The Woodshed

Playing In The Pocket” Completely EXPLAINED!

1

NOT!

(Inspired by Mike Carr's drummer thread...) Alrighty then. Here's a question with no wrong (or right) answers. In fact the term seems almost to defy description. Not unlike the way in which the concept of "being in love" would be difficult to describe to the non initiated. Yet, if this is so, then how do we teach the "truth" of real groove to students or young up and coming players? Or to another reasonably well seasoned band member for that matter? How do we explain its elements? Define its presence? Do we just sit around and wait for it to happen? And how do we know when it does? Oh yeah, we just "know". Right? Well, maybe.

I'm of a mind that "anything" can be learned. But this concept kind of makes me wonder if "anything" can actually be taught. Okay, "pocket is where the bass and kick drum in the band lock together with perfect timing (another nebulous concept) and authority", you might say. And you'd be close. Others might offer a statement such as "it's when everyone, including the audience, is feeling the groove". Still, these descriptions are at best, emotional and rather irrational responses. They don't really give the querant, be they beginner or vet, much to go on. We're still left grasping. And what of the solo artist? How does he "play in the pocket"? And if there is no one else there to play in the pocket with, does he - er - play with himself?

Now, I know that most of you here "know it when you hear it". And I'll admit that yes, perhaps that is enough. In fact it may be only sane response. But that is not the question is it? No, today's challenge is this: How would YOU describe the concept of "playing in the pocket" to another musician, an interested fan, or even to yourself? If ever there was a great place for those expert opinions this has got to be it! Takers anyone?

2

"pocket is where the bass and kick drum in the band lock together with perfect timing"

perfect, here, doesn't mean flawless. I have proof.

3

perfect, here, doesn't mean flawless - hammerhands

methinks you know more than you are letting on. Actually, that raises another interesting question. Can something be flawless without being "flawless"? Okay, don't answer that...

4

So then hammerhands, would you say that the "pocket" lay somewhere in the imperfections? As in the unsteady perfection of the heartbeat?

5

This is part of my experiment on psychacoustics in mp3s. The song is Soon by the Oscar Peterson Trio from the London House Sessions as found on the album Put on a Happy Face.

I ask the question, do you want to hear any more of the song? Listen to the mp3 first.

http://members.shaw.ca/anyu...

Do you want to hear the rest of Oscar's solo?

Now listen to the lossless m4a.

http://members.shaw.ca/anyu...

Do you want to hear the rest of Oscar's solo?

The difference seems to be quantization. The mp3 is adjusted so things that happen almost at the exact same time happen at the same time.

6

So then hammerhands, would you say that the "pocket" lay somewhere in the imperfections? As in the unsteady perfection of the heartbeat?

– General_Lee

I don't know a lot, I know I can't do it. I know that it is the communication of the connectedness of the players. If you want to get there you have to listen and react.

You can play on top of the beat, on the beat, or behind the beat. I don't think you can get in the pocket playing on top of the beat.

I think you can tap a beat in the pocket, I know a drummer who sounds musical just giving you a tempo, slapping his hand on a table, "It's right here! tap, tap, tap, tap." That's a profound thing to experience, how much music and rhythm can be in a person that everything they touch is an instrument, everything they do has energy.

How do you do that? It has something to do with how he hits the table, when he removes his hand, the sound of the table and his reacting to the table. It's nature for him. You, as a listener, pick up instinctively that he is making decisions, he is adding quality.

7

This is part of my experiment on psychacoustics in mp3s. The song is Soon by the Oscar Peterson Trio from the London House Sessions as found on the album Put on a Happy Face.

I ask the question, do you want to hear any more of the song? Listen to the mp3 first.

http://members.shaw.ca/anyu...

Do you want to hear the rest of Oscar's solo?

Now listen to the lossless m4a.

http://members.shaw.ca/anyu...

Do you want to hear the rest of Oscar's solo?

The difference seems to be quantization. The mp3 is adjusted so things that happen almost at the exact same time happen at the same time.

– hammerhands

OK....are we talking about studio recordings, or live performance? Or are we talking about both?

I've been taking drum lessons for a couple of years, and it has sharpened up my playing on other instruments, even vocals. My teacher often speaks about playing in the pocket.

A while back, I was playing in a folk group, two fiddles, banjo, guitar, and stand up bass. We played a lot of dances. The banjo player was our drummer. It, along with the fiddles accenting the back beat drove the tune, with the bass and guitar accenting the down beat. I could tell when we were playing "in the pocket" as there was a symbiotic wall of sound that came back to us through the monitors. The rhythm of the tune was irresistible, and clicked right along, not in a mechanical way a metronome would click, but with a breath, a life, an intensity that was palpable. It also allowed the fiddles to take advantage of the beat, and push or pull slightly at the bar line, always returning to a strong down beat by the guitar and bass, the banjo maintaining the back beat all the while. Although this may sound a bit chaotic, in practice it was merely a device to build tension, and the fiddles would eventually resolve the tension by returning to accenting the back beat.

