Thursday, April 17, 2014

What makes music groovy?

©20140417 Volkskrant
Today PLOS ONE will publish an interesting study on rhythm, groove and syncopation that uses an often criticized methodology: questionnaire and web-based research (cf. Honing & Reips, 2008). However, this study is a good example of how an unspectacular method (compared to brain imaging techniques, elegantly controlled experiments or advanced computational modelling) can still be quite informative.

The paper takes advantage of people's intrinsic interest in rhythm, timing and what's often called 'groove', in combination with the sheer fun of participating in an online listening experiment that has to do with music (cf. Honing & Ladinig, 2008).

Based on sixty-six responses, the authors were able to extract an inverted U-curve for a music-theoretic measure of syncopation, a shape that was absent for an alternative, information-theoretic measure based on the acoustic quality of the soundexamples used (i.e. entropy). As such the study provides evidence that the theoretical notion of syncopation, as defined by Longuet-Higgins' L-model in the 1980s, might be an important component of 'groovyness': pleasure and dance-inducing aspects of many musics ranging from James Brown to Marvin Gay and from Funkadelic to Stevie Wonder.

The first author, Maria Witek (Aarhus University), encouraged me to mention that the questionnaire and all soundexamples are online. Feel free to take part.

[See also article in de Volkskrant and interview on Radio 1; both in Dutch] Witek, M., Clarke, E., Wallentin, M., Kringelbach, M., & Vuust, P. (2014). Syncopation, Body-Movement and Pleasure in Groove Music PLoS ONE, 9 (4) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094446 Honing, H., & Reips, U.-D. (2008). Web-based versus lab-based studies: a response to Kendall (2008). Empirical Musicology Review, 3 (2), 73-77. Honing, H., & Ladinig, O. (2008). The potential of the Internet for music perception research: A comment on lab-based versus Web-based studies. Empirical Musicology Review, 3 (1), 4-7.

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