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2023-06-04 16:07:55

Word: This piece is closely impressed by Dan Charnas’ nice ebook “Dilla Time”, which works deep into J Dilla’s life, music, and legacy. This piece goals so as to add visuals which you can see, hear, and work together with to a few of the materials lined in Charnas’ work.









Let’s start with a primary groove.

Proper now we’ve nothing. Click on so as to add within the bass guitar.

Candy! The strains mark the beat or the heart beat, the place your head may nod alongside as you pay attention. The bass performs 2 notes per beat. Add within the hi-hat.

The hi-hat is a part of a drum package, product of two cymbals. It’s additionally enjoying 2 notes per beat. Add within the kick.

The kick drum performs on the primary and third beats. Lastly, add within the snare.

The snare performs on the second and fourth beats, the place you may clap. Good job, you made a groove!

visualizing every a part of a primary groove the place the bass is lacking, the hihat is lacking, the kick is lacking, the snare is lacking.

This groove is straight. Every little thing aligns completely with the evenly spaced grid. The house between notes stays constant, so every word falls precisely the place you’d count on it to. That is the way in which Questlove had skilled so exhausting to play.

Listed here are some songs with straight grooves.

How do these really feel to you?

To me they really feel: exact, even, tight

Stars and Stripes Perpetually by John Philip Sousa

Mild Change by Charlie Puth

In right now’s widespread music, producers can use know-how to make sure devices are aligned to the grid. This system known as quantizing. Even when notes are initially barely off beat, they are often snapped onto the grid with the clicking of a button.






Typically straight can get a bit of boring. Becoming an evenly spaced grid is only one method to consider rhythm. One other is swing, the place the second word inside every beat is deliberately delayed. So, the primary word takes up barely more room, and the second beat takes barely lower than in the event that they have been evenly spaced. It’s a standard function of blues and jazz, and the entire band does it, all enjoying on this new long-short-long-short grid.

We’ll begin with the identical straight groove. Click on to make the bass swing.

We’ll additionally swing the hi-hat.

Now we’re speaking!

visualizing every a part of a primary groove the place the bass is straight, the hihat is straight, the kick is straight, the snare is straight.

Listed here are some songs with swung grooves. Are you able to hear a distinction from the straight grooves?

How do these really feel to you?

To me these really feel unfastened, bouncing, make me need to dance

Greater Floor by Stevie Surprise

Past the Sea by Bobby Darin

Need to go deeper on swing? Let’s get within the weeds.

Swing is outlined by delaying that second word, however by how a lot precisely? The swing examples you simply heard are known as triplet swing as a result of if we divide every beat in 3 elements (known as triplets), the groove might be felt as the primary and third of these triplets. Ordinarily, the beat could be divided into a fair variety of elements, and we might play two evenly spaced notes. Dividing the beat into an odd variety of elements at all times ends in an uneven feeling, since one word should be barely longer than the opposite.

Diagram showing different ways of dividing a beat to create different levels of swing. If the beat is divided in three parts, the first and second note will not be evenly split, resulting in a swing feel.

What about different odd divisions? This tune’s groove is a quintuplet swing, derived by dividing the beat into 5 elements and enjoying on the primary and fourth subdivisions. It’s a delicate distinction, however the swing is barely much less steep, it’s nearer to straight than the triplet swing.

Sequence Begin by Sungazer

Let’s visualize this a unique method. A rotation round this circle represents 1 beat. For a triplet swing, the beat is split in 3 elements, and notes are performed on the primary and third, which is as near at the same time as we are able to get. One other method you possibly can describe this rhythm is to say it has a 66.6% swing proportion, which means that the primary word takes up 66.6% of the beat. The upper the swing proportion, the steeper the swing, the farther from straight (50% swing) we get.

Relying on what number of items you divide the beat into, that second word is delayed a unique quantity. Every of those swings is subtly totally different, strive them out for your self.

As you divide the beat into extra items, the rhythm inches nearer to straight, however by no means fairly reaching it. These grooves have a singular funkiness – caught between a swung and straight really feel, they’ve a lilting, off-kilter feeling. To me it seems like we’re stumbling down a flight of stairs and by no means fairly catching ourselves. This rigidity is signature to J Dilla’s fashion.

Some drummers truly take into consideration and depend these subdivisions out of their head. Others simply suppose “play someplace between straight and swung” or “play drunk.”






When most music is straight and even, we develop expectations of the place notes ought to fall. Even a slight deviation can really feel weird, however that bizarreness is what made J Dilla’s time-feel so compelling. One other approach he used was to shift a complete half over ever so barely on his drum machine. It outcomes on this distinctive flam or rubbing impact between devices that now fall barely other than one another.

Beginning with the straight groove. Click on to shift the snare.

This one’s delicate! Strive going backwards and forwards and see when you hear the distinction.

visualizing every a part of a primary groove the place the bass is straight, the hihat is straight, the kick is straight, the snare is straight.

See Also










What made J Dilla actually groundbreaking was his fusion of those parts — straight, swung, shifted — giving totally different elements of the groove totally different time-feels and slight deviations. This creates the looseness, rigidity, and humanness that defines the revolutionary time-feel often called Dilla Time.

Let’s begin by swinging the bass. That is known as a quintuplet swing (see superior swing part).

We’ll truly depart the hi-hat and kick straight. A key function of Dilla Time is the strain created by differing time-feels occurring concurrently. Now, shift the snare barely earlier.

Candy! We’ve bought straight, swung, and shifted elements, all going on the identical time.

visualizing every a part of a primary groove the place the bass is straight, the hihat is straight, the kick is straight, the snare is straight.

This toy instance incorporates a number of J Dilla-inspired parts, however it’s value noting that each Dilla and Dilla-like tune is distinct, that includes its personal distinctive mixture of those methods. Armed with this information, we are able to now establish and label these parts as they seem in precise songs.

This primary one, “Fall in Love” by Erykah Badu (a frequent collaborator of J Dilla’s), has an identical really feel to the groove we simply created.

Fall in Love by Erykah Badu (2010)

visualizing every a part of Fall in Love by Erykah Badu the place the synth is swung, the hihat is swung, the kick is straight, the snare is straight.

hi-hat and synth are each swung but additionally shifted

Get Dis Cash by Slum Village (1999)

visualizing every a part of Get Dis Cash by Slum Village the place the hihat is swung, the snare is shifted.

Coronary heart Don’t Stand a Likelihood by Anderson .Paak (2016)

visualizing every a part of Coronary heart Don’t Stand a Likelihood by Anderson .Paak the place the hihat is swung, the kick is straight, the snare is shifted.

hi-hat is at a quintuplet swing

I’ll finish with a quote I like from the musician Jacob Collier, a recent musician who has been influenced by J Dilla’s work:

“Whenever you be taught music, you’re skilled to suppose [in terms of a] “proper method” and a “fallacious method.” It’s all simply made up. You need to discover your individual method. And so typically [in making music], the issues which can be deemed fallacious, or unconventional, or unusual — these are the issues that work the perfect and transfer folks probably the most, as a result of individuals are moved by issues that aren’t excellent.


Grooves have been transcribed by placing the tune in GarageBand and recreating the drums, lining issues up till there was no audible flam between the 2 tracks (a way borrowed from this blog post).

Title artwork by Crystal Tai with Gonzalo Sepulveda.

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