Groove (music)

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Funk music such as the type performed by groups like Parliament Funkadelic uses catchy electric bass lines and drum patterns to create a propulsive, emphatic rhythmic "feel" that is often referred to as a "groove". George Clinton Parliament Funkadelic.jpg
Funk music such as the type performed by groups like Parliament Funkadelic uses catchy electric bass lines and drum patterns to create a propulsive, emphatic rhythmic "feel" that is often referred to as a "groove".

In music, groove is the sense of an effect ("feel") of changing pattern in a propulsive rhythm or sense of "swing". In jazz, it can be felt as a quality of persistently repeated pattern variants created by the interaction of the music played by a band's rhythm section (e.g. drums, electric bass or double bass, guitar, and keyboards). Groove is a significant feature of popular music, and can be found in many genres, including salsa, funk, rock, fusion, and soul.

Rhythm aspect of music

Rhythm generally means a "movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions". This general meaning of regular recurrence or pattern in time can apply to a wide variety of cyclical natural phenomena having a periodicity or frequency of anything from microseconds to several seconds ; to several minutes or hours, or, at the most extreme, even over many years.

In music, the term swing has two main uses. Colloquially, it is used to describe the quality or impression or effect ("feel") of a changing pattern in a propulsive rhythm created by the musical interaction between the performers, especially when the music prompts a visceral response such as foot-tapping or head-nodding, which sense is called "groove". The term is also used more specifically, to refer to a technique that involves alternately lengthening and shortening the pulse-divisions in a rhythm.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".


Characteristic rock groove: "bass drum on beats 1 and 3 and snare drum on beats 2 and 4 of the measure...add eighth notes on the hi-hat".
Play (help*info) Characteristic rock drum pattern.png
Characteristic rock groove: "bass drum on beats 1 and 3 and snare drum on beats 2 and 4 of the measure...add eighth notes on the hi-hat". Loudspeaker.svg Play  

From a broader ethnomusicological perspective, groove has been described as "an unspecifiable but ordered sense of something that is sustained in a distinctive, regular and attractive way, working to draw the listener in." [2] Musicologists and other scholars have analyzed the concept of "groove" since around the 1990s. They have argued that a "groove" is an "understanding of rhythmic patterning" or "feel" and "an intuitive sense" of "a cycle in motion" that emerges from "carefully aligned concurrent rhythmic patterns" that stimulates dancing or foot-tapping on the part of listeners. The concept can be linked to the sorts of ostinatos that generally accompany fusions and dance musics of African derivation (e.g. African-American, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, etc.). [2]

Ethnomusicology study of music emphasizing cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions

Ethnomusicology is the study of music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it. It encompasses distinct theoretical and methodical approaches that emphasize cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions or contexts of musical behavior, instead of only its isolated sound component.

Musicology is the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music. Musicology departments traditionally belong to the humanities, although music research is often more scientific in focus. A scholar who participates in musical research is a musicologist.

In music, an ostinato[ostiˈnaːto] is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, frequently in the same pitch. Well-known ostinato-based pieces include both classical compositions such as Ravel's Boléro and the Carol of the Bells, and popular songs such as Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love" (1977), Henry Mancini's theme from Peter Gunn (1959), The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (1997), and April Ivy's "Be Ok" (1997).

The term is often applied to musical performances that make one want to move or dance, and enjoyably "groove" (a word that also has sexual connotations). [2] The expression "in the groove" (as in the jazz standard) was widely used from around 1936 to 1945, at the height of the swing era, to describe top-notch jazz performances. In the 1940s and 1950s, groove commonly came to denote musical "routine, preference, style, [or] source of pleasure." [2]

Dance A performing art consisting of movement of the body

Dance is a performing art form consisting of purposefully selected sequences of human movement. This movement has aesthetic and symbolic value, and is acknowledged as dance by performers and observers within a particular culture. Dance can be categorized and described by its choreography, by its repertoire of movements, or by its historical period or place of origin.

