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.

Simple Rhythms Template

Here is a sample of the simple rhythms for our group experiment. I apologize for any fuzziness in the image and will figure that out soon! All the rhythms contain 12 beats (either 4 bars of 3/4 or 3 bars of 4/4) using only 8ths, quarters, half notes and dotted half notes. There are no syncopations. The altered versions are found directly underneath their initial “inspiration” and are hopefully subtle changes. I made alterations in two ways: by either changing a single note value (ex: a quarter note becoming two 8ths, etc) or by flipping a rhythmic cell (ex: two 8ths and a quarter becoming a quarter and two 8ths, etc). The alternate versions will always be presented in the identical tempo as the original.

 

Simples

All Things Groove: A Brief Literature Review

All Things Groove: A Brief Literature Review
Ryan Davis

 

It is practically indisputable that listening to music is a multidimensional experience. Engaging in a musical experience as a listener is a particularly complex phenomenon, and it is especially curious that we, as human beings, often experience a compulsion to move along to the music that we hear. We seem to receive some sort of satisfaction from this aural-to-physical connection, and this engagement perhaps heightens our overall musical and personal experience. The concept of groove, which in recent years has become a widely researched topic, is a means to learn more about the musical properties that invite a listener into a more profound relationship with the music. When one hears the word groove, it likely sparks imagery of a comfort zone, or perhaps a consistent momentum of sorts, or even being in a positive state of mind. In a musical context, groove is a rather broad term, and brings forth many questions when searching for its precise meaning. What in fact makes music groovy? Can groove exist in any type of music, or is it restricted to a select few genres? Is groove simply a matter of musical taste, that is highly personal and subjective, or can it be universally identified, regardless of who is listening? Many researchers have sought out to answer these questions and many more, using a diverse series of approaches. For the purposes of this literature review, the content will be organized in a fashion firstly addressing the many definitions and functions that have led numerous researchers to a greater understanding of groove, followed by the implications of groove in different musical genres, in hopes of discovering new insights. One might question the importance or merit of delving into the meaning of groove. After all, could our understanding of groove best be left explained as a simple path to enjoyment for the listener? Perhaps an even greater enjoyment and appreciation of music begins to exist as we investigate the deeper components of groove and its impact.

Charles Keil, in his “Defining Groove” (2010), explains how the word itself has yet to be understood as having a singular concrete definition, and is still not currently interchangeable with words akin to “swing, flow, focus, grace, in the pocket…etc”. Keil’s approach to defining groove is an engaging one, in that he seems to seek his definition through somewhat casual observations, pulled from a remarkable wealth of personal musical experience, as opposed to rigorous scientific testing. He speaks of a groove being created via “participatory discrepancies” and defines them as “measurable differences or discrepancies in attack points and release points along a time continuum.” Therefore, is groove perhaps achieved by musicians consciously or unconsciously creating subtle rhythmic imprecision or by taking small rhythmic liberties? Using a rhythm section as an example, Keil explains further: “the drummer and bassist are consistently in synchrony with each other, but they are also consistently discrepant, different, slightly out of phase or in and out of phase with each other.” While it is not possible to know if all performing musicians are aware of this rhythmic push-and-pull as it occurs in real time, it is helpful to acknowledge that some degree of rhythmic flexibility is present. Another notable definition is from Oliver Senn and Lorenz Kilchenmann, taken from “The Secret Ingredient” (2009): “its principal meaning describes the music’s effect on musicians and listeners: music with a good groove incites people to engage emotionally with the music, and to participate with their bodies.” This reinforces the notion that listening to music is indeed a complex activity, with many linked human systems simultaneously reacting. Maria A. G. Witek provides another possibility: “due to the repetitiveness of the groove, it was hypothesized that microtiming in groove might facilitate a type of arousal that is not peak-based, but rather reflects the groove state of listening, which has been conceptualized as a steady mental state in synchronization with the music,” (Groove Experience, 2009). Focusing primarily upon the repetitive naures of music, Richard Middleton, in his “In the Groove or Blowing Your Mind?” (1986) concludes that “the production of musical syntaxes involves active choice, conflict, redefinition; at the same time, their understanding and enjoyment take place in the theatre of self-definition, as part of the general struggle among listeners for control of meaning and pleasure.” It becomes increasingly clear that a universal definition of groove is difficult to create, however one can certainly summarize that it would encompass rhythm, pleasure, microtiming, and physical movement.

