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PASIC Preview: The Power of One by Donald Barrett

Oct 3, 2022, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

Donald BarrettI remember the moment I fell deeply in love with drums: The sound of the hypnotic groove from the drummer at church moving and creating an amazing atmosphere as the church choir sang out! The choir was singing, church ladies were jumping, and the pastor let out a big “Hallelujah!” That was when it all connected for me as I watched that drummer. I was five years old, and I will never forget that moment. Fast forward 14 years later and I have my second major encounter with groove at the age of 19. This time the groove was not letting me go, and I pledged to myself that no matter what style of music I incorporated into my playing, groove would always be my primary focus.

Now that I have established when I fell in love with the groove, I would love for you to take a minute to think about when you first fell in love with a groove, or the drums and percussion in general. Your memory could’ve been when you saw your first concert. Maybe your parent or music instructor demonstrated something musically that clicked. Or just maybe you stumbled into a music store at a later age and tapped on a drum and fell in love.

When fellow peers and students come up to me with questions, the first question is always, “How did you learn how to groove?” The answer is not that simple. In my clinics and masterclasses I always stress that your instrument is an extension of your personality. In essence, your groove is personal to you and only you. Some drummers love busy grooves such as Jeff Porcaro’s groove in the song “Rosanna,” from the legendary band Toto. Some may love simpler grooves such as JR Robinson’s electric groove on Michael Jackson’s hit song “Rock With You.” No matter the style, I assure you that these grooves both have something in common: they make you want to dance! (Please understand that there are many other legendary drummers who are on that list as well.)

You may be saying to yourself, “I love to groove, but something does not feel quite right with my approach.” This is where learning and understanding groove becomes fun for me to teach “The Power of One.” I could truly speak on this subject for hours because one of the most important things about the drummers I mentioned above is that they understood this power, and that’s what allowed them to become some of the most legendary groove players in music.

What is the Power of One you may ask? My definition of “The Power of One” (in my YODA voice — ha ha ha) is understanding and respecting the space in-between the notes.

I like to start simple with quarter notes. There is a galaxy between 1, 2, 3, and 4. How you make the space feel in-between the quarter notes is almost more important than being directly on the quarter notes. The space in-between is what most drummers like to use for subdividing. While it’s awesome to have a form of subdivision in your groove, the real journey begins when you can take away your subdivisions and just play a groove right on the note value and still make it feel the same if not better.

You may be thinking, “Well…that doesn’t make any sense.” I used to say the same thing until one of my drum mentors unlocked that groove door and demonstrated the power of being able to feel the subdivisions without playing them. For example, take a simple 2 and 4 groove (between hi-hat, kick, and snare) and play it at 80 bpm. While you are playing, try not to think of anything else except nailing those quarter notes without rushing or dragging for about two minutes. Once you feel that you have that in a comfortable place, feel free to add a very simple subdivision of your choice on the snare, or try moving from quarters to eighth notes on the hi-hat for two minutes. Now reverse this and take away the subdivision going back to the quarter-note groove.

Once you have gone through a few rotations of this, you should start to feel the space between 1-2-3-4 become wider and more open. The reason is because you are now exploring the space between the notes while also respecting the space between the notes. I know that this exercise may seem simple, but it is extremely effective. You can go so deep with this by simply slowing the bpm to 60 and, if you’re feeling lucky, 40 bpm will test your patience! If you want to have some fun and test your endurance, crank up the bpm to 180!

What I have just explained was my very first groove exercise from 20-plus years ago that I still work on to this day. In my clinic, I will also demonstrate ways that you can shift to get your groove even deeper inside the quarter-note pulse. Please understand that approach is not related to any particular style of music. You can try this exercise with a swing pattern, a rock pattern, or a funk or hip-hop pattern. The goal is just to create a deeper understanding of your note values between 1, 2, 3, and 4. If you let go and have fun with this and similar simple exercises, I assure you that you will develop a deeper understanding and passion for the groove, no matter your playing background or style.

Donald Barrett is a drummer/producer who has toured with Grammy Award-winners Lady Gaga, Toni Braxton, George Benson, Sade, and many more. Donald also keeps busy in Los Angeles recording/composing for television and films. His band, Improv Trio, has two live albums out, available on all streaming platforms. 

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