"In the Groove" by pianist and arranger Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) is a classic big band jazz composition. The Kansas City-based band Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy gained brief national following largely through the efforts of its principal arranger, pianist Mary Lou Williams, who had a formative role in the Kansas City jazz tradition. The title gave wider currency for a jazz musician's expression.


Musicians' perspectives

Benny Goodman, one of the first swing bandleaders to achieve widespread fame BennyGoodmanStageDoorCanteen.jpg
Benny Goodman, one of the first swing bandleaders to achieve widespread fame

Like the term "swing", which is used to describe a cohesive rhythmic "feel" in a jazz context, the concept of "groove" can be hard to define. Marc Sabatella's article Establishing The Groove argues that "groove is a completely subjective thing." He claims that "one person may think a given drummer has a great feel, while another person may think the same drummer sounds too stiff, and another may think he is too loose." [3] Similarly, a bass educator states that while "groove is an elusive thing" it can be defined as "what makes the music breathe" and the "sense of motion in the context of a song". [4]

Swing music, or simply swing, is a form of popular music developed in the United States that dominated in the 1930s and 1940s. The name swing came from the 'swing feel' where the emphasis is on the off–beat or weaker pulse in the music. Swing bands usually featured soloists who would improvise on the melody over the arrangement. The danceable swing style of big bands and bandleaders such as Benny Goodman was the dominant form of American popular music from 1935 to 1946, a period known as the swing era. The verb "to swing" is also used as a term of praise for playing that has a strong groove or drive. Notable musicians of the swing era include Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Larry Clinton, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Louis Jordan, and Cab Calloway.

In a musical context, general dictionaries define a groove as "a pronounced, enjoyable rhythm" or the act of "creat[ing], danc[ing] to, or enjoy[ing] rhythmic music". [5] [6] Steve Van Telejuice explains the "groove" as the point in this sense when he defines it as a point in a song or performance when "even the people who can't dance wanna feel like dancing..." due to the effect of the music.

Bernard Coquelet argues that 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 slightly "before or after the beat". Coquelet claims that 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", which he calls "collective" groove". [7] Minute rhythmic variations by the rhythm section members such as the bass player can dramatically change the feel as a band plays a song, even for a simple singer-songwriter groove. [8]

Theoretical analysis

UK musicologist Richard Middleton (1999) notes that while "the concept of groove" has "long [been] familiar in musicians' own usage", musicologists and theorists have only more recently begun to analyze this concept. [9] Middleton states that a groove "... marks an understanding of rhythmic patterning that underlies its role in producing the characteristic rhythmic 'feel' of a piece". He notes that the "feel created by a repeating framework" is also modified with variations. [9] "Groove", in terms of pattern-sequencing, is also known as "shuffle note"—where there is deviation from exact step positions.

When the musical slang phrase "Being in the groove" is applied to a group of improvisers, this has been called "an advanced level of development for any improvisational music group", which is "equivalent to Bohm and Jaworski's descriptions of an evoked field", which systems dynamics scholars claim are "forces of unseen connection that directly influence our experience and behaviour". [10] Peter Forrester and John Bailey argue that the "chances of achieving this higher level of playing" (i.e., attain a "groove") are improved when the musicians are "open to other's musical ideas", "finding ways of complementing other participant's [ sic ] musical ideas", and "taking risks with the music". [10]

Turry and Aigen cite Feld's definition of groove as "an intuitive sense of style as process, a perception of a cycle in motion, a form or organizing pattern being revealed, a recurrent clustering of elements through time". Aigen states that "when [a] groove is established among players, the musical whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, enabling a person [...] to experience something beyond himself which he[/she] cannot create alone (Aigen 2002, p.34)". [11]

