‘Groove Glue’, in its most common form, is anchoring time with your left foot on the hi-hat pedal. This is where you’d pedal a consistent pattern with your hats underneath grooves, fills and transitions. The most common patterns for this are quarter notes, eighth notes or on the upbeats (‘ands’), but the options are virtually limitless. You can alternate splash and closed notes, use clave rhythms, or any other pattern you can dream up, provided you can play it consistently enough that it serves as a foundation for the rest of your playing to adhere.
If you’ve never tried this before, a great way to get started with left foot anchoring is in the context of a four-on-the-floor beat. Below is notation for this, first with 1/4 note LF-hats, then with 1/8th note LF-hats, and finally offbeat hats.
In this context, 1/4 notes will line up with your bass drums so that your feet do the same thing, 1/8th notes will line up with your right hand, so RH/LF does the same job, and offbeats will feel like your feet are ‘walking.’
The power of this anchoring concept becomes apparent when you start to use it through transitions. Transitions are when you change from one thing to another; for example, a verse to a chorus. Through practice, your left foot’s pattern will feel comfortable and stable, like a stage for the rest of your limbs to play music. You can think about it like a metronome you’re physically playing; it stays the same through your beats and your fills.
Internalizing this concept deeply enough to become useful is benchmarked by when you no longer need to give it any attention to play the pattern, and when you can tell it’s solid and comfortable without actively focusing on it. Once you’ve developed it to this level, you can think about the beats and fills you play as lining up to that ‘self click,’ where every piece will either land on or in between the left-foot notes (or in some clear pattern-based relationship in more advanced phrasings); this is the essence of Groove Glue.
If you want to learn more about anchoring time with your left foot, check out my live lesson “Your Left Foot Anchor” and Jeff Salem’s lesson “Developing Time With Your Hi-Hat Foot” on Drumeo.
When you’re comfy with the initial concept (using your left foot to anchor a solid pattern to ground the rest of your playing), you can start to think about other limbs and rhythms in this way. For example, try this with your right hand in an 8th note beat like we had in the previous section.
To get a feel for what I mean, first pick up a stick with your right hand and air-drum a string of ‘large’ 8th notes; by ‘large,’ I mean the tip of the stick is moving at least 24 inches. Try to do this with a loose grip; you don’t want to be tense or feel like you’re forcing it. You’re looking for a large, gentle motion where you notice the weight of the stick and what it feels like moving through space.
Keep air-drumming these 8th notes until you can find a consistent feel, a comfortable, unchanging swing where none of the notes are any higher or lower than each other. This is what you want to focus on, what this motion actually feels like. Take a mental snapshot of this feeling, combined with what it looks like in the stick, your hand and your arm; we’ll be trying to find this comfortably consistent motion within a beat in the next step.
Next, try to play a beat where your right hand is only playing 8th notes. Sink into it for long enough that you no longer need to think to play it, and can sit back and focus on how it feels. If your right hand feels the same as it did when it was isolated, perfect – try to perceive the beat you’re playing as everything else is lining up to your right hand’s consistent pattern.
If you picked a beat that you find challenging, it becomes less likely that your right hand will still feel that same level of comfort. You may notice the motion looks and feels choppy and is likely to be with inconsistent heights. When this happens, play the beat until it’s back on autopilot and pay attention to your right hand. You don’t necessarily try to change it in an active sense, play the pattern, notice what’s happening and try to sink further into relaxation while you do it. The more you tense and ‘try,’ the less likely you’ll be able to find that consistent motion and feeling we had with the right hand isolated.
By paying attention to relaxation and your right hand instead of the pattern, you’ll find the sensation of your kicks and snares getting magnetically drawn to the consistent right hand pattern, either on or between the notes. Once you can lock into that, groove and pocket are an emergent property of that relaxation and focus.
Another place to use this concept is Gary Chester’s classic instructional book, The New Breed. The 39 systems are all patterns that you autopilot as you focus on the material from the reading pages. Paying attention to how the systems feel while you play them can be all the feedback you need to know whether something sounds good or is in the pocket.
In the same vein of what we did with your right hand, get used to the kinesthetic feel of playing the systems on their own and then try to find that level of comfort while adding the reading pages. In problematic areas, you’ll notice the system starts to feel challenging, or that you’re tensing your muscles and lose the loose, comfortable feel. In these cases, it’s best to take a small section (2-4 bars or so) and loop it until you can execute it with that level of comfort before moving on.
The more material you master in this way, the better your time and pocket will be. To dive into The New Breed even further, check out this live lesson I taught on the subject (you need to be an Edge member to see it though).
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