In “Groove as Familiarity with Time” (2013), Rowan Oliver explores in depth many fascinating aspects of groove that emphasize its presence in a variety of musical genres. As each genre of music is defined by its unique set of sonic characteristics, it is of significance that a musician has the ability to manipulate sound in such a way that makes groove malleable between styles. Oliver explains that a musician can use timing as an expressive force, as long as he/she is aware of the “contextual senses of time”, which he divides into three useful categories: “1) In the first category, the contextual sense of time is contingent upon shared prior knowledge on the part of all musicking participants, as in the reggae ‘one-drop’ rhythm, for example. 2) In the second category, a musician ‘sets up’ the contextual sense of time in some way prior to the start of a performance proper for the benefit of the other musicking participants, as in styles based around a stated timeline pattern. 3) The third category relies on a shared sense of metronomic time, although in practice this tends to be more of a general feeling of an underlying isochronous pulse rather than a precisely ‘metronomic’ understanding.” Oliver’s distinctions can perhaps be applied to detect groove in a variety of types of music. Stereotypically, groovy music is usually linked to styles of swing, jazz, and funk, although these principles can certainly be related to other genres. The way in which a conductor gives a preparatory beat gesture to an orchestra no doubt influences the following sonic outcome, and it’s possible that such gestures impact the groove of a type of music. Mark Jonathan Butler’s “Unlocking the Groove” (2006) investigates the realm of electronic dance music (EDM), which in the last decade has exploded in popularity, and points to relevancy when discussing groove. Many EDM tracks have a driving, quasi-hypnotic repetitive structure, and undoubtedly cause listeners to move along to the music.

Petr Janata, Stefan T. Tomic, and Jason M. Haberman present another refreshing approach to studying groove. In “Sensorimotor Coupling in Music and the Psychology of the Groove” (2012), Janata aimed to define groove as a psychological construct, and used surveys of university students to see if participants identified similar constructs that could be appropriated to groove. “In closing, we consider the construct of the groove in relation to the evolution of entrainment and social behavior. Synchronizing with the beat is the simplest form of entrainment, not only with a musical stimulus, but also with other individuals.” Many of the survey’s musical examples were taken from a diverse selection, and reinforce that groove is a flexible and far-reaching concept.

As shown, the research directed towards the somewhat elusive concept of groove is growing, and we are beginning to identify salient characteristics that aid in describing the mystifying experience of listening to music. The dialogue for developing our understanding of groove is in flow, and perhaps Charles Keil said it best, “that commitment to keeping up your musical life and keeping your participatory mode going is what keeps us on the same wavelength, keeps us in the same groove,” (Music Grooves, Charles Keil & Steven Feld, 1994).

 

Works Consulted/Cited

Butler, Mark Jonathan. (2006). Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music. Bloomington, USA: Indiana University Press.

Janata, Peter., Tomic, Stefan T., & Haberman, Jason M. (2012). Sensorimotor Coupling in Music and the Psychology of the Groove. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 141(1), 54-75.

Keil, Charles. Defining Groove. (2010). PopScriptum 11: The Groove Issue. University of Berlin.

Keil, Charles., Feld, Steven. (1994). Music Grooves: Essays and Dialogues. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press.

Madsion, Guy. (2006). Experiencing Groove Induced by Music: Consistency and Phenomenology. Music Perception, 24(2), 201-208.

Middleton, Richard. (1986). In the Groove or Blowing Your Mind? The Pleasures of Music Repetition. Popular Culture and Social Relations. 159-176.

Oliver, Rowan. (2013). Groove as Familiarity with Time. Music and Familiarity: Listening, Musicology and Performance. 239-252.

Senn, Oliver., Kilchenmann, Lorenz. (2012). The Secret Ingredient: State of Affairs and Future Directions in Groove Studies. Musik-Raum-Akkord-Bild: Festschrift zum 65. 799-810.

Witek, Maria A. G. (2009). Groove Experience: Emotional and Physiological Responses to Groove-Based Music. European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, 573-582.

Witek, Maria A.G., Clarke, Eric F., Wallentin, Mikkel., Kringelbach, Morten L., Vuust, Peter. (2014). Syncopation, Body-Movement and Pleasure in Groove Music. PLoS ONE, 9(4), 1-12.

Zagorski-Thomas, Simon. (2007). The Study of Groove. Ethnomusicology Forum, 16(2), 327-335.

Zbikowski, Lawrence M. (2004). Modelling the Groove: Conceptual Structure and Popular Music. Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 12(9), 272-297.

Group Questions!

1) Is there a “sweet spot” in terms of musical repetition relating to the enjoyment of the listener?

2) How quickly can we identify the meter of a song, specifically when it is in a complex meter (5/8, 7/8, alternating bars of 3 and 4, etc)? Is there a great difference between musicians and non-musicians in identification? Or between types of musicians?

 

What is musical groove? Do trained musicians understand and experience groove differently than other people?

Butler, Mark Jonathan. (2006). Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music. Bloomington, USA: Indiana University Press.

(This renowned study on electronic dance music will prove to be useful in gathering information pertaining to a genre that is not jazz–a genre that is quite contemporary and will allow for comparison between other genres.)

