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  • Writer's pictureJustin Palmer

3 Defining Features of Funk Music

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

Funk Music has to be one of the most influential music genres in the 21st century. Funk has inspired the development of many genres and artists. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and the west coast hip hop movement created their own style of funk called G-Funk or gangster funk. Teddy Filey created his own fusion of funk and New York style R&B called “New Jack Swing”. Frankie Knuckles; one of the originators of house music, created some of his first tracks by sampling funk and disco records. You can even spot funk in the most modern of music through Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak and their new joint project; “Silk Sonic”, a name given to them by one of the godfathers of funk Bootsy Collins. The thing is how do you know to spot the funk when you hear it. Here are the “3 Defining Features of Funk Music.

1. “On the 1”

Most modern music but not all are usually in “Common Time” time signature or 4/4 time signature; which means there are 4 beats in each bar 1,2,3,4 and repeat. In music you have to have an emphasis beat to make the music flow. In 4/4 time the beat that is emphasized is commonly 2 and 4, counting 1,2,3,4. In the case of funk we do the opposite. The emphasis is on the 1 and the 3, counting 1,2,3,4. This gives funk a vampy dancing groove. The emphasis on the one gives an indication to all; the dancers and the players of where the groove begins and ends. Usually it is the drummer who is responsible for keeping this groove laying down a foundation for everyone to play within. Usually but not all the time the drummer will indicate the beginning of a phrase or groove with a cymbal crash on the 1 once every two bars; counting 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 and repeat.

2. “Everything is Percussion”

As James Brown would say; “If you play horns, you play percussion. If you play guitar, you play percussion. If you play bass, you play percussion.” What he meant was that even though you are playing notes you must play them in a percussive or staccato fashion. Funk is rooted in African music which is heavily percussive based. People often forget that different drums have different tones and notes based on what they are made out of, the shape of them, how they are strung, and how and where you strike them. This transfers over to funk music, but with instruments that have a wider range of tones and notes. Therefore no matter what instrument you play in a funk band it must be percussive, short, rhythmic and expressive.

3. “All about that Bass”

One of the most important instruments in funk music is the bass. The bass is an integral part of the melody, rhythm, and groove of a funk song. Most often the relationship between the bass and the drums is the most defining part of funk, they must be as 1! Speaking about the 1, this is why the 1 beat is so important: The bass player must be able to dance around the drums but meet them back on the 1 beat every time in every 2 bar phrase. The bass player can play whatever they want within that 2 bar phrase but must leave space at the 1 beat at the beginning of each 2 bar phrase. As said previously the space on the 1 beat allows the drummer to indicate when the groove can start again. The bass is so important in funk that usually they are the most famous member of the band; Bootsy Collins (Parliament Funkadelic, The JBs), James Jamerson (Motown), Larry Graham (Sly & The Family Stone, Graham Central Station), Bernard Edwards (Chic, Sister Sledge), Rick James.

Now that you know the funk, it is time to listen and dance to that funk.

Below is a link to my Mixcloud where you can find all of my current mixes and a link to a Spotify playlist curated by DJ H3avyP myself, enjoy and say funky!

DJ H3avyP Mixcloud

Spotify Playlist

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