A Scientific Study Of Groove In Music

by Kevin Burton

   As a consumer of popular music for more than 50 years I thought I knew exactly what a groove was, until I tried to define it. 

   I have no trouble feeling the groove in “Ain’t That Peculiar,” by Marvin Gaye for example. But how to define it? 

   The website www.promusicianhub.com has an excellent discussion on groove. I quoted from it yesterday “Quick Music Fans, What Is A Groove,” April 18).

    The website said the groove is the part of a song that makes you want to move or dance. We continue the discussion today with the science of groove. 

   “Although groove has always been categorized as an ‘unexplained phenomenon’ in music, much like an unspoken rule, there have been several trials to explain groove in music from a scientific perspective,” the website reads.

These researches included several musicians, psychologists, and even neuroscientists in an effort to understand groove in music.

   “One of the attempts to identify groove scientifically was in a study in 2012 called “Sensorimotor coupling in music and the psychology of the groove.” According to this study, a groove is an example of coordination and coupling between sensory and motor neural systems.”

   “The study also found that this coupling is a result of a dynamic process where every single stimulus is attributed to a wide variety of motor commands and not just one, which explains why grooving depends on a huge variety of factors.”

   “In other words, the pleasurable sense or result of the groove depends on a multitude of factors, such as biophysical and synaptic processes, experiences, feedback connections in the brain, and other external and internal stimuli,” the website explains.

   “Another example where groove was mentioned in the science of music is in a recent study about modern rock music micro timingand how they’re deeply controlled by the phenomenon of grooving.

   “The study showed that evident examples of grooving could be observed in drum patterns despite not showing deviation in the timing of the music.”

   The website quotes some musicians on how to define groove.  

   “In the article “Establishing The Groove,” Marc Sabatella suggests that ‘groove’ is a totally subjective thing. He argues that a given drummer may sound too stiff for one person, too loose for someone else and just perfect for another.”

   “A teacher of the bass in “Creating The Groove” says that despite being an elusive concept, we can define groove as the thing that makes the music breathe and the thing that sets our bodies in motion in the context of a song.”

  “Steve Van Telejuice describes the term groove as a point in a song or musical performance when ‘even the people who can’t dance feel like dancing” because of the way the music effects them.

I said before that ‘groove’ is an elusive term that resembles the term ‘swing’, which describes the rhythmic “feel” in jazz, but the following examples may resolve some of your confusion:m.

   “Bernard Coquelet said the groove “is the way an experienced musician will play a rhythm compared with the way it is written (or would be written)” by playing a little “before or after the beat.” Coquelet said the “notion of groove actually has to do with aesthetics and style.”

   “Groove is an artistic element, that is to say, human, and ‘it will evolve depending on the harmonic context, the place in the song, the sound of the musician’s instrument, and, in interaction with the groove of the other musicians,” Coquelet said. He calls this the “collective groove.”

   “This is the reason why minute rhythmic variationsby the rhythm section instruments such as the drummer or bass player can significantly change the groove of a band as it plays a song, even if we’re talking about a simple singer-songwriter groove.”

   “One of the most common confusions among music students and amateur musicians is the difference between beat, rhythm, and groove. These terms are often used interchangeably,” the article reads, “but that’s not right, and here’s why:

   “The steady pulse of the music is called the beat, whereas the change in the duration of what’s being played or sung is called the rhythm.”

   Music teachers use motion to explain this difference according to the website.  

   “They assign walking to the beat and clapping to the rhythm. While listening to a song, students won’t be doing the same thing with their feet and hands, so it becomes clear that beat and rhythm are two different things.    

   “Groove is how beat and rhythm collectively affect the body. In other words, groove describes the way our body moves in response to hearing music.”

    I can dig the science of groove, but now I want to go back to the art and feel of it.

   Alexa, play Ain’t That Peculiar, by Marvin Gaye.

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