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An analysis of a dance music groove

Hans T. Zeiner-Henriksen demonstrates the link between cognition and motion by studying a popular club track from the 90s.
© Hans T. Zeiner-Henriksen, University of Oslo

Electronic dance music has become extremely popular since the 1990s. In the following a groove from the beginning of a typical dance music track is analysed according to the theory presented in this course.

The first four measures (0:06–0:14) of Basement Jaxx’s Jump n’ Shout from 1999 is an example of a groove that has a clear communication of the main pulse, but with an additional pattern that makes this beginning more exciting (more groovy!). In the notational representation underneath you can see the bass drum sounds as the lowest staff. The tempo of 127 bpm (2 bass drum sounds per 0.94 seconds) is a good tempo for dancing (and for a fast walk). On the spectrogram beneath the notational representation you can see the bass drum sounds as the largest figures – repeated eight times. Notice that these figures are thinner at the start and fatter at the bottom. This shape is formed by a descending pitch movement that makes the experience of this sound as a downbeat even stronger (Zeiner-Henriksen 2010a:Chap. 8).

Together with the bass drum there is a hi-hat that can be seen at the top staff of the notational representation. This sound has mostly entry points at the off-beat, forming an alteration between the low bass drum sounds and the high hi-hat sounds – a pattern that is very effective in setting a main pulse (see Zeiner-Henriksen 2010b:Chap. 3).

Notation1

  • Notational representation of Basement Jaxx’s Jump n’ Shout, 0:06–0:14.

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  • Spectrogram of Basement Jaxx’s Jump n’ Shout, 0:06–0:10, cymbal pattern circled.

In the middle staff of the notational representation you can see a third rhythmic layer consisting of a cymbal pattern – its attacks are as salient as the hi-hat sounds but not as dominant as the bass drum sounds. You can also see the entry points of this pattern circled in the spectrogram. While the two others communicate the main pulse, this pattern is present to make it more exciting – more groovy. But how does it become more groovy?

If we say that the alternating bass drum and hi-hat pattern activates a steady up-and-down movement (head nodding, upper-body bouncing), then this cymbal pattern interacts with that structure. The third (and seventh) event of the cymbal pattern has the same entry point as the bass drum sound and therefore stresses those downbeats. In this notational representation there is an undulating line that represents a possible movement curve – down on the bass drum sound and up on the hi-hat, and with a slightly lower curve where the cymbal sound has the same placement as the bass drum sound.

image085.png

  • Notational representation of Basement Jaxx’s Jump n’ Shout, 0:06–0:14, with suggested movement curve.

This up-and-down movement pattern is probably not changed by the cymbal pattern, but our experience of the movement might be altered. Being placed right before the bass drum and hi-hat sounds, they seem to introduce a sort of tension or friction into the groove, making small dents in the movement pattern established by the bass drum and hi-hat. In the notational representation and the spectrogram below these tension points are marked as small bumps in a possible movement curve (an up-and-down movement).

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  • Notational representation of Basement Jaxx’s Jump n’ Shout, 0:06–0:14, with suggested movement curve and possible tension points circled.

image089.png

  • Spectrogram of Basement Jaxx’s Jump n’ Shout, 0:06–0:14, with suggested movement curve and possible tension points circled.

An electronic dance music track often starts out with a build-up section that leads to a more complete groove where there are more interactions between rhythmic patterns. While some of these may be closely connected to and in various ways supportive of the basic beat that communicates the main pulse, other patterns may be more independent and contribute with elements that bring tension, emphasis or various forms of expectation to the groove.

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  • Notational representation of Basement Jaxx’s Jump n’ Shout, 0:18–0:21, with possible tension points, emphasized beats and entries producing expectation circled.

The excerpt represented above starts two measures further into the track (measures 7 and 8; 0:18–0:21). Here the hi-hat is boosted in the mix compared to the preceding part (measures 1 to 6). A snare drum joins in with three similar but not identical sounds that interact in yet other ways with the dominant movement pattern. The cymbal pattern is somewhat simplified, probably to avoid colliding with the snare drum pattern.

The first two snare drum events seem to have an effect similar to the cymbal pattern in creating tension or friction in the groove, while the three events ending both of the periods of four beat-cycles seem to function as a pick-up note in relation to the following downbeats, bringing a sense of expectation to that part. The extra snare drum sounds that fall exactly on the upbeats do not seem to have a role beyond somewhat emphasizing this specific beat.

image085.png

  • Spectrogram of Basement Jaxx’s Jump n’ Shout, 0:18–0:21, with suggested movement curve and possible tension points, emphasized beats and entries producing expectation circled.

Given the track’s tempo of 127 bpm, it may seem like a reach to identify this many influential events. But it is important to distinguish among the various roles that sounds might play in forming a groove that in turn moves the body. There are no right answers or straightforward recipes for good dance music: these roles will influence each other in quite intricate ways, and each dancer will respond differently to them as well. But in aiming to distinguish what makes a good groove, we must allow for all of the possibilities.

References

© Hans T. Zeiner-Henriksen, University of Oslo
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