Doffman, Mark. (2013). Groove: Temporality, Awareness, and the Feeling of Entrainment in Jazz Performance. Experience and Meaning in Music Performance. 62-85.

(This article examines in detail the 2007 performance of “There Is No Greater Love” by a young jazz trio, focusing largely on the perspective of the performers themselves and their experiences. A combination of temporal elements and the subjective feel of the music is targeted.)

Janata, Peter., Tomic, Stefan T., & Haberman, Jason M. (2012). Sensorimotor Coupling in Music and the Psychology of the Groove. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 141(1), 54-75.

(Focuses on the psychological aspect of our desire as humans to move in response to music, narrowing in on young adults, which will be my intended target audience if I carry out a survey and small study pertaining to differences between trained musicians and other people.)

Keil, Charles., Feld, Steven. (1994). Music Grooves: Essays and Dialogues. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press.

(Music Grooves covers a variety of genres, while also touching on ethnomusicology aspects of groove. These dialogues will provide a useful insight into groove from the perspective of two valuable academic-yet-approachable sources.)

Madsion, Guy. (2006). Experiencing Groove Induced by Music: Consistency and Phenomenology. Music Perception, 24(2), 201-208.

(Operationally defining groove as “wanting to move some part of the body in relation to some aspect of the sound pattern,” Madison examines the responses of listeners to 64 musical examples and concludes that the perception of groove is a highly individual phenomenon. This study will aid me in preparation of a study of my own, as I too intend to expose listeners to brief audio examples and can use this as a strong reference point.)

Middleton, Richard. (1986). In the Groove or Blowing Your Mind? The Pleasures of Music Repetition. Popular Culture and Social Relations. 159-176.

(A focus on the repetitive nature of popular music, the detailed types of repetition that commonly occur, and how pop music remains so commercially successful. This publication will prove very valuable in learning more about pop music’s hypnotic, captivating qualities, and I hope that it will provide a link to my research on musical groove.)

Oliver, Rowan. (2013). Groove as Familiarity with Time. Music and Familiarity: Listening, Musicology and Performance. 239-252.

(This publication focuses on the individual’s perception of groove, in a highly subjective manner, and underlines stylistic nuance pertaining to groove–in this case the count-ins of some James Brown recordings. I hope to learn more about the personal, affective, side of experiencing groove through this source.)

Senn, Oliver., Kilchenmann, Lorenz. (2012). The Secret Ingredient: State of Affairs and Future Directions in Groove Studies. Musik-Raum-Akkord-Bild: Festschrift zum 65. 799-810.

(This source explores the relationship between two different angles of groove: groove as a process and another as a structural perspective. With this european source, I hope to uncover a fresh outlook on the definitions and operations of musical groove, examined in practical applications pertaining to today’s state of music.)

Witek, Maria A. G. (2009). Groove Experience: Emotional and Physiological Responses to Groove-Based Music. European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, 573-582.

(Taken from the abstract, “An initial qualitative interview study with three groove-based music producers and musicians investigated the subjective affective experience of groove, the extent to which musical structures facilitated the experience, and to what degree the experience could be understood as emotional.” I am hopeful this source will shed a light on the emotional, somewhat mysterious effect that groove has on listeners, and how this affective encounter is highly individual.)

Witek, Maria A.G., Clarke, Eric F., Wallentin, Mikkel., Kringelbach, Morten L., Vuust, Peter. (2014). Syncopation, Body-Movement and Pleasure in Groove Music. PLoS ONE, 9(4), 1-12.

(This source focuses on the nature of syncopation used as a means to create groove, something that has been speculated but rarely thoroughly investigated. This article will provide great insight into rhythmic characteristics of groove that can be linked in a variety of musical genres.)

Zagorski-Thomas, Simon. (2007). The Study of Groove. Ethnomusicology Forum, 16(2), 327-335.

(Taken from the abstract, “I am going to use this paper to discuss the way that Keil’s idea of ‘groovology’ (Keil 1987; Keil and Feld 1994) fits with contemporary work on expressive microtiming and performance practice.” The author states that his approach to groove is concerned with gesture and embodied cognition, and how this creates meaning to the performer which in turns gives meaning to the listener. I am hopeful this source will highlight the relationship between performer and listener, all the while focusing on the psychology of groove, as a group participation that creates something for the whole.)

Zbikowski, Lawrence M. (2004). Modelling the Groove: Conceptual Structure and Popular Music. Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 12(9), 272-297.

(Zbikowski’s article examines his efforts to describe and understand groove with the use of  his ‘conceptual models.’ He explains that these models provide the structure with makes groove possible, and creates individual models pertaining to specific grooves of the music of Eric Clapton, Miles Davis and James Brown. This article should prove to be useful in comparing musicians and genre, and will hopefully provide insight if there is indeed a consistent factor that creates groove, regardless of genre.)

 

 

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 my 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!

 

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!