"The phrase "in the pocket" is used to describe something or someone playing in such a way that the groove is very solid and has a great feel. When a drummer keeps good time, makes the groove feel really good, and keeps it up for an extended period of time while never wavering, this is often referred to as a “deep pocket”. It should be noted that it’s impossible to have a pocket without also having a groove.
Historically speaking, the term "pocket" originated in the middle of the last century when a strong backbeat (the snare drum striking on beats 2 and 4) came to the forefront of popular music. When the backbeat is slightly delayed creating a "laid back" or "relaxed feel", the drummer is playing in the pocket.
Today, the term "in the pocket" has broadened a bit, suggesting that if two musicians (usually the bass player and the drummer) are feeling the downbeats together and placing beat one (the downbeat) at the exact same time, they are said to be "in the pocket." Whether you are playing ahead (in front) of the beat, or behind (on the back) of the beat, or right on top (middle) of the beat, as long as two musicians (i.e. bassist and drummer) feel the downbeat at the same time, they'll be in the pocket.
In terms of bass and drums locking to create a cohesive part, there are three areas of focus for me. You have to know where your drummer is most comfortable in terms of the beat. Is your drummer very "straight," playing right on top of the beat (which can sound like Disco music or a machine)? Is he or she laid back, sitting in that area way on the back back of the beat (like Phil Rudd does on AC/DC’s Back In Black, anything by Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, or Clyde Stubblefield on James Brown’s Cold Sweat or Funky Drummer)? Does your drummer's playing have that urgency of a musician who plays on top of the beat (like Stewart Copeland of The Police)? This is crucial to know because the bass and drums have to function as a unit. You don't have to play everything the same, but you have to know and understand the way the other thinks and feels.
Getting the rhythm section to groove with the rest of the band is much more difficult than you might think since guitarists don't always listen to the drummer, a keyboardist may have metronomic time yet have a difficult time coordinating his/her left hand with the bass player, and vocalists will often forget that there's a band playing behind them altogether. The key is for everyone in the band to listen to one another!
Many people feel that the question is not so much what the pocket is as much as how you know when you've achieved it, yet I guarantee that you’ll know it when you feel it because the music feels like it’s playing itself. It feels as if everything has merged together with all the rhythmic parts being played by one instrument. Whichever definition you choose to go with or use, having a pocket is always good thing!"
You can read additional excerpts from How To Make Your Band Sound Great and other books on the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.
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