Groove Tweaking (Part 1)

If you were to ask most in-demand bass players, they would likely include “having a broad vocabulary of grooves” as one of the most important things they bring to the table as musicians.

A closely related skill is having the ability to adapt or “tweak” a groove to fit a particular musical situation. It isn’t talked about as much, but comes into play frequently for working musicians. When a producer, musical director or worship leader likes the general idea behind the part you’re playing, but wants it to be a little more (fill in the blank); if you can adapt the part you’re playing to accommodate the requested tweak (versus throwing it out the window and playing something completely different), that’s a hugely helpful element of musicianship.

A big part of developing this skill is having a solid grasp of the idioms of various genres of music (what sonically/harmonically/rhythmically defines a particular style). I encourage you to listen to a broad range of music and become familiar with those idioms. There are many resources for acquiring this information—including both volumes 2 and 3 of my Grooving for Heaven instructional DVD series—but whether you learn it from me or someone else, it’s definitely worth studying.

In today’s examples, we are starting with two basic and very common grooves over a vamp in A (actually Am to accommodate the harmonic idioms of the style we’re covering). It should be noted that there is absolutely nothing wrong or boring about playing the “untweaked” versions! Depending upon the song, vocal cadence, tempo, feel, etc., they might be precisely what the tune requires of the bass line.

Today’s groove tweaks are imagining that someone asked us to adapt the groove to reflect a bit of funk. You’ll see that none of the following tweaks conflict or flam with the kick drum pattern strongly implied by the untweaked versions.

Funk idioms would generally include an underlying 16th-note subdivision (whether overt or subtly). Injecting a bit of attitude through the use of space and varied note duration is also very common in funk. Harmonically, it frequently involves passing tones and slurs from b3rd to major 3rd, 6th-to-b7th, b7th-to-octave, etc.

In the tweaked versions of the 2nd and 4th staves, I tried to give a handful of examples very quickly. In real world application, you would probably spread them out a bit!

In the 2nd staff, you’ll see that bar 3 is essentially the same as the “untweaked” version of bar 1 directly above it, except the ghost note on the 16th note immediately before beat 3 (implying a 16th note subdivision) and the staccato 8th note on beat 3. Those two simple adjustments can have a dramatic effect on the feel of the line. Bar 4 is the same as bar 3 except for a quick hammer on the “and” of beat 4 (with that b7th-to-octave funk idiom, right?).

The Groove #2 untweaked line is perhaps the most ubiquitous groove in music; very simple but über useful in a bazillion different contexts.

The tweaked version in the 4th staff implies a slapped line, but could certainly be played fingerstyle. The staccato octave G on the 16th note before beat 2 of bar 7 punctuates the rest we’ve injected into the groove ahead of the low G on the “and” of beat 2. Those b7’s definitely pull the musical statement toward funk.  The hammered lick on the “and” of beat 4 is the 6th-to-b7th which further funkifies things. Bar 8 replaces that staccato octave G with a ghost note, which makes the groove more sparse. The “and” of beat 2 is an octave b7th this time for a bit of a variation. Beat 3 is staccato and for variety, I’ve hit the “and” of beat 3 with another low A before answering the bar 7 hammered lick with a b7th–to-octave hammer.

Describing music requires lots of words, but these tweaks are actually relatively simple. I encourage you to spend some time with a drum machine (tempo set to 90-100 bpm) and play through both the untweaked and tweaked versions. Use them as a springboard for your own tweaks! But make sure that you don’t lose the original statement; the goal is adaptation vs. replacement.

Blessings, Norm

(Adapted from curriculum at


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