Is "pocket" what you play or how you play it?

Jeff Almeyda

Senior Consultant
Most people wouldn't know a pocket if they were gagging on lint. Quite possibly the most overused term in the music world.

"Pocket" refers to the relative positioning between two or more sound sources; be it a drummer and bassist, a kick drum and snare drum and hi hat, a quintet, etc.

When we play as an individual on a drumset, the groove that we create has in its own right a "pocket". It's the way our elements flow together and create motion.

When we play with another musician, it's our relative positioning together and the way we flow that gives the music a feeling of life, bounce and movement. "Pocket".

When we play with a group say, a trio... the relative position of the drummer's kit elements (kick/snare/hats) fitting in with a bassist and guitarist and the margins surrounding each of those elements will dictate a pocket.

When playing music it's as if we are on at least a two dimensional plane, like a football field (measurable in latitude and longitude). Think of the bassist, drummer and guitarist trio as if they are in a sort of a triangular positioning; as long as they flow in that same positioning as we march through the song then they are maintaining some semblance of pocket. If it's an obtuse triangle when the tune starts then it ought to be an obtuse triangle when it's finished and not have morphed into a right or isosceles triangle which is what occurs with bands who are not paying attention to the finer points of time and flow.

Once you can visualize it on this flat field then float the concept of "pocket" into space where you add the "z" axis so you now have Latitude, Longitude and Altitude. (X, Y, and Z axii...)
I like this little metaphor.

I also want to paraphrase the late great Jeff Porcaro: Don't worry about terms like "pocket", "behind the beat", and "groove". Just make the music feel good and play what's stylistically appropriate.

If you do that correctly, the other things (like beat placement relative to the pulse) tend to take care of themselves.

Now, if you happen to have such an undeveloped ear that you can't tell the difference between good and bad you need to take it back a notch and actually learn how to listen on a finer level.

Because really, if you can't hear what you're doing wrong, how could you ever correct it?
 

BillRayDrums

Gold Member
I like this little metaphor.

I also want to paraphrase the late great Jeff Porcaro: Don't worry about terms like "pocket", "behind the beat", and "groove". Just make the music feel good and play what's stylistically appropriate.

If you do that correctly, the other things (like beat placement relative to the pulse) tend to take care of themselves.

Now, if you happen to have such an undeveloped ear that you can't tell the difference between good and bad you need to take it back a notch and actually learn how to listen on a finer level.

Because really, if you can't hear what you're doing wrong, how could you ever correct it?

Record ALL THE THINGS. :D
 

WhoIsTony?

Member
Because really, if you can't hear what you're doing wrong, how could you ever correct it?
I tell my students every day

... If you don't know how to hear you cant learn how to play.... so first learn how to hear what you want to play

if you can hear it you can say it.... and if you can say it you can play it
 

Cru Jones

Junior Member
I think that pockets are more associated with music that has less drumming because the pocket seems to come more from the notes you don't play.
This is definitely part of it.

I think another big point that hasn't been mentioned is consistency. To me, consistency in your playing from bar to bar concerning your timing and your dynamic variation is very important in groove playing and creating a "deep pocket."

For example, a lot of great groove players have a slight swing to their playing. If for some reason, they would play this swing different every bar or completely straighten out on random bars, this would totally kill "the pocket."

Another good example would be some Questlove style beats. He'll sometimes over swing notes... somewhere between a 16th note triplet and a 32nd note. If this isn't played consistently, it totally kills the groove. Playing its "oddness" accurately every time creates the pocket.

My 2 cents.
 

bsmntdrummer

Junior Member
Thanks, everybody. Great suggestions, and I love we are getting a richer definition with each post.

I totally agree that "just make it feel good" is the foundation of everything related to pocket, but I do think having a concept/definition/metaphor is useful. When Jeff Porcaro (or many of you, for that matter) says to forget everything and just make it feel good, it is because his ideas about HOW to make something feel good are so deeply ingrained that they are almost automatic. He doesn't have to analyze because he just knows that this is what is needed. He sees the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

For those of us at an earlier stage in our development, those ideas are still developing, and having a mental concept can help us hone in on what things to focus on to make it feel good. As has been pointed out, listening to yourself and others is critical, and that can't be said enough. But combining careful listening with a mental framework can help make the process a little faster.

At least, that it what I think.
 

drum4fun27302

Gold Member
I think it very much has to do with how all the instruments (each limb is 1 instrument) fit within each other. Dynamics , placement (behind/ right on/ahead) makes all the difference. Then add the other band members (instruments as well).
 

Midnite Zephyr

Platinum Member
It's hard to describe this feeling the pocket thing. It's the kind of thing that needs to mature in yourself by playing with other people. The pocket is an interaction between players where metaphorically you're sailing the same stormy sea together to reach the destination, not taking separate boats to get there. You're all working to sail a tight ship together as a unit, grooving in the pocket.


