Since about 2010/2011, I’ve been using the Groove Essentials Play-Along Series books 1.0 and 2.0 for my own practice and as lesson/musical material with my students to hone their drumming concepts. That gave me about 8 to 9 years of so-called qualitative research into the effectiveness of this system developed by renowned drummer, drumming teacher, and author, Tommy Igoe (Groove Conspiracy, Tommy Igoe Big Band, Art Garfunkel, Lion King Broadway Musical etc).
The Groove Essentials system started with a poster of 47 of what are considered to be important drumset grooves from around the world that every serious drummer and working drummer should know. It’s based on the demands and requirements of performing live music in concerts, clubs, bars, weddings, events. Popularity and demand ensued,leading to the a DVD production of Groove Essentials 1.0 based on that original poster. Popularity in sales and demand again ensued, which led to Tommy producing the play-along package, 1.0. The same pattern occured for the sequel to the Groove Essentials 1.0 DVD and Play-Along package. Thus we now have 100 drumset grooves that every serious drummer and working drummer should know.
My own experience with the system:
In the last 8 or 9 years, I had many students who bought either 1.0 book and/or DVD, or both volumes in the book and DVD formats. I’ve never seen in my entire time so far being a drummer and teaching, a more intelligently produced and organized system to learn musical fundamentals including sight-reading charts, and developing a great groove as well as musicality on the drumset. The DVDs themselves are inspiring. Not only do the DVDs show Tommy masterfully explaining and breaking down the grooves, which are categorized into genres, and which progress linearly along the spectrum of simple to complex, he plays those grooves with self-produced live band play-along tracks with such passion and enthusiasm.
How to get the most out of Groove Essentials:
In my opinion, to get the most out of the Groove Essentials system is to get the complete DVD and Book package. You could start with 1.0 first, but do get both the DVD and the play-along package. It’s also great and highly recommended to go through this material with a teacher face-to-face, to gain insight into several ways of approaching the charts. Then, you can use the DVD at home as a complimentary learning-aid to gain further insight from Tommy himself. I sort of think of the DVDs as study-guides that we use in universities, which help us to organize and focus our learning from the textbooks.
Of course, the DVDs do the impeccable job of being stand-alone instructional materials. Students who are capable independent learners and have a strong foundation in the drumming basics – technique, rudiments, time-keeping, co-ordination – can delve into Groove Essentials on their own. Even then, I strongly caution against getting too caught up with one’s own ability to learn independently that one completely dismisses the value and benefits of getting face-to-face lessons. This is because face-to-face lessons not only help the student gain immediate feedback on his/her progress, but gives the student the platform to discuss and explore with a professional other ideas and concepts that could be applied to this material. How Tommy presents the material on the books and DVDs are only one of the many ways to do it.
Expanding on the above paragraph, it’s also important to note that the Groove Essentials system is not one which teaches you how to play fill-ins. As the title implies, that’s obviously not the focus of the system. One can choose to play the charts in the book or play-along with Tommy’s demonstrations on the DVD without any fills. That’s fine. In my lessons, I do expect my students to be able to execute at least simple fill-ins for the purposes of setting up new sections in the chart, and setting up ensemble figures – rhythmic patterns played and articulated exactly by the entire band. Tommy has some wonderful fills that he lays down in his demonstrations and you can “steal” ideas from there. Ultimately, you have to have a vocabulary of fills authentic to different styles of music which you can readily pull out as and when required of you. This is where face-to-face lessons come in very handy.
The priority of the Groove Essentials will always remain on the Grooves and how to groove like the pros. Like Tommy said in his introduction in the 2.0 DVD, students should be using the Groove Essentials system for the purpose of developing the drumming and musical competence to play on gigs with other musicians. So if your aim is to be able to play in your first band in a year or two from now? The Groove Essentials system is without parallel as a starting point.
What students past and present have said:
The feedback I’ve gotten from my students over the years so far is that the Groove Essentials system is an essential building block to their drumming development. I’ve witnessed the positive growth of students who really stick with it for a long period of time, and it’s very heartwarming to see some of the things that they can pull off such as make the grooves feel good, the groove variations they can weave in fluidly, and some “chops” along the way in their fills or embellishments to the grooves. I’d love to post videos of many of my students working through the Groove Essentials material, as that is the best form of evidence. I however opted to not do so out of respect for their privacy. From time to time, however, I will share some really outstanding ones here on this site, with the students’ permission. Hopefully, they will allow me to!
In my next post, I will discuss Jim Riley’s Survival Guide For The Modern Drummer, another excellent work in drumming instruction, and how it can be used alongside the Groove Essentials System.