We Dance to Music Because It Lets Us Predict the Future

May 10, 2019

Recognizing a sound vs grooving to a sound is a totally different kind of experience. In one instance, your reaction is based in familiarity. In the other, your reaction is based in… something else??? Ever since I started making music I was puzzled by how sounds can be arranged in time in a way that makes people want to bounce, head-bang, or whatever else.

Based on research and my experiences with beat-making, it seems like this ‘groove’ effect is achieved when the listener can grasp a pattern within the rhythm. A lot of dance music achieves this effect with a heavy bass-drum that repeats at a constant rate of about ½ of a second. I’ve provided an example from the last album I organized, Marshmallow Bits. In this track “Future City” MatthewJ217 uses a low kick-sound to maintain a rhythm while other more dynamic sounds play over it. Added layers of percussion keeps the track interesting and surprising, while a distinct kick lets the listener follow the music. 


This technique lets the listener anticipate the next beat in the music, and as a result the listener can interact with that beat as it’s happening. The power to predict the future (hehe, “Future City”) is satisfying and a large part of why people feel confident dancing to these kinds of tracks. Patterns/Repetition in rhythms are extremely common in music, and different genres have all kinds of other approaches to achieve that sense of anticipation and satisfaction. 

In preparation for the next rhythmic blog post, I’m going to add a video that explains how rhythm works conceptually. As the rate of frequency increases, the research becomes more mathematical. Hopefully this video will help with understanding topics like subdivisions and generally understanding rhythm in the mathematical sense.

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