Building a Better Groove

A funky masterclass from the December 2013 KEYBOARD archives.
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Whether I’m in the studio working and producing different projects, or I’m playing live on stages around the world, for me everything starts with the groove. Often times, you can get things cooking by simply laying down a few well-constructed measures of music. Let’s take four bars and build a bed of some musical funk in the key of E minor. Remember—if it don’t groove, how you gonna feel anything?

Scroll down for audio examples.

1. Groove Bass-ics

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For me, the bass line always starts the groove on the “one.”I prefer a little busier pick bass foundation, like this part shown in Ex. 1.

2. Rhodes and Clav

Next come the Rhodes and Clav parts, seen in Ex. 2a and 2b.

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I’ll approach the Rhodes pad less rhythmically, playing half- and whole-notes to lay down a solid musical bed.

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The Clav then comes in with more of a rhythmic feel. I always approach playing Clavinet like a guitarist might, playing slightly more counter-rhythms than I might on another instrument.

3. Strings and Horns

Let’s continue stacking our groove by adding strings and horns to the mix, as seen in Ex. 3a and 3b.

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Strings are usually the least “busy” of all the instruments. I often play longer notes and use them as the glue that binds the track together.

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Next, the horns play more melody and less rhythm because (for instance) the organ will be playing a solo.

4. Organ Solos

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When the organ is soloing as in Ex. 4, I usually approach it with fewer notes at first, building it as the groove itself develops. I often employ a behind-the-beat feel when playing organ, as many times that’s the kind of vibe I am going for.

Think Like an Arranger

“Remember that just because you can record 100 tracks doesn’t mean you should. Make every part you add count and find its own perfect place in the mix,” says Ricky Peterson. Best known for his work with David Sanborn, Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Nicks, Peterson is currently at work on a myriad of new projects, including touring and recording with guitarist Robben Ford, producing singer Rockie Robbins, and finishing his fifth solo album due. Find out more at