One of my old pals, Dan Levitin, teaches at McGill in Montreal. He recently wrote a bestseller, This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, and yesterday it was released in paperback and re-entered the NY Times best seller list at #15.
Tonight I asked him to guest blog his favorite song here at C&L; he chose "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder.
One element that gives "Superstition" its great groove is Stevie Wonder's drumming. In the opening few seconds of "Superstition," when Stevie's high-hat cymbal is playing alone, you can hear part of the secret to the song's groove. The beat Stevie plays on the high-hat is never exactly the same way twice; he throws in little extra taps, hits, and rests. Moreover, every note that he plays on the cymbal has a slightly different volume-- nuances in his performance that add to the sense of tension. The genius of his playing is that he keeps us on our mental toes by changing aspects of the pattern every time he plays it, holding just enough of it the same to keep us grounded and oriented. Here, he plays the same rhythm at the beginning of each line, but changes the rhythm in the second part of the line, in a "call-and-response" pattern. Our brains are giant prediction machines and music offers them a great playground. We like it when musicians sometimes violate our expectations in interesting ways because the brain then learns that there exists a different way to complete the pattern than it thought. And our brains have evolved to like learning.