the pocket?!

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by j b scott, Jul 26, 2003.

  1. hello there

    iw as just wondering...what exactly is 'playing in the pocket'?

    i have heard this expression alot, but am not sure of its meaning, also if you have a good example of a bassline that is really in the pocket so i can better understand, that would be great!!!:cool:
  2. deepbob


    Oct 3, 2001
    left field
    the pocket refers to the relative space between an ensemble where musicians lock up a groove.

    where feel describes the style of the groove, the pocket is the degree to which the musicians achieve this groove between themselves.

    so, an ensemble can play "swing" poorly, by playing it more straight, or square, but if the ensemble all do this *together*, they can still be in the "pocket", while that pocket may not be so jazzy.

    this becomes more and more of a concern as the feel gets more complicated/difficult/et al, eg rock/blues/jazz and so on.

    the closer to the pocket the group gets, the more you tend to want to tap your toes and go "ooo", because things lock up and pop the way they were intended to.

  3. j b scott: excellent question!!:cool:

    deepbob: brilliant answer... you did a great job of explaining something that isn't easy to describe.:cool:
  4. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Good question, Great answer. Maybe even more will contribute if I move this to "Miscellaneous."
  5. Andrew Jones

    Andrew Jones Inactive

    Feb 28, 2001
    Northampton Mass
    Every body feel subdivisions differently the Pocket is a turm the sort of says the majority of people enjoy your concept of subdivitions.

    In a band context its kinda reaching a agreement on where they should fall and every one plays there. and stays there.

    Its allso dependent on tempo a little behind at one tempo is cool but might sound a little heavy handed at another.

    I would contest the most important thing that you need to know and its the hardest to teach is being able to read a player and deside where thier putting things and deside if you whant to go with them or push them or pull them. The ability to go with them will make you very popular. You will make them feel comfortable because your following thier natural thing. Ont eh other hand some people enjoy following you and are willing to let you deside things.

    Of corse all this usually goes on with out thinking and goes unsaid as well. I just think too much.

  6. Mickey Shane

    Mickey Shane what goes here?

    Feb 23, 2003
    Denton, Texas
    deepbob's explanation is spot on. Now you ask, how do I know as a bass player, that I am in fact, in the pocket?

    By playing in perfect time with the drummer. This will assure you a spot in the pocket every time. If your drummer struggles to keep time, find another drummer immediately. You've been lied to. If you don't know a drummer, use a metronome when you practice. Get a loud one. Thy are irritating as hell, but you'll be ready when you do play in a band setting.

    That other thing you do when your hand is in your front pocket, that's called scratching, I hope.
  7. Tim Cole

    Tim Cole

    Jun 12, 2002
    Findlay, Ohio
    It's all a feel thing fellas, when you're in the pocket, you will know it.
  8. Killdar


    Dec 16, 2002
    Portland Maine
    Sometimes I become in the pocket when I'm just randomly jamming with a guitarist, and he plays something that sorta goes with what I'm playing. Certainly one of the best feelings one can get from an instrument.
  9. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification

    Sometimes the deepest pocket is the space between the drummer and the bass player.
  10. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    too true

    whats that saying? The more space in your groove the more ass's will move?
  11. Listen to some James Brown, Tower of Power, Spyra Gyra, Steely Dan or early motown records with James Jamerson playing bass. Then you'll know what "pocket" is. It's also somewhere to put your hand and play with yourself!!! :D
  12. mans0n


    Jun 15, 2002
    I'd have to agree with Pacman, though everyone else isnt off from the truth I am not sure if they are being as descriptive as could be? (who knows I may not be either).

    I feel the most immediate example for someone to pick up on what 'the pocket' is can be found in Regea. For me this is the most easily recognizable answer, im not sure saying 'rock or jazz' really is a place someone could so easily pick up on the bass, and what it is playing into.
  13. Two things are true about the "pocket".

    1) - You'll know when you are in it.

    2) - Everyone will know when you aren't.
  14. deepbob


    Oct 3, 2001
    left field
    writing this to elucidate, because i think elucidation brings awareness by letting us consider other persepctives: please disregard this post if you like to get upset and argue about opinions. disagreement greatly encouraged tho, thanks =)

    You’re probably not a fan of 6’s and piccolo basses, either.

    If you play bass, why do you need a string that makes you sound like a guitar? What’s going to happen to the tune’s foundation when you play a triple-high F? People who play those—they can’t play! You couldn’t put them in a room, count it off, and say, “Play the same exact thing, the same exact way I heard my man from the Roots do it. I know you got the award last year for playing the most notes per second—but go ahead and play a pocket, the kind that’s necessary for Eminem and Jay-Z.”

