So many students are interested in practicing funk keyboard, but oftentimes the allure of the synth sounds, effects, and drum beats overshadows the real essence of funk music (and music in general)... the GROOVE!
In this article, I'm going to introduce you to a few fun methods for practicing funk keyboard and "groove" by focusing on 3 areas.
First, check out the clavinet groove we'll be learning:
This is a simple GarageBand sketch that uses all stock sounds. For the clavinet, I used the stock "Vintage Clav, Classic D6" and tweaked some of the EQ settings (Filter = Brilliant; Pickups = "D" and "B"; Position = "Low" about 3/4 of the way up, "Up" all the way up, "Damper" all the way down; Drive and Reverb = about 50% up; Ambience and Flanger = about 40% up).
Learning the Groove
"Learning the groove" refers to the idea of fully mastering a specific groove, complete with the correct notes, rhythms, fingerings, articulations, etc. I remember many of my teachers constantly reminding me that it is "harder to unlearn a mistake than to simply learn it right the first time." They were right, but as is true with most students, I had to learn this the hard way. So be sure to practice slowly and in small pieces. The groove is a 2-bar phrase that repeats and is based on 2 chords - F7 and Bb7. Here are my suggestions:
Playing with a Solid Sense of Time
This involves going beyond the notes and chords and focusing on the rhythmic precision and phrasing of what you are playing. Collectively, these aspects of the performance are what musicians are really talking about when they say things like, "It's all about the groove," or "Man, those cats are really in the pocket!" What they're really saying is, "Man, those guys have a great sense of time!"
Most students think that working on your sense of time and rhythmic precision means hours of boring practice with your metronome, and so they avoid this type of practice. I used to think the same thing, but now when I work on rhythm and time elements it is some of my most engaging and enjoyable practice. That's because I have found some fun ways to practice these elements, such as the following:
Maintaining the Groove
Ever check out a Motown record and listen to what the musicians are playing on the track? Oftentimes the instrumental parts of those Motown songs are short phrases with simple rhythmic and harmonic ideas that repeat over and over again, while the singers get the spotlight and the melodic gymnastics. Basically, the instrumentalists are jamming on just one or two short musical ideas for the duration of the track. But it sounds so funky, so energetic, so locked in! Those musicians lived and recorded in an era that did not allow for seamless editing, overdubs, and isolated corrections. They all came into the studio together and recorded simultaneously, so they had to bring "IT" to every take. They understood something very important about funk and groove-based music - their job was to keep the people dancing and keep the musical energy high no matter how many times they played that same, repetitive, sometimes monotonous musical riff over and over again.
What should you learn from this? Even if you're playing the same thing over and over again, which is sometimes typical in funk music, maintaining the groove is an important skill for all musicians (especially rhythm section players). When you practice, focus not just on the notes, but the rhythmic and dynamic intensity, nuances in the articulation of certain notes, and the interplay and relationships between the various other musicians. Be sure to stay focused on these micro-level attributes of the music and not to let your attention wane. Understanding that repetitive grooves need to be played with integrity even after 4 or 5 minutes of jamming is often one difference between an inexperienced player and a mature pro.