That doesn't exactly define what "playing in the pocket" is, does it? There's something here that is in the best sense of the word irrational; that is defying reason, but suggests something that is intuitive instead. And I think that's what makes applying reason and logic to something intuitive such as music so difficult.

8

"OK....are we talking about studio recordings, or live performance? Or are we talking about both?"

Both, I think. The London House was a restaurant in Chicago. That recording is done amongst the diners. Even in the studio, most recordings at the time were recorded as they were preformed, not much tracking and dubbing.

9

"I'm of a mind that "anything" can be learned. But this concept kind of makes me wonder if "anything" can actually be taught."

I'm sorry but don't believe it's possible that "anything" can be learned....or by extension, taught. Here's the best overall example that everyone of us can attest to and then I'll deal with the musical aspect of being, or not being able, to be taught. Common sense is something you are either born with or you're hooped. We've all known someone - family member, co-worker, social activity acquaintance, etc who displays very little if any common sense and common sense isn't an activity or emotionally specific trait either. Either you exhibit this characteristic as you participate in life or you don't, so in this regard, you can't be taught common sense. It has to do with your internal wiring and that's not correctable. When you try to explain the idiocy of a person's choice to have done such and such, they honestly look at you with a what did I do wrong look on their face and they aren't faking this reaction either; they're dead serious because they just don't see things the way everyone else shaking their heads at that action do.

Now to the musical aspect of "in the pocket". The reason some people say they can't describe exactly when they know they're there, but say "you just know" is because "being 'in the pocket" isn't a tangible, physical 'thing' that's being created; rather it's an internal feeling and sense that's almost impossible to articulate. The music is always being created, and yes that is a real, tangible thing, but not all music gives the participants that special feeling of "being in the pocket". Listeners can sense when a performance is special but they too have great difficulty articulating why that performance was 'special'.

My best short explanation is to say that when you're 'in the pocket' - but only as a contributor, not a bystander or listener, your contribution is lined up and syncopated with the other instruments and together, all of you are creating that quintessential 'sound'. A more corny but apt way to express it is to say that strived for 'sound' is created "when all the stars line up."

As far as the solo performance being able to be "in the pocket", let's look at it from a slightly different angle. I'll use two examples, one of which I'm personally familiar with that while different, are exactly the same in almost every respect. The one is a band, with or without a vocalist, and it's time for the lead guitar player to have a solo. The vocalist of course would cease singing but the other band members continue playing, laying down a background pallet of sound to augment the lead's solo work. The second is in an a cappella group, quartet or slightly larger, where all vocalists are singing the words but the lead singer is slightly louder, or better stated, most pronounced as they are the storyteller and their job is to draw in the listener by expressively and emotionally bringing attention to themselves by 'selling' the message of the lyric. At some point all but the lead singer continues, but not singing the words, but rather just singing vowel sounds and same as the band, now providing a homogeneous background pallet for the lead's solo. When the guitarist or singer begin their solo, they have the ability to create their own "pocket" and they do that by a total immersion into their emotions. At that point you're oblivious of where you are, who's around you, even who you are at that point. You are completely given over and invested into delivering everything you have emotionally into that performance. The world stands still for awhile and you are emotionally, mentally and yes even physically "in another place".

In both instances I believe the soloist, if delivering a stunning performance, will have created a 'pocket', or a new 'pocket' - there doesn't have to be just one 'pocket'! - than what might have existed prior to of following their solo at which point the others can find that new one and participate in it, albeit in a slightly different way. Top musicians will hear what's going on around them - have their radar up as it were - to the opportunity to meld with the others to create that 'pocket'.

I firmly believe this ability is wired into a person both in the ability to make it happen as well as recognize when it does happen. You can't learn this and it can't be taught. I categorize this ability as an extra sense. We may all possess it - who knows what the 'unused' portion of the human brain can do - but even if we all have this extra sense, clearly not all of us have the ability to tap into it.

10

I'm not sure that it can be quantified or taught, but if someone figures out a class for it, I have a list of people that I'd buy it for.

To me being "in the pocket" is similar to "being in the zone" for a lot of sports people or "hitting your stride" for runners. It's simply when everything falls into place in such a way that it makes continuing to play almost effortless. I could give this morning's worship set at church as an excellent example. We had our veteran drummer back for the weekend, and while my other drummers have their days, he can hit a groove that makes playing along effortless. As the music flows, I can shift from trying to rein in runaway rhythms and dynamics toward creating my own dynamics and variations in my guitar playing and vocals. There's no barking orders back to the rhythm section or aggressively stamping a beat. Even my other musicians that tend to run away on rhythm and volume settled in and improvised beautifully.

I've definitely played sets with this drummer that were anywhere BUT "in the pocket," but he tends to be there more often than not, and I think that's what people mean when they're talking about drummers, bassists, guitarists, etc. that play in the pocket. It's really when musicians successfully mesh feels and sounds and play as a unit. In reference to the drum thread, I think "in the pocket" gets thrown at drummers more than other instruments because they can wreck or create the pocket the quickest. I've played with a great bassist who could level out poor drumming with his bass line and put us in the pocket, but if our drummer was on point, it opened up the stage for creativity, making the sound infinitely better and the experience much more enjoyable.

