When Kirsty asked me to write a bit about pulse and rhythm in the lead up to the next session, I immediately thought of doing something one of the many, innumerable “pop” songs in my collection that incorporate weird time changes or dramatic hemiolas. But then it struck me, time signatures are easy; groove is hard.
So, therefore, please enjoy this slice of musical history, a landmark piece without which we would have a much more miserable world:
Yes, Good Times by Chic.
Eight whole minutes of 4/4, with relatively little syncopation and no deviation from a single riff – sounds like hell right? But what makes this tune is something almost indefinable: groove (or, if you prefer, feel). The way in which the bass and drums fit together, the light guitar work of Nile Rodgers, the push and pull of musicians playing together. This is the difference between Sibelius playback and having an ensemble in front of you. And it’s not something that can really be written into a score. Sure, you can write “funky” or “with feeling” or something similar, but this intangible thing we call groove can never truly be captured.
Not all music has to groove, but almost all good music does (though often not in the same, in-your-face way that bands like Chic peddle). If you find yourself nodding your head or feeling your heart wrench when the pianist holds that note just a little longer than expected then you’ve succumbed to the groove.
Groove is important, and worth thinking about when you’re composing. Groove, groove groove. Groove.
It sounds funny now.