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What's Groove? pt. II

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Listen to the blog post here.


In the interview with Aldo Mazza, Jojo Mayer talks about groove as being the element that creates a sensation of trance and that groove can be understood as a meditation on life. Trance comes from “transire” which is latin for “go across” or pass. That’s a beautiful description of the sensation one gets when in trance. I’m not sure though if the sensation of trance is having passed a certain barrier or whether it’s the transitioning moment, so you’d never really pass the barrier but always be close to crossing it but never really do.

A way to get into this trance is through repetition. The repetition cycle can vary greatly, also the medium can vary. I believe that factory workers that do the same thing over and over again are in a sort of trance, athletes who push themselves to their limits or musicians and their listeners can be in trance. A lot of electronic dance music is based around a four on the floor bass drum with samples that repeat over and over again. If you listen to that music for long enough, chances are that you’ll fall into a trance. There, the repetition is fairly easy to detect. Cuban music is largely based around a clave that’s repeated without much variation. In Jazz the repetition (besides the strong quarter note pulse) can be the structure/form of a standard like AABA. That could be one of the reasons why Jazz is often not perceived as groovy music (or just simply not good music), because the cycle of repetition is too long, especially if you don’t listen or play the tune long enough. A cycle this long takes commitment from both sides, the listener and the creator (the creator is also a listener). If that commitment isn’t there the music won’t be able to breathe and live.

Jojo Mayer & Aldo Mazza

Tension & Release

My friend Federico Gironelli made that exact point. When I asked him what he thought groove was, he told me that groove feels like breathing, like something that’s alive, like a heartbeat. Of course, this analogy has a lot in common with repetition. But also, with tension building up and releasing. Tension and release can be perceived in all aspects of music, from very small to very big cycles. Within a 4/4 bar not all quarter notes have the same tension. The 1 is very solid, the 2 is light the 3 feels heavy but lighter than the 1 and the 4 is the lightest and most upbeat just waiting for the 1 to rescue it. The cycle can be bigger within a four-bar phrase where the bars relate to each other the same way as quarter notes do within a bar. In Jazz the cycle can also be felt in the classic AABA form. In pop music the relations between verses, choruses and bridges. These cycles can be perceived as a sort of breathing of the music. The music’s alive. Using phrasing within a rhythm can be adjusted to this idea as well. An analogy for time and feel that might help here is an elastic band that’s being pulled on both ends. More stretch = more tension = more potential energy.

Predictability & Surprise

Repetition is predictable, you know what’s coming, and when it comes as expected it creates a sort of trust and comfort. That’s a really good thing but we need balance, otherwise we’d probably get bored rather quickly. Every now and then we need to be pushed awake, taken out of the comfort zone. Not so far that we won’t still enjoy ourselves but far enough so that we’ll have to really pay attention again. Different music genres have different balances. Some are very predictable, and others throw you around and for first time listeners there’s nothing really to hold on to.

In 2019 I got to interview Jojo Mayer in Lucerne, Switzerland.
In 2019 I got to interview Jojo Mayer in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Jojo Mayer vs Benny Greb

In the interview with Aldo Mazza Jojo Mayer says that he would never attempt to teach somebody to groove. Benny Greb produced a DVD called the art and science of groove. What’s happening here? I believe that they’re very much on the same page, but they’re using a different vocabulary. Jojo’s point is that you can’t teach magic, magic happens but can’t be taught. (To Jojo the sensation of groove is magic.) Jojo’s happy to show you ways to improve yourself, many of those ways are even shown on Benny’s DVD. But Jojo doesn’t say once you’ve learned all these things, you’ll groove (magic will happen). Benny pretty much says the same thing: I’ll show you things to practice and ideas for your playing that will make groove (magic) finding you easier. But I don’t think Benny’s ever said “I’ll teach you groove, if you do this and that you’ll be grooving!”. Also, I don’t think that was Benny’s intention with that DVD. Calling a DVD “The art and science of groove” is a huge name and surely a very attractive name for financial reasons. Benny’s DVD is great to improve your playing and it hands you tools to dissect your performance. And I don’t think Jojo Mayer would disagree with that statement.



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