Here’s Why These Songs Make Us Want to Dance, According to Science

Heres Why These Songs Make Us Want to Dance According

The desire to dance is greatest when the song meets these criteria.

Impossible not to waddle to a hit from the 1980s, a pop sound from Mickael Jackson or the latest hit from Beyoncé? This is completely normal because some music makes us want to dance more than others, demonstrate French researchers from Inserm and Aix-Marseille University. In their study published in the journal Science Advance in March 2024, they were interested in the mechanisms involved in the spontaneous desire to dance, which is also called “the groove”. To do this, they studied the brain activity of 30 people when they listened to music using a magnetoencephalography device. Participants had to listen 12 short melodies composed ofa rhythm of 120 beats per minuteeither 2Hz, average rhythm found in music in general. Each of the melodies was modified in order to obtain music with increasingly complex rhythms. At the end of each of them, the instructions were to note the level of groove felt.

Funk and jazz always work

The desire to move to music was maximum for a rhythm presenting an intermediate rate of syncopethat is to say not being neither too simple nor too complex. “Syncopation corresponds to a rhythm in which a note (or even a chord) is attacked on a weak beat and extended on the next strong beat. Concretely for the listenerthis creates a displacement of the expected accentperceived as a kind of musical “hiccup” which disrupts the regularity of the rhythm. These musical motifs are particularly present in funk music or jazz“, describe the authors. Syncopations are also widely used ine reggae, ska, blues, hip-hop and the current pop. Analysis of the participants’ brains then allowed the researchers to highlight the role of left sensorimotor cortex, involved in the coordination of movements. This part of the brain activates to the sound of certain music and generates voluntary muscular movements.

Roughly speakingso that music makes us want to dance:

  • Its tempo must be neither too fast nor too slow.
  • Its rhythm must be quite simple so that the listener wants to beat time without getting discouraged…
  • … but sufficiently unpredictable so that the listener does not get bored (use of syncopations, offbeats, unexpected accents, drum riffs, cross rhythms…), which makes the music more engaging.

Popular music which meet these criteria are for example: “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder“Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” or “Funky Drummer’ by James Brown, “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry, “Plastic Bag” by Drake, “Benny and The Jets”, by Elton John, “Girl from Ipanema” by Antonio Carlos Jobim, “Englishman in New York” by Sting, “The Anthem of Our Countryside” by Tryo…. Listen to them and see for yourself!