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How To Groove at Jam Sessions

Jam Session
Photo by Kayla Xiang

Q: During jam sessions, I normally have a “hit and stick” approach to coming up with grooves. Essentially, there’s a lull between grooves where I end up peddling notes or playing the one. My keyboard player pointed this out and it bothers me. Is this something that I should be worried about? How do I lead a groove during these lulls as opposed to waiting for something to click?

A: The first thing I would encourage you to remember is that quite often the most important aspect of any groove is not necessarily the notes you choose but rather the rhythm and time. Some of the greatest grooves ever played only consisted of a root note, 5th and flatted 7th (or 6 and flatted 7).

I wouldn’t worry about coming up with a bunch of the “right notes”. While you focus on your rhythm and time, think about how to keep it interesting (or from just pedaling on the root). Try breaking up the octave or hitting the flatted 7th (assuming it’s a minor or dominant-type groove).

For example, listen to James Brown’s “Hot Pants”. The primary groove is nothing but a root and an octave. But it grooves!

Practice grooving at home with just a few notes – doing more with less. I often practice with nothing but one muted note, and I try to do it all with rhythm before adding harmony of any kind.

It’s really all about the “pocket”.

Now, in order to expand your vocabulary and help feed your creative abilities when you’re put on the spot, I would strongly suggest that you transcribe like crazy.

Start picking tunes that appeal to you on a groove-based level and learn the lines, note for note. Transcribing is a massive part of developing your vocabulary on the instrument. There’s no denying that learning dozens of grooves from various bassists will help you get a feel for developing grooves of your own (it also makes you more employable).

Here’s a good starter list of musicians to help inspire groove ideas and build your transcription list:

  1. Lettuce
  2. James Brown
  3. Stevie Wonder
  4. Chic
  5. Brother Johnson
  6. Al Green
  7. O’Jays
  8. Beatles
  9. Marvin Gaye
  10. Meshell Ndegeocello
  11. Etienne Mbappe
  12. Earth Wind & Fire
  13. Rufus ( feat. Chaka Kahn)
  14. Chaka Kahn

The list is practically endless. All of those musicians and bands have numerous tunes with fantastic bass lines which are fairly “meat-n-potatoes” harmonically but groove hard!

Readers, what do you say? Which tunes have you found most inpsiring for grooving? Which approaches have you taken? Please share in the comments.

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