IMPROVING YOUR GROOVE: A NEW APPROACH BY MALCOLM “MAC” SANTIAGO

Whatever the style of music, jazz, funk, R&B, Latin, or rock, long-time Local 30-73 member Mac Santiago is well known as a “master of the groove”. With his new book “Beyond the Metronome” Mac charts a course for all musicians, any instrument, students and seasoned pros alike, to help them internalize the groove and improve their time. For more information, and of course to purchase the book, point your browser to inchronicity.com. Keep reading for a brief “tease” of Mac’s insights and then visit him on the web.


“A poorly played note well placed is better than a well played note misplaced.” This was my friend Wade’s reaction after I told him about the book I had given birth to late last year, entitled Beyond the Metronome. I then thought to myself, “This is probably the best one yet”, i.e., it seemed that every musician I spoke to regarding the subject of tempo/groove had a reaction or experience to share. What we all seem to agree on is that in all music, especially and not exclusive to that which has its’ rhythmic roots in Africa, e.g., folk, blues, jazz, swing, rock, R&B, and hip-hop, steady tempo gives rhythm its’ value and that rhythms well placed establish steady tempo.

Of course most players know that whatever one might think of the composition being performed, choice of notes in an improvisational setting or even tone quality, judgments most readily fly freely in regards to a player’s intonation and timekeeping or what I call inchronation (in-internal, chronclock)…that is an individual’s own ability to create or carry that rhythmic objective both accurately and with an overall sense of steady. Through many years of playing (drum set, percussion) and discussing this topic I have come to the conclusion that in addition to being a good follower of the tempo one needs to be a good creator of tempo. Being a good follower is displayed in ones’ ability to get in sync with something external, albeit other musicians or a click track, loop etc. On the other hand, being a creator of tempo is something that the individual musician possesses internally and not overly reliant on the possible misconceptions or liberties taken within the given tempo of the music. Creating that steadiness that the music requires should come from every player and be as much of a priority as pitch. I would like to note here that this is just not applied to drummers and rhythm section players. Everyone has an influence on the groove; a trumpet player playing a nice accent over an and-a-four hit consistently early can bring down an otherwise solid groove.

In the practice room, the process of learning to subdivide and play with the metronome at quarter notes is a great start but should be viewed as only the beginning. Gradually removing the metronome and replacing it with your own internal clock seemed to be an appropriate step and one that was often missing in the aforementioned advice often given to music students. With the exception of playing faster tempos to a slower click or displacing the clicks to beats 2 & 4 (as the swing drummer’s high hat) an actual process has seemed to have ‘snuck’ under the radar or is just plain taken for granted. As a result most young players and even some seasoned pros who can “play their asses off” can consistently show tendencies to rush through musical phrases or show an inability to recreate a given tempo from the beginning through to the end of a tune. In recording and even playing live I’ve even noticed an increasing reliance on click tracks that lend themselves to players bouncing back and forth on either side of a beat in an effort to stay with it.