11

There's something here that is in the best sense of the word irrational; that is defying reason, but suggests something that is intuitive instead. And I think that's what makes applying reason and logic to something intuitive such as music so difficult. - Jim Krause

there doesn't have to be just one 'pocket' - Windsordave

everything falls into place in such a way that it makes continuing to play almost effortless - Dinks

Some cool and enlightening comments here guys. Off hand I'd say this thread itself is well on it's way to being "in the pocket". Sadly, I've got to go off to work now. A place in which I almost never really find the groove...

12

I'm loosely paraphrasing Donald "Duck" Dunn---

"it was a sound powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline."

13

I'm glad you mentioned Duck Dunn. To me, Booker T & The MGs are the definition of "in the pocket".

14

"Drifter, can you make folks cry when you play and sing? Have you paid your dues? Can you moan the Blues? Can you bend them guitar strings? He said, Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside? Cause if you're big-star bound, let me warn you it's a long, hard ride "

15

First you have to agree on a definition. Without that you're never going to get beyond vague.

It was explained to me as a degree of synchronicity of a simple rhythm allowing a melody the freedom to meander through and along with it in a pleasing manner.

To push or pull the beat is a method of creating tension which allows for the dynamics of resolve to become exemplified in the genre.

To play Classical music, the beauty is not only in the music but also the discipline it takes to achieve that level of ability to play well but also to play what's written rather than improvising or interpreting.

Using these two examples as a reference to "playing in the pocket", would have the first missing the synchronicity by one or more players missing the correct accent on all of the beats, and the second, some small level of lack of that discipline resulting in not playing precisely what was written due to inability or choice.

These two circumstances I feel would show a failure in some degree of playing in the pocket.

17

You can play on top of the beat, on the beat, or behind the beat. I don't think you can get in the pocket playing on top of the beat. - hammerhands

Which is one of the reasons that the over-quantized (that is perfectly quantized) "grooves" that are so prevalent in electronic based dance music, tends to lack soul. And also, I find that quantized beats are so difficult to "feel" when trying to add human played instruments/voices to them. It's a constant battle when one is working with a DAW and is doing all/most of the arranging in the box...

18

To me "playing in the pocket" means that your playing is helping to maintain the forward momentum of the music. That forward momentum will have different characteristics dependent on the cultural reference points of the musicians and, to a lesser extent, of the audience. Keying into that momentum on a physical and emotional level is what leads people to enjoy a performance.

19

I'm not generally into funk (if, indeed, that's what this is) but I always thought 'My Mama Told Me So' by the The Crusaders was as smack dab in the pocket as it gets. With pop/rock/whatever-you-want-to-call-it music, I do believe you can teach people only so much — for the rest, either you've got it, or you ain't.

20

I don't know how to explain it, but I know if it ain't there, playing music ain't no fun.

21

I'm glad you mentioned Duck Dunn. To me, Booker T & The MGs are the definition of "in the pocket".

– seadevil

I'm primarily a keyboard player, a Hammond guy. I've got a Peavey Cropper guitar as well. Booker T, and before that, the Bar- Kay's are serious groove machines. Made STAX on of the top record labels in the day. Lots of talent came out of there.

Odd note---Booker T used "Green Onions" to pay for his college education at Indiana university School of Music---in trombone! He'd drive down to Memphis on Friday night to gig and record, then drive back to Bloomington on Sunday night

22

Master drummer Dennis Chambers explains what playing in the pocket means to George Clinton on this video.

I remember taking a funk class at music school and all of the musicians in the band could make you dance just by playing solo. The drummer came from Chaka Kahn's band, the keyboard player who also played all the syncopated bass parts with his left hand was in Prince's circle and played in Shelia E's band and the guitar player ended up playing with Fishbone for a few years. These guys were my main inspiration when I was a student.

If you can make people want to dance just with your guitar you are golden.

23

It's subjective, to me. It isn't about playing on, in front of or behind the beat. It's all over that but more.

It's like meeting the perfect girl. It's a feeling.

24

First you have to agree on a definition. Without that you're never going to get beyond vague. - Jetrow

Well, I see that such a definition remains elusive as always, though there are some fine attempts to quantify or denote one. Including Jetrow's. This is pretty much to be expected given our topic. Still, it's obvious to me that we can agree on at least one or two things. First, that the concept or the capacity for it actually does exist. Second, that it's an ability that is very personal and unique to the individual(s) attempting to create it. And, perhaps most importantly, it's emotional impact both on the listener and creator(s) is crucial to the way in which we judge whether a piece of (performed) music is perceived as worthy or not. A natural and necessary barometer.

I'm not sure that it can be quantified or taught, but if someone figures out a class for it, I have a list of people that I'd buy it for. - Dinks

Now that would be a course worthy of it's tuition! Though, as the many great examples of groove cited here point out, we've many fine specialists who've done and continue to do just that. Now, how does that organ riff to "Green Onions" go again?

25

I like to play just to the left of the pocket. Or is that how I dress? I'm just getting confused now. :P


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