New research in Psychology of Music provides some of the first empirical evidence that the presence of bass frequencies is crucial for creating groove in electronic dance music (EDM).
“As a DJ and electronic music producer, I noticed how important low bass frequencies are to really get people to start dancing,” said study author Ethan Lustig, a PhD student at the Eastman School of Music.
“While it’s obvious that bass is important to groove, nobody had ever really shown this in a scientific way before. In this study, we wanted to see if we kept everything exactly the same but only changed the sound of the bassline, would it make a difference?”
The researchers used a Roland TR-909 drum machine to create four brief EDM-style musical loops, then applied four audio filters to the bassline of each.
One hundred and two undergraduates listened to all 16 tracks three times. They evaluated how much they liked the each track and how much it made them want to move.
The researchers found that the participants preferred tracks with “deep” lower frequency basslines compared to tracks with higher frequency basslines.
“The study shows that people really are ‘all about that bass.’ The college students we surveyed said they wanted to dance the most when our music used a heavy bassline. Regardless of what melodies, chords, or rhythms we used, the bass was the most important factor,” Lustig told PsyPost.
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“Keep in mind that we weren’t looking at how much people were actually dancing to the music. We were asking them to rate how much they wanted to move to the music, on a 5-point scale,” Lustig explained. “It’s like the difference between saying, for example ‘Michael, rate how much you like bananas’ vs. saying ‘Michael, here’s a whole bunch of bananas’ and observing how many bananas he actually eats.”
The study, “All about that bass: Audio filters on basslines determine groove and liking in electronic dance music“, was authored by Ethan Lustig and Ivan Tan.