    Hub, the Roots


    i got in trouble here earlier trying to talk about the importance of relativity, because i don't believe in magic and was schooled on horn as a kid where we learned otherwise.

    two years ago when i picked up my first bass i excitedly rushed home and plugged in Natural Mystic (marley) and expected to be able to play the simple bass line i'd reheased in my mind for almost 15 years up to that point - imagining i'd be able to nail that pocket.

    well i could finger the parts, but the pocket was totally elusive. i realised you could play about 6 thousand different articulations with a single note using a bass string (which i hadn't thought about too much up to that point), and that much of that pocket came in that bass articulation, something i was familiar with from horn playing (bone, contra bass).

    so, i spent two months straight just playing natural mystic over and over and over and over, until i felt i could actually relate to Bob's recorded pocket. closest thing to meditation i've ecperienced in music, but time well spent, as it was one of the most useful things i've ever done. then i picked up some steely dan and realised learning it was so much easier than trying to nail natural mystic with any malice, while still incredibly subtle and difficult of course (most of which i still can't get, but that's a matter of practice time, not ultimate difficulty, imho).

    i strongly feel awareness of relativity it is absolutely critical to the pocket - much more so than it is in most of the rest of music (except possibly composition), eg in ensemble dynamics properly executed (where loud is only relative to the rest of the ensemble, and not a constant absolute thing the way it is too often miscommunicated in music education).

    the areas of the pocket issue identified here already - eg the distance between the drums and the bass often coming to define/create a pocket in the first place - is all based on relativity. the bass's relationship to the drums; to the tempo; to the rest of the ensemble; et al.

    this rang familiar from playing horn in large lines trying to achieve volume through playing in tune and in precision.

    in physical art, eg painting and drawing, one must pay a lot of attention to the negative space, relative to the rest of the elements in the piece, or any space in between elements, as well as their impact on each other.

    so if you have a bright sun in your picture, but the rest of the elements all look dark and unlighted, then the sun will not look like the sun, while it may appear bright all on it's own.

    similar principles are at play in the pocket, eg how the rythm of the various instruments relate to the voicings and their various articulations.

    i was told by an instructor once that beethoven or some legend was quoted as saying that any fool can put his finger down on the correct note at the correct time - the hard part was knowing when to lift your finger of the keyboard. there is some wisdom in this which relates to the pocket, among many other principles.

    what the ear/mind hears in between the drums and bass is often an effect which "sucks in" the listener, even more so than the beat itself. and for the bass voices in particular, this is possibly it's most important role. eg the slap nailing an upbeat all to itself, and the resulting tingle we all get down our spines when we hear that perfectly placed note in relation to all other variables in the ensemble.

    listen to natural mystic, and hear how a couple simple drum beats and possibly the world's simplest bass line can come together in this universe of relative awareness to achieve one of the phattest sounds ever devised (the shining rythmic moment being the big drum fill near the end of the song - a single flam).

    hitting beat one together might make for a clean attack, but the groove and the pocket are going to be defined in how everything else relates to that attack and in the scope of the overarching groove.

    thus, one can play clean, technically in time and even in "feel", but still be out of the pocket because they fail to relate their own effort to the rest of the ensemble in the expressive way intended, be it a composition, an improvisded jam, whatever (admittedly unlikely as the master of the above will no doubt have a great sense of the pocket too, and quite naturally).

    it can be like public speaking, you can know the language and even rehearse the impactful areas of the speech, but if you don't incur the kind of emotional interpretation good public speakers are famous for, then you come across robotic and unmoving. the difference being, you have to achieve this in the ensemble.

    anyway, man this is like the Tao, you can talk about it forever and never get to the bottom of it. it's such an all-encompassing issue (holistic) that you have to have a real command of many facets of the process before you can really approach with it any malice.

    i think there are ways of practicing it without having to master an instrument, but i was laughed at for suggesting it earlier, so i won't go into any detail =p maybe someday i'll join you all in the pocket and we can test them =)

    hoped that gave some possible different perspectives on the pocket to open your mind a bit to the possibility.

    but i would never claim to know anything =)

  15. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    deepbob, while you make some valid points, I don't think it needed to be beat to death.

    I also think you should have more than two years of bass experience before ripping on 6-string players. while I'm not doubting your musicianship you don't really have enough experience to have any authority in the matter of 4 vs. 6.

    Your understanding of what it takes to be a good player cannot be faulted though. Keep an open mind.
  16. deepbob


    Oct 3, 2001
    left field
    indeed i don't, but Hub sure as hell does.

    personally i don't own a 4 string, i have two five strings and some of my favorite bass playing is on things not considered legit intruments. i see the use in having 6 strings. but i thought his comments curious.

    anyway, i was debating whether to include that part of it because it has nothing to do with the much more important he makes at the end of the question. i was just trying to contextualize his purpose for making the statement.

    i agree i have no right to be saying anything.

    the point of the thread was to look at the same subject in as many different perspectives as possible to help portray an otherwise very elusive subject.