Jeff Pressing's 2002 article claimed that a "groove or feel" is "a cognitive temporal phenomenon emerging from one or more carefully aligned concurrent rhythmic patterns, characterized by...perception of recurring pulses, and subdivision of structure in such pulses,...perception of a cycle of time, of length 2 or more pulses, enabling identification of cycle locations, and...effectiveness of engaging synchronizing body responses (e.g. dance, foot-tapping)". [12]

Neuroscientific perspectives

The "groove" has been cited as an example of sensory-motor coupling between neural systems. [13] Sensory-motor coupling is the coupling or integration of the sensory system and motor system. Sensorimotor integration is not a static process. For a given stimulus, there is no one single motor command. "Neural responses at almost every stage of a sensorimotor pathway are modified at short and long timescales by biophysical and synaptic processes, recurrent and feedback connections, and learning, as well as many other internal and external variables". [14] Recent research has shown that at least some styles of modern groove-oriented rock music are characterized by an "aesthetics of exactitude" and the strongest groove stimulation could be observed for drum patterns without microtiming deviations. [15]

Use in different genres


The "groove" is also associated with funk performers, such as James Brown's drummers Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks, and with soul music. "In the 1950s, when 'funk' and 'funky' were used increasingly as adjectives in the context of soul music—the meaning being transformed from the original one of a pungent odor to a re-defined meaning of a strong, distinctive groove." As "[t]he soul dance music of its day, the basic idea of funk was to create as intense a groove as possible." [16] When a drummer plays a groove that "is very solid and with a great feel...", this is referred to informally as being "in the pocket"; when a drummer "maintains this feel for an extended period of time, never wavering, this is often referred to as a deep pocket." [17]

Hip hop

A concept similar to "groove" or "swing" is also used in other African-American genres such as hip hop. The rhythmic groove that jazz artists call a sense of “swing” is sometimes referred to as having "flow" in the hip hop scene. "Flow is as elemental to hip hop as the concept of swing is to jazz". Just as the jazz concept of "swing" involves performers deliberately playing behind or ahead of the beat, the hip-hop concept of flow is about "funking with one's expectations of time"—that is, the rhythm and pulse of the music. [18] "Flow is not about what is being said so much as how one is saying it". [19]


In some more traditional styles of jazz, the musicians often use the word "swing" to describe the sense of rhythmic cohesion of a skilled group. However, since the 1950s, musicians from the organ trio and latin jazz subgenres have also used the term "groove". Jazz flute player Herbie Mann talks a lot about "the groove." In the 1950s, Mann "locked into a Brazilian groove in the early '60s, then moved into a funky, soulful groove in the late '60s and early '70s. By the mid-'70s he was making hit disco records, still cooking in a rhythmic groove." He describes his approach to finding the groove as follows: "All you have to do is find the waves that are comfortable to float on top of." Mann argues that the "epitome of a groove record" is " Memphis Underground or Push Push ", because the "rhythm section [is] locked all in one perception." [20]


In Jamaican reggae, dancehall, and dub music, the creole term "riddim" is used to describe the rhythm patterns created by the drum pattern or a prominent bassline. In other musical contexts a "riddim" would be called a "groove" or beat. One of the widely copied "riddims", Real Rock, was recorded in 1967 by Sound Dimension. "It was built around a single, emphatic bass note followed by a rapid succession of lighter notes. The pattern repeated over and over hypnotically. The sound was so powerful that it gave birth to an entire style of reggae meant for slow dancing called rub a dub." [21]

Groove metal

Bassist Rex Brown from the metal band Pantera, a band associated with the "groove metal" scene. Rex brown down base player.jpg
Bassist Rex Brown from the metal band Pantera, a band associated with the "groove metal" scene.

In the 1990s the term "groove" was used to describe a form of thrash metal called groove metal, which is based around the use of mid-tempo thrash riffs and detuned power chords played with heavy syncopation. "Speed wasn’t the main point anymore, it was what Pantera singer Phil Anselmo called the 'power groove.' Riffs became unusually heavy without the need of growling or the extremely distorted guitars of death metal, rhythms depended more on a heavy groove." [22]

With heavy metal, the term "groove" can also be associated with stoner metal, sludge metal, doom metal and death metal genres as well as djent.

