Quick Music Fans, What Is A Groove?

by Kevin Burton

   One of my beep baseball coaches called me “the answer man.” This time, I struck out.

  My wife asked me “What is a groove?” I am an amateur musician and somewhat of a historian. You would think that question would be right in my wheelhouse.

     I gave perhaps the stupidest, most un-groovelike answer possible, “A groove is a beat and its associated orchestration.” 

   Clunk.  This is where you hear the needle scratching on a vinyl record. Ugh.

   So now I feel like John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, who sang about “trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.”

   In my own defense, groove turns about to be much easier to feel than to articulate. 

   “In music, groove is the sense of an effect (“feel”) of changing pattern in a propulsive rhythm or sense of “swing,” is the definition on Wikipedia.   

   That’s much better than my definition but not sure that quite captures it. 

   Next I turned to the 60s and 70s adjective “groovy” for help. Here is Merriam-Webster on groovy, “marvelous, wonderful, excellent.”

   Getting colder, much colder. 

   Google says, “In a musical context, general dictionaries define a groove as ‘a pronounced, enjoyable rhythm’ or the act of creating, dancing to or enjoying rhythmic music.”

   I found a discussion on groove on www.promusicianhub.com. We’ll let them have the last word.

   According to the website, the groove, makes you move.

   “Groove is a word that gets thrown around a lot in musical discussions, but when you ask what it means, most musicians won’t give you a satisfying answer beyond ‘it’s a feel’ or ‘it’s what makes music sound good,’ the website reads.

Groove is a word that gets thrown around a lot in musical discussions, but when you ask what it means, most musicians won’t give you a satisfying answer beyond “it’s a feel” or “it’s what makes music sound good”.

   “It’s not that such answers are wrong, but there’s much more to the term ‘groove’ than you’d expect. It’s an entire process that affects you emotionally and physically. So what is ‘groove’ in music?”

In music, the term ‘groove’ is used to describe how people sense the effect of changing the pattern in a propulsive rhythm. In other words, ‘groove’ is what you “feel” while listening to repeated rhythms.

   “The groove of a song often refers to the rhythmic feel of its music and the way that instruments of the rhythm section interact to create a combined rhythmic effect. ‘Groove’ is also used as a practical termin electronic music production.”

Now, let’s go a bit deeper and explain what ‘groove’ means as a “feel”. As I mentioned above, ‘groove’ is an effect that you sense when a pattern changes in a propulsive rhythm.

   “It’s a quality of continuously repeated rhythmic units, formed through the interaction of the instruments in a band’s rhythm section (such as drums, keyboards, guitar, and electric bass or double bass). It’s also anessential feature of popular music, present in various genres including jazz, salsa, soul, hip hop, rock, R&B, funk, and fusion,” the website reads.

   “Feld (1988) had a broader definition of the term as ‘an unspecifiable but ordered sense of something that is sustained in a distinctive, regular and attractive way, working to draw the listener in,’” the website reads.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that musicologists and other scholars have started to analyze the concept of ‘groove’, suggesting that it’s an understanding or feel of rhythmic patterning and an emotion-driven sense that results from carefully arranged rhythmic patterns that act collectively to stimulate dancing, head-nodding, or foot-tapping in listeners.

   “As such, connecting the ‘groove’ of music to dance is inevitable. In fact, according to Barry Kernfeld, when a song or performance ‘has or achieves groove,’ this usually means that it has the ability to compel the body to move.”

   The article goes on to differentiate groove from “swing” and “flow.”

   “In the world of jazz, the word ‘swing’ was typically used to describe the cohesive rhythmic sense of a skilled band. But with the development of music and the appearance of new subgenres such as Latin jazz and organ trio, the term ‘groove’ became almost a synonym to ‘swing’ since the 1950s.”

   “The expression ‘in the groove’ (as the classic big band jazz composition by pianist and arranger Mary Lou Williams) was generally used when describing great jazz numbers in the 1930s and 1940s, at the peak of the swing era. In the 1940s and 1950s, the term became a common reference to musical routines, preferences, and styles.”

   ‘Flow’ is a similar concept to ‘groove’ or ‘swing’. It’s usually used in music genres such as hip hop.

   Tomorrow on Page 7, the science of groove.  Aren’t you glad Jeannette asked the question?

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