I think it very much has to do with how all the instruments (each limb is 1 instrument) fit within each other. Dynamics , placement (behind/ right on/ahead) makes all the difference. Then add the other band members (instruments as well).
This is true because really, the drum set is a collection of instruments that need to blend together dynamically and rhythmically while also serving the music.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Another element that pocket has IMO....is an underlying mental attitude of being totally secure with just playing whatever it is that's being played....with no need to try and impress anyone, or change it up because you feel "boring". (big pitfall) Laying down....but staying out of the way....of the groove.... and just allowing it to happen simply and naturally. Not having to fill in every space. Leave space for the strings. A very secure, confident feeling that even though I can do 100 mph easily, it just feels really good to deliberately keep it at 66 for 4 minutes straight. A simple beat played with confidence trumps a complex beat that is at the edge of a persons abilities. Headroom, maturity, and security are all hallmarks of pocket.

It's an attitude that say's....I'm completely confident that this simple beat I'm playing is killing it, and anything I try and do extra will ruin it....so just don't ruin it. I'm succeeding, don't rock the boat.

Like getting a hammerlock on the sweet spot. Mission accomplished, hold it right there. You don't have to show all your tricks. Discretion is the better part of valor, something like that.
 

spleeeeen

Platinum Member
Another element that pocket has IMO....is an underlying mental attitude of being totally secure with just playing whatever it is that's being played....with no need to try and impress anyone, or change it up because you feel "boring". (big pitfall) Laying down....but staying out of the way....of the groove.... and just allowing it to happen simply and naturally. Not having to fill in every space. Leave space for the strings. A very secure, confident feeling that even though I can do 100 mph easily, it just feels really good to deliberately keep it at 66 for 4 minutes straight. A simple beat played with confidence trumps a complex beat that is at the edge of a persons abilities. Headroom, maturity, and security are all hallmarks of pocket.

It's an attitude that say's....I'm completely confident that this simple beat I'm playing is killing it, and anything I try and do extra will ruin it....so just don't ruin it. I'm succeeding, don't rock the boat.

Like getting a hammerlock on the sweet spot. Mission accomplished, hold it right there. You don't have to show all your tricks. Discretion is the better part of valor, something like that.
Right on Larry. It's a horrible experience to be on the gig thinking that you're killing it and then later, listening to the recording and realizing that yeah, you KILLED it alright, crapped all over it and ruined it for everyone.

BTW, what is a hammerlock?
 

moxman

Silver Member
Its not what or how, Its where you play. Play in the right place and that is the pocket.
Yup! eg. If the drummer is constantly behind the beat it can sometimes make the band sound like it's dragging - and not in the pocket. There's something about smacking the beat in just the right place.. where it sits with the whole band - and it ties everything together. When the band is all focussed and in the pocket it makes for a great sound and feel.

Someone mentioned groove.. to me groove is like the hills and valleys that make up a great dynamic rhythm pattern usually with a great bass line. In a lot of cases, a great groove can really accentuate the pocket - especially in funk.. There are a lot of great 'pocket players'.. Harvey Mason is one cat that comes to mind.
 
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KamaK

Platinum Member
It's a wrestling move. I meant it in the context that you have the sweet spot of the groove locked down under your control so it can't wiggle away.
Here I was thinking that his spell check had auto-corrected "Hammock" . I was totally in agreement and ready to drink a frosty beverage and take a nap.
 

GetAgrippa

Platinum Member
If you are in "time" and "feel/groove" with the song and interplay with other musicians you are in the pocket with the song. But that also means all the other musicians need to be in the pocket too-it's a group effort of all being in the "pocket". Or another way of looking at it is you play with a band and afterwords they tell you this isn't a solo and try to make an effort to at least play with the band-then you are definitely NOT IN THE POCKET. LOL
 

mikel

Platinum Member
Yup! eg. If the drummer is constantly behind the beat it can sometimes make the band sound like it's dragging - and not in the pocket. There's something about smacking the beat in just the right place.. where it sits with the whole band - and it ties everything together. When the band is all focussed and in the pocket it makes for a great sound and feel.

Someone mentioned groove.. to me groove is like the hills and valleys that make up a great dynamic rhythm pattern usually with a great bass line. In a lot of cases, a great groove can really accentuate the pocket - especially in funk.. There are a lot of great 'pocket players'.. Harvey Mason is one cat that comes to mind.

Spot on. You could argue that its not posible for one musician in a band to be in the pocket, either the whole band is, or no one is. The pocket is the groove of the song.
 

Maple

Member
Another element that pocket has IMO....is an underlying mental attitude of being totally secure with just playing whatever it is that's being played....with no need to try and impress anyone, or change it up because you feel "boring". (big pitfall) Laying down....but staying out of the way....of the groove.... and just allowing it to happen simply and naturally. Not having to fill in every space. Leave space for the strings. A very secure, confident feeling that even though I can do 100 mph easily, it just feels really good to deliberately keep it at 66 for 4 minutes straight. A simple beat played with confidence trumps a complex beat that is at the edge of a persons abilities. Headroom, maturity, and security are all hallmarks of pocket.

It's an attitude that say's....I'm completely confident that this simple beat I'm playing is killing it, and anything I try and do extra will ruin it....so just don't ruin it. I'm succeeding, don't rock the boat.

Like getting a hammerlock on the sweet spot. Mission accomplished, hold it right there. You don't have to show all your tricks. Discretion is the better part of valor, something like that.
Good words .... I Totally Agree!
 
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