Jam/Improvisational Rock

See also

Related Research Articles

Funk is a music genre that originated in African-American communities in the mid-1960s when African-American musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B). Funk de-emphasizes melody and chord progressions and focuses on a strong rhythmic groove of a bass line played by an electric bassist and a drum part played by a drummer, often at slower tempos than other popular music. Like much of African-inspired music, funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments playing interlocking grooves that created a "hypnotic" and "danceable feel". Funk uses the same richly colored extended chords found in bebop jazz, such as minor chords with added sevenths and elevenths, or dominant seventh chords with altered ninths and thirteenths.

Nu jazz, also known as jazztronica, is a genre of jazz and electronic music. The term was coined in the late 1990s to refer to music that blends jazz elements with other musical styles, such as funk, soul, electronic music, and free improvisation.

African-American music musical traditions of African American people

African-American music is an umbrella term covering a diverse range of music and musical genres largely developed by African Americans. Their origins are in musical forms that arose out of the historical condition of slavery that characterized the lives of African Americans prior to the American Civil War.

Comping is the chords, rhythms, and countermelodies that keyboard players, guitar players, or drummers use to support a jazz musician's improvised solo or melody lines. It is also the action of accompanying, and the left-hand part of a solo pianist.

In popular music, a break is an instrumental or percussion section during a song derived from or related to stop-time – being a "break" from the main parts of the song or piece. A break is usually interpolated between sections of a song, to provide a sense of anticipation, signal the start of a new section, or create variety in the arrangement.

Rhythm section group of musicians within a music ensemble or band who provide the underlying rhythm, harmony and beat for the rest of the band

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There are several subgenres of reggae music including various predecessors to the form.

<i>On the Corner</i> 1972 studio album by Miles Davis

On the Corner is a studio album by American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Miles Davis. It was recorded in June and July 1972 and released on October 11 of the same year by Columbia Records. The album continued Davis's exploration of jazz fusion, bringing together funk rhythms with the influence of experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman.

Boogie is a repetitive, swung note or shuffle rhythm, "groove" or pattern used in blues which was originally played on the piano in boogie-woogie music. The characteristic rhythm and feel of the boogie was then adapted to guitar, double bass, and other instruments. The earliest recorded boogie-woogie song was in 1916. By the 1930s, Swing bands such as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Louis Jordan all had boogie hits. By the 1950s, boogie became incorporated into the emerging rockabilly and rock and roll styles. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s country bands released country boogies. Today, the term "boogie" usually refers to dancing to pop, disco, or rock music.

Songo is a genre of popular Cuban music, created by the group Los Van Van in the early 1970s. Songo incorporated rhythmic elements from folkloric rumba into popular dance music, and was a significant departure from the son montuno/mambo-based structure which had dominated popular music in Cuba since the 1940s. Blas Egües was the first drummer in Los Van Van, but it was the band's second drummer, José Luis Quintana "Changuito", who developed songo into the world-wide phenomenon it is today.

In popular music, a fill is a short musical passage, riff, or rhythmic sound which helps to sustain the listener's attention during a break between the phrases of a melody. "The terms riff and fill are sometimes used interchangeably by musicians, but [while] the term riff usually refers to an exact musical phrase repeated throughout a song", a fill is an improvised phrase played during a section where nothing else is happening in the music. While riffs are repeated, fills tend to be varied over the course of a song. For example, a drummer may fill in the end of one phrase with a sixteenth note hi-hat pattern, and then fill in the end of the next phrase with a snare drum figure.

