Music often evokes a regular beat and a pleasurable sensation of wanting to move to that beat called groove. Recent studies show that a rhythmic pattern’s ability to evoke groove increases at moderate levels of syncopation, essentially, when some notes occur earlier than expected. We present two studies that investigate that effect of syncopation in more realistic polyphonic music examples. First, listeners rated their urge to move to music excerpts transcribed from funk and rock songs, and to algorithmically transformed versions of these excerpts: 1) with the original syncopation removed, and 2) with various levels of pseudorandom syncopation introduced. While the original excerpts were rated higher than the de-syncopated, the algorithmic syncopation was not as successful in evoking groove. Consequently, a moderate level of syncopation increases groove, but only for certain syncopation patterns. The second study provides detailed comparisons of the original and transformed rhythmic structures that revealed key differences between them in: 1) the distribution of syncopation across instruments and metrical positions, 2) the counter-meter figures formed by the syncopating notes, and 3) the number of pickup notes. On this basis, we form four concrete hypotheses about the function of syncopation in groove, to be tested in future experiments.

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