Song Structure

Songwriting: The Groove

By Michael Anderson

1. a strong beat or rhythm in music (slang)
2. to play jazz or dance music with a strong beat (slang)

1. to touch somebody or a part of somebody's body for the purpose of sexual gratification
2. to experience or cause an emotion or physical sensation
3. to be instinctively aware of something, usually an emotion that is not visible or apparent

It's hard to image now, but a lot of the uproar over Rock and Roll music in the fifties was the beat: that infectious R&B influenced groove that inspired an entire group of poets, writers, artists, and performers to be called the Beat Generation, and led a teenaged John Lennon to call his new band the Beat-les.

White parents thought the primal beat of Rock and Roll would put their impressionable, hormonally excited teenagers into a catatonic, euphoric, trance-like state, and influence them to experiment with drugs, become sexually aroused, reject the cultural values of their society.

They were right.

The Heartbeat of Your Song

The groove has been the heartbeat of music since the first pre-historic man (I'd bet it was a man) started pounding out rhythms on hollow logs for people to dance to for religious ceremony or fun (these are very similar pursuits outside of puritanical societies).

It is no coincidence that for years the basic criterion that the teen audience on American Bandstand used when judging a song was if it had a good beat and they could dance to it.

Groove and Spirit

It is also no coincidence that religious rituals, ranging from those of Southern Baptists to various pagan sects, begin with music or chanting or singing of some kind. The beat or drone opens the spirit, bypasses the reasoning faculties, and turns off the turmoil in the consciousness. The individual soul unites with the collective consciousness and forms a spiritual connection in the ritual.

Church services, Rock concerts, wedding bands that get guests dancing, and even local bars with a band in the corner have that same ritualistic aspect in common. Music is an integral part of the ritual of the spirit that unites people, and the groove is the element that connects the body and the spirit. It is soul music.

Genre Feel

Every style of American Pop music has its own particular accent or stylistic groove—an identity stamped into the feel—that sets it apart.

If you're planning on pitching your song to a particular musical genre, and you're not already a member of a community—whether ethnic, racial, religious, or regional—that is closely identified with that type of music, it's a good idea to immerse yourself in the elemental grooves and feels, the beats of the style of that genre. You have to connect on that primal, nearly unconscious level to be authentic to the audience that has that type of music already in its blood.

Your Groove

Listening to a song without a groove is like listening to a speech by somebody without an opinion—what's the point?

Listen to your groove. Listen to the beat. Do you move your head or feet, sway or jump to the movement in your song? Does it engage your heart? A focused groove can show up problems in meter, timing, phrasing, and structure.

One easy way to make sure your groove is at least average is by using any of the currently available myriad of looping programs and/or CDs with digital samples of various rhythms along with a sequencer. Even an inexpensive drum machine can be helpful in creating a solid groove; although getting a human "feel" from that type of device might be a challenge. Another way to get a song started or focused is to play it to a strong groove you like from a song in the style or genre that you intend to pitch.

Remember, your groove allows the listener to get into your music and bypass the intellectual critical faculties. It should move into the heart and spirit elements of the music.

I have found the most common missed opportunity in a song in terms of groove is a soft, unfocused, generalized feel with no discernible identity. The wrong groove identity in an otherwise good song can be changed, but a lack of identity can rarely be fixed.

Is Your Mojo Working?

The best test I've found of whether or not your groove or feel is working is watching as other people listen to your song.

Did they smile as the beat started?

Are they moving?

Are they swaying to the beat?

Are they into the song before the first lyric is delivered?

If not, you have lost a prime opportunity to connect with your listener on a primal, unconscious level and set the listener up for hearing your song with one defense down.

Excerpted from Michael Anderson's Little Black Book of Songwriting available at


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