Funk rock music genre that fuses funk and rock elements

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Cold Sweat song by James Brown

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Jazz drumming art of playing percussion, predominantly the drum set, in jazz styles

Jazz drumming is the art of playing percussion in jazz styles ranging from 1910s-style Dixieland jazz to 1970s-era jazz fusion and 1980s-era Latin jazz. The techniques and instrumentation of this type of performance have evolved over several periods, influenced by jazz at large and the individual drummers within it. Stylistically, this aspect of performance was shaped by its starting place, New Orleans, as well as numerous other regions of the world, including other parts of the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Music and Black liberation refers to music associated with Black political movements for emancipation, civil rights, or self-determination. The connection between music and politics, has been used in many cultures and was utilized by blacks in their struggle for freedom and civil rights. Music has been used by African Americans over the course of United States history to express feelings of struggle and hope, as well as to garner feelings of solidarity for their freedom struggle. African Americans have used music as a way to express their struggle for freedom and equality which has spanned the history the United States and resulted in the creation and popularization of many music genres including, jazz, funk, disco, rap, and hip hop. Many of these songs and artists played pivotal roles in generating support for the civil rights movement.


  1. Peckman, Jonathan (2007). Picture Yourself Drumming, p.50. ISBN   1-59863-330-9.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Kernfeld, Barry. "Groove (i)". The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed. (Grove Music Online). Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 16 October 2015. In the realm of jazz, a persistently repeated pattern. More broadly, Feld (1988), studying groove from an ethnomusicological perspective, defines it cautiously as "an unspecifiable but ordered sense of something that is sustained in a distinctive, regular and attractive way, working to draw the listener in." Connections to dance are important, and the statement that a performance has, or achieves, a groove, usually means that it somehow compels the body to move. Still more generally, the term has a sexual origin and connotation which is obvious, requiring no explanation... Within jazz circles, Gold identifies the phrase "in the groove" – which from around 1936 to 1945 (i.e., during the height of the swing era) was in widespread use in referring to jazz performances which were "excellent" or, by extension, "sophisticated" – and the term "groove" – referring in the 1940s and 1950s to "routine, preference, style, source of pleasure"... Characteristically... [groove] tends to operate with reference to styles from the latter third of the twentieth century which utilize characteristic accompanimental ostinatos drawn from African-derived dance music, whether African-American (e.g., soul, funk, disco, rap, hip-hop), Afro-Cuban dance music (e.g., salsa), or Afro-Brazilian (samba), or some other such fusion.(subscription required)
  3. Accompanying: Drums: Establishing The Groove
  4. Stews Lessons: Creating The Groove Archived 2012-02-10 at the Wayback Machine
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  7. Archived September 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
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  13. Janata, P.; Tomic, S. T.; Haberman, J. M. (2011). "Sensorimotor coupling in music and the psychology of the groove". Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 141 (1): 54–75. doi:10.1037/a0024208. PMID   21767048.
  14. Huston, S. J., & Jayaraman, V. (2011). Studying sensorimotor integration in insects. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 21(4). doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2011.05.030
  15. Frühauf, J.; Kopiez, R.; Platz, F. (2013). "Music on the timing grid: The influence of microtiming on the perceived groove quality of a simple drum pattern performance". Musicae Scientiae. 17 (2): 246–260. doi:10.1177/1029864913486793.
  16. Mark Edward Nero. "'Funk' Music". Entertainment.
  17. Bart Elliott. "In The Pocket - Articles - Drummer Cafe". Drummer Cafe.
  18. William Jelani Cobb. To the break of dawn: a freestyle on the hip hop aesthetic . 2007. Page 87-88. ISBN   0-8147-1670-9.
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  21. Kenner, Rob (23 May 2004). "MUSIC; 'Real Rock' Through the Ages". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  22. "The History of Metal". Archived from the original on 2002-10-01. Retrieved 2007-08-03. Pantera practically revolutionized thrash metal. Speed wasn’t the main point anymore, it was what singer Phil Anselmo called the "power groove." Riffs became unusually heavy without the need of growling or the extremely low-tuned and distorted guitars of death metal, rhythms depended more on a heavy groove

Further reading