|Notice how the time gradually cycles over time|
Maybe we now know, according to a very interesting article in the Harvard Gazette. A study at the Max Planck Institute For Dynamics and Self-Organization in Gottingen, Germany analyzed an expert Ghanaian drummer and discovered some interesting aspects of playing in time.
All humans have imperfect time (we don't we needed a study to tell us that), but it's the way that it's imperfect that makes a difference. When playing to a click, even a great player varies from being ahead or behind by 10 to 20 milliseconds. But what is really interesting is that these variations happen over long periods of time in the song, according to the study. A player may be ahead of the beat for 30 consecutive beats, then gradually fall behind for the next 30 (see the Beat Index on the left).
What's even more interesting is that the whole cycle repeats itself over long periods. In other words, the same cycle of being ahead for a number of beats then behind for a number repeats over and over.
But what's interesting about this is the fact that the beats are consecutive. What sounds bad to us is if we jump back and forth, being ahead for a couple then behind for a couple, which is why the "Humanize" function on a sequencer doesn't sound that human at all. It only randomizes the beats. Humans (at least the ones who are good players) do it in a slow cycle from ahead to behind.
I'm not sure if this study tried more than one drummer or if there were more musicians on different instruments involved, but it certainly all sounds plausible. What I'd love to read is a study on how musicians interact with each other, and what scientifically makes a good "pocket." Any takers?
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