Where's The Pocket, anyway?

Jupiter

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I wanna hear some wisdom about The Pocket.

When I started playing electric, I was into the blues, and then studied jazz for a while, and I THINK I MIGHT have a feel for being "in the pocket", thanks to alla that swinging, but thinking about it recently I concluded that I don't really know exactly what "the pocket" IS.

I know that some music seems to want me to push the beat, and some music seems to want a looser vibe. I've also played with bass players that were really precise with their timing (well, actually not that many of em), and others who struggled to find the "1" (unfortunately quite a few of those), and just a very few that really made songs feel GOOD in a way that's hard for me to describe.

So I'd like to hear from the Kool Kats:

How do you define being "in the pocket?" How do you find it? How do you explain it?
 

Peegoo

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"Pocket" to me is simply good timing. Where the accented beat is totally depends on the tune, but the pocket is a pulse that just sounds good. It's what makes a tune groove.

It doesn't have to be metronome-tight; it can be loose--like a lot of Keith Richards' rhythm work. It's hard to describe, but when it happens you just know it.
 

Jupiter

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I remember reading a thing about Guthrie Govan, where he recorded a tune and the producer said, "Can we re-do this? I think your time is a little off." And Guthrie said, "no, that's exactly the way I wanted it," and they looked at the tracks and every note was exactly 3/100ths of a second ahead of the click, or behind, something like that, I can't remember, and that to me is an example of understanding the pocket.

Are there principles we can point to about this? Generalizations that can be made based on genre? Stuff like that.
 

sax4blues

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My gut "feel" is:

Forum posts tend to talk about how metronomes ruin your feel. Bands who can't move all around with tempo are robotic. How it's only important for some other band member, drummer/bass player, to keep good time.

All the pro interviews I've listen to talk about how fundamental locking in on the time/groove is. The old adage the two requirements of music are in tune and in time. The most fond compliments are to players and groups which are locked in.
 

getbent

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the pocket and its use is like your 501's. sometimes it is right on time in the right front pocket, sometimes it is just a teensy bit behind in the back pocket, sometimes a little left sometimes a little right and sometimes it is in that little tiny pocket where you put guitar picks.

the pocket is like the flow in traffic in a crowd moving from a ball game... sometimes you set the pocket and sometimes someone else or a couple of guys have built it and it is for you to take your spot.
 

bottlenecker

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The pocket is created with more than one person playing together. It doesn't exist outside of a relationship. Sometimes one musician might do a great job of creating a potential pocket, while the musician(s) they're playing with just can't find it, but if no one gets in it with them, it never existed.
You can play with a metronome or click track to gain discipline that will help you find a pocket with people, but playing tight on a click is not being in a pocket. A click is not a pocket.
 

Linderflomann

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All the pro interviews I've listen to talk about how fundamental locking in on the time/groove is. The old adage the two requirements of music are in tune and in time. The most fond compliments are to players and groups which are locked in.
Guitar forum users will find the one pro musician out of a thousand who says they don't use a metronome and use that as evidence for why they don't need one either.
 

JL_LI

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Talk about a question without an answer. Classical musicians get their timing cues from the conductor but they have to have good timing sense of their own because they can’t be looking all the time. There was a band leader in stage orchestras who served a similar function. Combo playing is different. I played bass in a jazz combo in college. The drummer kept the beat, but not the way you might think. It was subtle. He used the high hat. The bass drum was used for accents. Bass provided the bottom. I needed to be in time but walking bass sometimes pushed or played just ahead of the beat. Swing was an anticipated beat like ba-da ba-da.

Marching band has a stiff rhythm. Jazz not so much. Time can vary within a line, but not by much. To play, you not only need great rhythm sense, you need to play off the others in the combo and take cues from the soloists. I think some people are born with it and some are not. I can play but I can’t draw. Instruction can make you competent but not musical. I remember the learn to draw ads on matchbook covers when I was a kid. I learned that the ears are in the middle of the head, not on top, and learned the pupils are over the corners of the mouth but I couldn’t draw a likeness of anyone.

It’s funny though. You’d think it would be easier playing by yourself but it’s not. You just sound sloppy if your rhythm’s not tight. You sound like you lost your place if a pause is too long. It’s even more important than in a combo to work your mistakes into what you’re playing so you don’t sound like you’re bumbling through a piece.

Sorry folks. This is truly a case of some folks got it; some don’t.
 

Jupiter

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the pocket and its use is like your 501's. sometimes it is right on time in the right front pocket, sometimes it is just a teensy bit behind in the back pocket, sometimes a little left sometimes a little right and sometimes it is in that little tiny pocket where you put guitar picks.

the pocket is like the flow in traffic in a crowd moving from a ball game... sometimes you set the pocket and sometimes someone else or a couple of guys have built it and it is for you to take your spot.
I’m with you on this but I’m interested in hearing more about the nuts and bolts of it; maybe that’s actually going against the Zen of the pocket? I dunno…

Perhaps I should add more context: what got me puzzling this is trying to cobble together some little background music tracks on GarageBand. These are like little 2-minute AABA things with smart drums, keyboard bass, maybe some very rudimentary triads on electric piano or whatever, and a couple actual guitar tracks.

The drums of course are rock solid; also kinda boring and predictable, because I am totally letting the computer do it. The guitar is me, and well that not without issues lol but the part that’s doing my head in is the bass. I’m playing it on a midi keyboard and my keyboard skills are worse than shaky. I can quantize it of course, but again, it comes out kinda sterile. When I try to swing it, it’s pretty messy. So I’ve been fooling around editing it note-by-note, trying to get a more organic feel by sliding notes subtly forward or backwards on the timeline or varying the note duration. It’s not that hard because I’m really just dealing with a handful of 4-bar loops, and we’re not talking about many notes, but I don’t know what I’m doing so I’m just groping my way.