  17. PhilMan99


    Jul 18, 2003
    US, Maryland
    OK, now I'm confused. I thought "in the pocket" basically meant everyone was playing:

    a) at the same tempo
    b) in "phase" (attacking the notes at the same time)
    c) releasing the notes/sounds at the same time (when 2 instruments play a note/sound of the same duration)

    Simple, but obviously hard to do (for my group, at least)...

    ...I sense I'm missing something, though, after deepbob's comments. Having played with MIDI some, the above (a-c) is easy for a machine to do. I look at "in the pocket" as "being more machine-like", but obviously I'm missing something. Help me out?
  18. Phil
    The "pocket" also has an element of "feel" and energy to it.
  19. deepbob


    Oct 3, 2001
    left field
    i'll use a reference you are all familiar with here, "gone to the movies" - steely dan. i'm sure i can't begin to describe what's happening here as well as many of you, so it will be a good way to get you talking about the Dan's pocket.

    just looking at this simple groove let's identify the key points:

    downbeat driven, each beat is where the kick is from every voice in the rythm section, with the second guitar voice beginning to "answer" each downbeat phrase from the original rythm guitar voice, which is bouncing circularly off the implication of that heavy downbeat emphasasis.

    but what makes that downbeat pop is the action in virtually every voice in the half beat before that down beat. there is tension built up through things like superior feel and excellect execution in the ensemble to bring out this pop, but the actual device creating that tension is the literal friction that's created between those voices.

    thing is, it's very easy for individuals to misinterpret the groove here just subtley enough to throw this amazing interaction out, and turn into something much more sophmoric (lsiten to my stuff an example =).

    things start bubbling up crystal as the bass drum starts bouncing the implicated funk tripolets off the downbeat and up into the bass guitar which starts bouncing around those tripolets with great feel.

    the trouble i have with the description of merely: "playing with energy", is that it is a subjective term. what is energy? to me it means something completely different than it does to you.

    i think the Dan was awesome for displaying "energy" in kicking back.

    the subtle funk triplet crunch in the guitar that explodes on one, rubs up against the hihat's simple but tight pushing downbeats, snapping against the snare's 2, 3, 4, and the song continues to layer voice after voice rythmically into that simple foundation to produce a ton of negative space in between all the poly rythmic voices that sounds lively as hell, despite being relatively simple notes to play (discounting the lead guitar).

    were we listening to this live, we'd turn to each other and say, "hey, these are guys are in the pocket." but we wouldn't also say, "because...". it's a holistic thing, it's the result of everyone doing their job and then some, to make it sound like we're listening to a perfect ensemble of 5 different musicians who could be their own band all their own.

    of course "energy" is not wrong - it's just not helpful to someone who's not had the opportunity to actually be in Steely Dan. which sadly is most of us.

    this rythm section is moving us because of the amazing space they are all creating around that downbeat (the core of the groove) by accentuating it's relevance in a funk tripolet context, and extrapolating out into a ton of fun variations on it to the end.

    that stems from about 80 different factors tho, not a single thing. principly, it is derived from how each voice is uniquely accentuating it, and how clean they do so in relation to each other; and in relation to the feel they are trying to achieve, which is where cleanliness is really defined in this context - putting this up to a metronome and isolating a single voice might make it sound unclean to an ear who does not udnerstand the feel, or the have the context of the ensemble's groove at the ready.

    the more that pops and sounds funky, as opposed to merely 'clean' or robotically accurate - the closer to the pocket you get. each individual is using feel as a tool to achieve this, but they don't arrive on feel alone.

    again, the pocket is more complicated in some feels than it is in others. having a good swing feel is difficult, but achieving a very quantized swing sound in an ensemble may seem much easier than trying to achieve a real pocket in swing - for the performer anyway.

    i've been in many high school jazz bands that were able to maintain a sophmoric 'pocket' by practicing swing eighths a certain way for ages, but they would completely fall apart in any other feel, nor could they vary up the swing to bring out it's exrpessive qualities as a feel.

    and this why so many of us still awe at things like "simple", quality reggae.

    again, not trying to dispute anyone's opinion, just trying to elucidate, or throw up many different perspectives to help throw some light on the subject.

    also killing time before a meeting so... :rolleyes:
  20. deepbob - great post.

    IMO - There is a time and place for machine gun slapping and 10,000 notes per minute.... but I've always tried to remember that the clubowners hire bands, NOT bass players. Hit songs and packed dance floors are about the pocket, not bass exhibitionism.