Research Question: Groove!

As a performing musician with interests in a wide variety of genres, I have always been interested in comparing my musical tastes with that of my friends. I often wonder why I enjoy folk music so much, but cannot for the life of me get into heavy metal music, something that a friend values so highly. Or, why I am compelled to move my body along to the music in that catchy electro-pop song but strongly prefer to stay absolutely still when watching a performance of my favourite Beethoven symphony. These interests have led me to the topic of “groove.”

There is relatively little research on the topic of groove, and many big questions merit our attention, in hopes of a greater understanding of the complex phenomenon that is listening to music, and specifically in learning more about our response to music as engaged listeners.

In 2006, Guy Madison set out to learn more about groove, and operationally defined it as “wanting to move some part of the body in relation to some aspect of the sound pattern.” He went on to explain that we can now only be certain that groove does indeed exist, but we cannot yet confirm that it is brought forth by the characteristics of sound patterns, and that this experience of groove is consistent among listeners. Other questions are related to cultural and social upbringing, and if these factors greatly influence the experience of groove and musical taste. Experiments have been attempted (playing brief audio clips of various genres) to try to better understand groove, and Madison claims that groove is no more difficult to detect than other dimensions found for music experience in music research.

In my own experience, it seems as though the concept of groove is a highly personal and somewhat esoteric concept. Many musical moments that I find to carry a certain groove have not been viewed in the same light by my peers. As this course is obviously focused on aspects of rhythm, it is also a great interest of mine to learn more about the rhythmical characteristics of groove , specifically if there is a certain “something” that must be present for groove to exist. In addition, I am quite curious to discover the understanding and identification of groove among highly-trained musicians. Is groove something that can exist in any genre of music?

To aid in this research my hope is to select a small number of musical excerpts (varying in musical style) and isolate brief sections that I deem to have groove. I would then like to show these selections to my musician networks (from a diverse pool of classical musicians, band members, rappers and so forth) and determine if there are consistencies in the experience of groove, and why this is so.

I believe this to be an engaging topic, as it is still quite fresh in terms of scholarly research, and hope that it will be a fascinating period of discovery!