Defining Groove Amongst Classical Musicians

Based on the work of my literature review, pertaining to groove, along with the vast amount of research that has been carried out by a multitude of academics, (Keil, Janata, Oliver, Witek are just some examples) it has become increasingly clear to me that defining the word “groove” is no simple task. Each individual experiences music in a highly personal way, and based on our tastes, cultural background and musical familiarity, it is no wonder that groove can take on a variety of meanings.

Nonetheless, there seem to be some underlying principles that resurface in the majority of researchers’ investigations, such as music provoking the listener to engage in physical movement, as a way of enhancing the experience and expressing enjoyment.

My interests at this stage are in the realm of groove in classical music, something that doesn’t seem to attract a lot of attention, as colloquially, classical music has been seen as stuffy, or lacking in “style”, something that most people would agree is a necessity for groove to flourish. While I have been somewhat unsuccessful at the moment in finding new source material pertaining to groove in classical music, I believe that there is much for me to learn about how an individual’s taste impacts his/her experience of music. Here are some sources that I believe will set me on the right path for further exploration:

Tiger C. Roholt’s Groove: The phenomenology of musical nuance

Musical nuances are the fine-grained ‘expressive variations’ that are often characterized as contributing to a performer’s interpretation of a musical work. I demonstrate that there are different ways of perceiving a nuance; an inadequate way can block the emergence of a perceptual Gestalt to which a nuance contributes, and thus stand in the way of our grasping the nuance’s musical significance. I criticize Diana Raffman’s account of nuances by arguing that she does not acknowledge that nuances can be perceived in different ways; there is a perceptual way implicit in her work but it is one that is inadequate and prevents the relevant Gestalts from arising. My account of nuances is developed through a detailed account of a Gestalt that is grounded in nuances—the rhythmic phenomenon of groove (the feel of a rhythm). On my account, a groove is a dispositional mind-dependent property of music, one that can only be ‘unlocked’ by means of certain perceptual ways. These ways involve allowing certain timing nuances to be perceptually preserved as ambiguous . In elucidating this perceptual role, I clarify Merleau-Ponty’s ‘perceptual indeterminacy’ by defining a perceptual role I call ‘reverberation.’ I highlight the importance of grooves and nuances in contemporary popular music by invoking two ontological views of musical works; nuance and groovetypes can be properties of classical works, but particular nuances and particular grooves are properties of pop works. These grooves are not merely perceptual qualities, they are pivotal relational properties through which musical elements make their connections. The body movement of listeners is not merely a reaction to rhythm; body movement may influence the way we hear rhythms. I draw both conservative and controversial conclusions regarding this relationship. In drawing the latter, I adapt Merleau-Ponty’s notion of ‘motor intentionality’ to temporal perception, and claim that a certain kind of understanding of a rhythm is activated only when we move to a rhythm’s pulse; this understanding influences the resulting experience. When we move our bodies, our experience of a groove may be qualitatively different than when we do not.

DeFonso, Lenore E. , Johnson, Stephen M. , Rowlett, Mary E. ‘s Does information or involvement increase reported enjoyment of classical music?

Attempted to determine whether reported enjoyment of classical music is affected by having some task that involves one in the music while listening, or by receiving information about the music, as opposed to simply listening. Three groups of participants heard eight short musical excerpts, all programmatic classical music. An Involvement group was asked to imagine a scene or story while listening. An Information group was told the title, composer, and what the music represented. A third group simply listened to the music. All groups then rated the excerpts on several measures. A significant group effect was found for four of the excerpts when pre-experiment experience with classical music was controlled for. The Information group consistently reported liking the excerpts better than did the other two groups. The Involvement group did not show an increase in liking; in fact, their mean ratings for some of the excerpts were lower than the control group. Prior exposure to classical music significantly affected ratings, and there was a significant gender effect for some excerpts. Other factors affecting the results are also discussed, as well as implications of the research for ways to increase people’s liking for classical music.

It is my hope that with the help of these sources, along with other research, that I will gain a deeper understanding of groove in the world of classical music. I am curious to find if there are any consistencies within most classical musicians in how they define/perceive groove, and if this experience of groove is heightened because of their training in the field. Furthermore, I am hopeful to learn more about the actual enjoyment of classical music (if it requires many years of familiarity/training/exposure to be truly appreciated), as it is a current hot topic that classical music’s relevance is rapidly fading.

I intend to carry out this research with readings of scholarly articles, along with conducting a few informal interviews with some classical musicians at the Yale School of Music. One possible method is to gather samples of classical music that I personally deem “groovy” and share these examples with others, asking them to voice their opinions on whether or not this music grooves, and why. I will also hopefully gain some insight as to why classical music might not be an initially obvious choice when looking for music that truly grooves.

One thought on “Defining Groove Amongst Classical Musicians

  1. As I mentioned today in class, I think you should focus on defining groove for classical musicians and leave the other two aspects you mentioned for “ideas for future research”. Also, I would like to see a draft of the questionnaire you plan to send by the end of the week. It will take some time to prepare it and have people respond, so the earlier the better. The results of the questionnaire would be a valuable part of your final presentation.

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