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!


One thought on “Research Question: Groove!

  1. This is a good beginning and an interesting topic. A few comments, in no particular order:

    1. I would not say that there has been relatively little research on this topic. It is actually a hot topic right now and there has already been a number of significant studies, including those by Madison & al. and Janata & al. I mentioned to you before. Rather than saying that there has been relatively little work done, you might point out that it is a topic that has attracted significant interest recently.
    2. The question of how groove might be defined differently depending on musical experience is an interesting one. Both Madison and Janata attempt to define the concept using experimental methods, but rely on a mixed population to do so. Based on music scholarship (e.g., Keil & Feld’s “Music Grooves”, which I highly recommend you include in your sources), it would seem that musicians do think of groove somewhat differently, often in relation to specific rhythmic patterns and/or performance manner. However, studies that have attempted to support these claims through microtiming have been unsuccessful so far to find such specific patterns. But I don’t think the question is closed, and it might be some thing you will want to focus on.
    3. Keeping no. 2 in mind, I would suggest that you plan for an experiment that would compare musicians and non-musicians. You might also be more specific in the type of musical expertise your findings would generalize to (e.g., would these be mostly classically trained musicians, or maybe jazz musicians?)
    4. As a preparatory step in planning the experiment, you might want to design a survey. This would allowed you to pinpoint some particular aspects that you think might characterize musicians’ conception and experience of groove.

    That’s it for now! You next step is already traced (preliminary bibliography)…

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