smile. It’s like getting scratched where you didn’t even know you had an itch.

    That could also be some sort of spasm. If you really want to know you’re groovin, look at your audience. If THEY are moving, swaying, smiling… you’re groovin.

  11. When you get to a place where the music takes over your soul and nothing else matters and when the song’s over, it’s like the best sex you’ve ever had.

  12. Norm Stockton nailed it. That is the most clear-cut, to the point definition of grooving that I can think of. It’s that consistent forward motion in music, and you are consumed by it as a bass player. You’re driving the bus. Conducting the train. Pushing things forward. It’s the best feeling!

    • I’m down with this. Finally a description lol

    • Norm is actually the reason I thought to do this article. I sat in on one of his clinics and he gave his explanation of groove.

    • William

      I respectfully disagree with Norm’s definition. “Consistent, predictable and reliable forward motion in the music” sounds more like the definition of a marching band, or something produced on a computer, which, to me, is the opposite of a groove. The groove needs to ebb and flow, and there needs to be give and take, especially between the drummer and bass player. And it is NOT perfect time. That’s why drum/rhythm machine tracks need to be “de-quantized” to groove (or swing) and sound “human.” A groove created by human musicians will have ebbs and flows measured in milliseconds. Not by intention, but by human nature., because we are not machines. I do agree that one of the essential qualities of a groove is strong feeling of forward motion, a propelling if you will. That’s what makes people get up and dance, bob their heads, or tap there feet, i.e., MOVE their bodies. And one thing I know, as a bass player for over 30 years, is that groove, fundamentally, cannot be taught. You are either born with ability to groove or you are not. And one last thing, the more I mature as a bass players, the less notes I play. Groove needs some empty space, as others above have pointed out. Yeah, there are a few exceptions, like Rocco P’s 16th note lines. But his lines pulse, and don’t move around much pitch-wise, allowing other instruments to lay on top of it.

      • Timothy Pascale

        I disagree and think that it can be taught to a receptive candidate. I did not know how to a long time ago but I learned. Is it as easy to teach as a major scale? of course not! is it more complex? absolutely

  13. grove is the soul the backbone the underlieing curent life itself.

  14. When you move your head like a chicken and make strange faces.

  15. Groove is that thing, when the crap settles down and your head starts to move, you’re not sure why, it just happens. when you look over at the drummer and (s)he’s smiling back at you, the audience is smiling. It’s can be classical, jazz, funk or rock but without groove music becomes sorely one dimensional.
    frankly … it’s boring if it doesn’t groove.

  16. Can someone tell me who the main picture is of and why does he look like me?

  17. When it feels like you are miming.

  18. Man’s first groove was his own heart beat, from there the concept of the one emerged and set forth its elyptical embrace among the omni-universe. Those who choose the defy the elipse cloned and transmutated the groove in the shape of a square, thus digitizing and de-funkafying man’s natural inclination towards groove. Some of us through the aid of Funkinteleky, have preserved the groove in the Pulmonary Tricuspid and are now in the process of naturalizing and restoring the ‘One” to its natural orbit. In other words , “The groove is in the heart”.

  19. The Groove isss for ever moving, Growing, all inclusive, devoid of Ego and afterwards…..(Smiles).

  20. Groove happens when the bassist and drummer resist the urge to fill. So it’s a ego-less thing, as pointed by Joe Lev. It involves listening with the belly and making the mind more silent than usual, so it’s kind of a meditation!

  21. A groove was not meant to be defined, it’s a feeling. And like love, you know when you’ve found it.

  22. To me, groove a statement of a vibe. It says, “Here is where I am; join me.” That can also mean “perform with me” or “listen to me”.

    Groove can be also be an agreement of a vibe being felt; it involves the one person playing or the many people playing.

    BAASSIKly speaking, that is!

  23. Grooves are rhythmic patterns produced mainly in 4/4 time that make listeners feeling dancy

  24. Groove is the musical essence, which comes from your heart and mind, it happens when you feel free and happy, all limits are gone, you’re becoming music in a viby way, your smiling and enjoying yourself and others :)

  25. A groovy bass line is : 1 third of rhythm fusion with drums, 1 third of clear chords progression and one third of melodic construction… Some sweat and, as Oscar Pettiford said, “Put all your love in your instrument…” No worry.. You’ll groove !

  26. Bass Ed

    Groove is what makes all living being come together in harmony

  27. Groove is in the heart! And i think it’s the musics heart as well

  28. Kelly

    A ballet of harmonic balance in motion.

  29. Groove is when you stop thinking about what you’re playing, because everyone is locked in with each other and it just flows like water. You no longer hunt around with your ears trying to find who is “there” and who is “somewhere else”. As a Bassist, I am always trying to be the glue that holds each side together. Being in the groove is like when you get superglue on your fingers; no more trying to hold it together !!!

  30. Tommy Mains

    You know you found the groove when the 4-5 hottest babes in the club hit the dance floor. Bass and Babes….I love this life.

  31. dario lo monaco

    It’s not groove if it don’t make you move

  32. It’s the celebrated pathway of least resistance and maximum effect; it is there for all band members to find and dive into. When everyone, including the listeners, is aboard (the groove), the rollercoaster can ride anywhere without risk of derailing, and we all have a magical ride!

  33. You can’t hold no goove if you ain’t got no pocket…

  34. If a song were a house, and the drummer is the floor plan, the bass player is the walls. He or she, with the drummer, gives the song it’s shape. The guitarsists, keys, brass players and strings are the decorators – they give the song colour and style. The singer(s) live in the house, and their personality is totally reliant on the floorplan, the walls, and the decor to express themselves.

  35. i’m no good at words so i’ll place simple yet understandable. groove – if you can’t dance to it, it’s no groove.

  36. I think of the groove as what results when a group of musicians are playing as if they share a single brain.

  37. There is no description. You feel it when it’s there, you know it when it is not

  38. I think groove is how to relate time to music to get a harmony between heads with our bodies

  39. Ross

    That booty moving magic.

  40. Timothy Pascale

    In it’s simplest form , it is when the rhythmic pattern of the bass and the rhythmic pattern of the kick and snare are synchronized together and compliment each other. Any variations or licks, from either player, do not detract, distract or subtract from it. Some of the components are : space (rests), pulse, tempo of course, tonality (moving through chordal changes), simplicity, (usually), and most important, it feels good!. It would be nice if guitarists and keyboardists, who are usually more focused on soloing aspects, joined the groove party.

  41. The groove is solely the creation of a bassist. That creation is the glue, the conductor that a band has to follow, it’s that important. The bassline to Money by Anthony Jackson makes the song. Without it, it’s dead in the water. That’s power. In the end it’s a collaborative effort however nobody dances to a trumpet or guitar solo.

  42. Jerrod Knisley

    When everyone just feels it. It’s not techniques or theory. It’s that Zen moment. Wether you’re playing a complex jazz line or root notes.