So I’m trying to figure out how to BUILD a pocket for me to play my guitar over.

And that’s what got me thinking about pockets.
 

klasaine

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There are no nuts and bolts. That's the beauty of it.
The 'pocket' is situational, conditional and personal.
Having good time and having good time "feel" are different.
It's the one thing in music that actually really is esoteric and IMO, cannot be taught. At least it can't be taught in the trad way of "practice doing this, and you'll attain this". You can of course expose folks to great 'pocket' playing and hope that they get it. Playing in a band, with good players, for a long time will help to get you there.

I can show you what a pocket it is, but I can't tell you how to do it.
 
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Jazzcaster21

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It's hard to explain but, IMO you know it when it's happening. The rhythm section is locked in, time is not being pushed or dragged and you have the ability to float over top of it and this applies to all styles of music. I think a lot of it, correct that ALL of it, comes down to the drummer. Bad drummer, bad band and it's as simple as that. Pat Metheny said it best "everyone in the band can have a bad night EXCEPT for the drummer".
 

Killing Floor

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It’s where Larry lives.
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JL_LI

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There you have it folks. Don't bother practicing, you either have it or you don't. Should probably tell all those world class musicians they're wasting their time when they are working on their time feel.
Reread my post. I never said don’t practice. I said some folks won’t be more than competent, even with practice. That doesn’t describe world class musicians. It doesn’t even describe most of us, but how many posts have there been lately about drummers just banging skins and bassists who can’t find the beat. How many posts have there been about someone in the band who can’t fit with the rest. There are levels of musicianship. So there you have it folks. Practice. You can have a lot of fun just being competent but that’s only part of the way to being musical.
 
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MickM

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There you have it folks. Don't bother practicing, you either have it or you don't. Should probably tell all those world class musicians they're wasting their time when they are working on their time feel.
Not at all what JL_LI said. EDIT: And like the song says, that's where you put your rocket.
 

Blue Bill

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For me, the thing I strive for, while looking to be in the pocket, is when what I'm playing on my guitar sort of disappears. If I'm right on with the drummer and bass, it's like I can't hear what I'm playing, it is so blended with the music. It's cool, but elusive. For years, it would freak me out a bit, like my amp died or something, then I would lose it, and could hear myself clearly again, but would be off-pocket.

It makes me think of those magic eye graphics, where you have to relax into something a little weird, then, things pop into focus.
 

getbent

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I’m with you on this but I’m interested in hearing more about the nuts and bolts of it; maybe that’s actually going against the Zen of the pocket? I dunno…

Perhaps I should add more context: what got me puzzling this is trying to cobble together some little background music tracks on GarageBand. These are like little 2-minute AABA things with smart drums, keyboard bass, maybe some very rudimentary triads on electric piano or whatever, and a couple actual guitar tracks.

The drums of course are rock solid; also kinda boring and predictable, because I am totally letting the computer do it. The guitar is me, and well that not without issues lol but the part that’s doing my head in is the bass. I’m playing it on a midi keyboard and my keyboard skills are worse than shaky. I can quantize it of course, but again, it comes out kinda sterile. When I try to swing it, it’s pretty messy. So I’ve been fooling around editing it note-by-note, trying to get a more organic feel by sliding notes subtly forward or backwards on the timeline or varying the note duration. It’s not that hard because I’m really just dealing with a handful of 4-bar loops, and we’re not talking about many notes, but I don’t know what I’m doing so I’m just groping my way.

So I’m trying to figure out how to BUILD a pocket for me to play my guitar over.

And that’s what got me thinking about pockets.



bottlenecker, above says that it involves two musicians to have a pocket. I think maybe two voices (like guitar and voice) but a pocket can 100% be one person alone... check the video. the interplay of those voices creates the pocket and by their defined space, they leave space for other voices.

There are million guys here better than me and more soulful and more creative, but for the people who say you either got it or you don't, gonna disagree, this is why you rehearse and work on controlling your time and work on listening to the other voices.

The pocket is created when the voices complement each other and work in concert (together) to build the heartbeat of the song.

To build a pocket you have find a feel (which is to say the interplay of a rhythm or rhythms) get that down to have a foundation OR you'd want a melody that you define and then build the rhythm around that melody.

the key is that each part supports the others either leading or following or bringing out another aspect of the tune--> harmony. and Harmony is the key.

Since you have so many tracks in GB, and you can combine them. Start with some drums maybe that you find interesting. That they repeat or seem repetitive, hey, somebody has that job, find the center of that groove and then play very simple but in time and in tune lines with a plan to build together parts that work together (harmony again) in old folk music or punk, simple chords.. think bill withers. simple.

If I can find it, I'll look for a gb project I have that I can zip and you can 'minus' tracks. Like the Steely Dan videos where they solo tracks and you can hear how they build the groove and create a pocket. When I sit in for people, I try to listen as closely as I can before I join in and constantly ask the question, 'what does this need?' sometimes a little fill, sometimes a double stop, sometimes a chop chord, sometimes an arpeggio or a harmony of the vocal. all of those things develop the pocket.

As voices add, if they are doing their thing, they define more space in the pocket, and the killer bands (like Al Green's studio band) create a pocket where Al has 46 lanes to play with... Similarly, but in a totally different way, Willie Nelson's band always did the same.
 




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