What is groove, exactly? As music producers we talk about groove all the time, but it can be difficult to explain in great detail. Groove is a feeling, a vibe, a special quality that makes music sound good.
Even though the concept of groove seems elusive, it can be broken down into concrete terms using two key DAW features: swing and syncopation.
A brief history of groove
In electronic music production, swing has to do with how far a sequence deviates from the metronomic grid. The further you push a sequence off grid, the more swung it is. Without any swing, a sequence is considered “straight”—the individual notes are evenly spaced and quantized. In some musical styles, like Detroit electro, this kind of machine-like accuracy is helpful, whereas others seem to work better with rhythmic variation.
Swing dates back to the 1930s, when it was originally considered a jazz genre and playing style that emphasized slightly delayed 1/8 notes. Bandleader and American pianist Duke Ellington championed swing, on full display in his song “Skin Deep” (skip to 30 seconds for the drums). By the 1980s, drum machines featured swing settings that could produce loose and lively grooves. The Linn LM-1 was the first drum machines to incorporate swing (called ‘shuffle mode’) proving that machines can groove too.
Swing and syncopation in practice
Today, all DAWs come with editable swing parameters used to approximate organic sounding, unquantized music. Although swing can be applied to any instrument, it is mainly used in reference to drums, which will be the focus of the following audio examples.