Groove vs Chops: What’s the Difference in Drumming?

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+ Learn to craft more compelling beats and warped, broken rhythms with Son Lux’s Ian Chang. His innovative course is out now on Soundfly.

When most people think of talented drummers, they might picture someone with amazing instrumental chops. But what about groove? What is it, and why is it so important?

Groove is the ability to make your playing feel good, regardless of how simple it is. It’s the sense of musicality and momentum that makes a player enhance the music on a fundamental level, even when playing something that is fairly simple.

Chops, on the other hand, is a term that refers more to the technical ability of a musician. Chops are about being able to play complex rhythms fast, cleanly, and accurately; so it’s the level of proficiency that you need in order to play technical music.

Both groove and chops are important, but they serve different purposes. In this article, we’ll explore both in detail and show you how you can incorporate both elements to improve your drumming. And be sure to check out Soundfly’s brand new course with Grammy-nominated drummer, producer, and digital content creator, The Pocket Queen: Moving at Your Own Tempo.

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What Are Groove and Chops in Music Terms?

In music terms, “groove” refers to a sense of rhythm and timing that gives a song its overall feel. It’s often said that a drummer with a good groove can make even the simplest song sound great. As mentioned above, the term “chops” refers more to a musician’s technical ability. This includes their ability to play accurately and consistently, as well as their ability to execute complex phrases.

Many of the best drummers in the world can either be referred to as either groove drummers or chops drummers — not to say that these musicians can’t play both ways, but they’re better known for one style above the other, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Examples of Chops Drummers

Eric Moore is a drummer known for his chops. His playing style involves fast, intricate fills and precise sticking patterns. He’s renowned for being one of the top live drummers on the touring circuit right now, with strong roots in gospel music.

Thomas Lang is another great chops drummer. His approach combines technical proficiency with showmanship, often performing incredibly fast and challenging grooves. He also frequently incorporates double bass drum playing into his blazing fills.

Learn more on Flypaper: “Kiefer on How to Sound More Like Yourself (Video).”

Advantages of Chops Drumming

Musicians with good chops can generally play whatever they want, without being limited by their technique or musical ability. This makes them highly in demand in today’s professional live music circuit. Chops drummers are highly technical and have developed their abilities to a very high level in order to be “chameleons” and able to play with almost any style of music.

These abilities allow a musician to execute complicated passages in an exciting musical way. Chops are very important for instrumentalists who need to navigate performing with a diverse range of artists. A chops drummer is more likely to shine in a live setting, where their technical proficiency and showmanship can shine through.

Examples of Groove Drummers

Groove drummers are often more subtle than chops drummers. They focus on the overall feel of a song and emphasize groove over showmanship.

Steve Gadd is a phenomenal groove drummer whose playing style focuses on his feel that serves the music. He’s known for being able to play simple but incredibly effective and tasteful grooves that help to drive the music forward. Gadd is one of the world’s most recorded drummers and is widely regarded as one of the best drummers of all time.

Ash Soan is another great example of a groove drummer. His playing style is distinctly musical and often focuses on creating subtle yet interesting rhythmic patterns that help to elevate the overall feel of a song. He has performed with a range of artists including Adele, Cher, and Hans Zimmer.

Advantages of Groove Drumming

Groove drummers are often the backbone of a song and help to create an infectious pocket that other musicians can lock into, and allows listeners to move to the music.

In a studio setting, you’ll often find that a groove drummer is better suited than a chops drummer. This is because playing with a strong groove is crucial for serving the music, and allowing the other elements like vocals to have their own space.

Groove drummers don’t overplay. They understand the importance of playing with great feel and finding their own “pocket” that works for the song. They can also be incredibly creative, often adding subtle nuances to their playing that contribute to the overall vibe of the track.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “A Brief-ish History of the Drum Kit.”

How to Improve Groove and Chops

Groove is often thought of as something that’s innate and can’t be taught. However, there are ways to improve your groove. Practice playing with a metronome, focus on keeping time, and listen back to recordings of your playing to evaluate how tight and in the pocket you are.

Chops can be improved by studying written music, playing along with records, and transcribing solos and fills. The more musical concepts you learn and apply, the more proficient you’ll become.

Muscle memory is a huge part of learning chops, so practice regularly and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your body can learn to adapt and play something seemingly complex without you even needing to think about it after doing the same repetitions hundreds of times.

Break up your practice sessions into shorter chunks, as this will help you focus and make more progress in a shorter amount of time.

Groove Exercises to Practice

Here are some of my favorite grooves you can practice with a metronome to build up your chops. Start slowly at around 70 BPM, and increase by 5 every 10 minutes or so when you feel comfortable.

Groove Ex. 1

Groove Ex. 2

Groove Ex. 3

Chops Fills to Try Out

To help you develop your chops further, here are some ideas for fills you can practice at various tempos. Start slow and gradually increase the speed when you feel comfortable while reading the drum notation.

Chops Ex. 1

Chops Ex. 2

Chops Ex. 3

Final Thoughts

Good chops and groove don’t have to be mutually exclusive. With practice, you can combine both and create an exciting blend of technicality and feel. Having a strong understanding of both will make you a much more versatile and confident player.

Ultimately, it all comes down to combining your skill with your own idea of musicality, so play the way you think sounds good and enjoy yourself playing to find your own unique style. Here is an incredible drummer named J-Rod Sullivan demonstrating that you can blend groove and chops, and excel at both too!

If you want to improve your groove and chops, you’ll need to dedicate time to playing the drums regularly, on a kit or on a practice pad, to develop a good routine and to ensure you retain that valuable muscle memory. And of course, check out The Pocket Queen’s new course on Soundfly.

Keep on Grooving…

Continue your learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with artist-led courses by Kimbra, Com TruiseJlinKiefer, RJD2, and our new The Pocket Queen: Moving at Your Own Tempo.

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