Pocket is a term frequently used in the music industry. It mostly refers to how drummers are playing, but bassists throw the term around as well.
It can be quite confusing to understand, as some drummers are much better pocket drummers than others.
In this guide, we’re going to break the term down and explain exactly what it means. We’ll also give a few tips on how to improve your pocket when drumming.
What is Pocket Drumming?
Pocket drumming essentially refers to when it sounds good when a drummer is playing a groove. Keeping in the pocket means that a drummer is fitting in perfectly with a band, or it just sounds very tight and controlled when they’re playing on their own.
Here are a few deeper aspects that go into it.
Pocket drummers have an amazing sense of timing behind the kit. When you’re playing in the pocket, it means that you can play a bunch of different things but remain solid within the timing of your grooves.
Some drummers like to pull or push grooves, but they do it in a way that demonstrates that they’re still in full control of the timing, and that’s what keeps them in the pocket.
The best way to improve on this is to constantly practice with a metronome. Work on playing grooves at different speeds and really solidify how it feels to keep in time.
Musicality is something that drummers don’t think about too much at first, but it’s a massive aspect of pocket drumming.
When a drummer plays musically, it means that they make very good choices about what they play. Some grooves sound much better than others for certain songs, and a good pocket drummer will pick the best groove for the situation.
The best way to improve your musicality is to listen to a lot of music. Listen to what other drummers are choosing to play for the songs they’re playing to. Are the beats simple? Are they a bit busier than you thought they would be? Those are choices that the drummers made, and the best choices lead to the best pocket grooves.
The final aspect of pocket drumming is feel. It’s the most important aspect, and it’s a combination of timing and musicality.
Pocket drumming always feels good, so a groove won’t be considered in the pocket if it doesn’t feel good.
To get a groove to feel good, you need to play the drums in a certain way. Sometimes, you need to play ghost notes a bit lighter. Other times, you need to really drive your strokes on a hi-hat.
When you get to a point where you’re playing the drums very intentionally, but you’re also very relaxed, your feel will improve.
Just remember that your sense of musicality and timing needs to be good to establish a good overall feel behind your grooves.
How to Get in the Pocket
The best way of getting in the pocket is to intentionally work on your feel, timing, and musicality. The first step would be to establish a solid sense of time within your grooves.
After that, make sure that you’re playing the most appropriate things possible. If the bass guitar part is playing a certain rhythm, make sure to match it with your bass drum.
When you’ve decided on a groove for the music, do your best to make it sound as good as possible. If the music is driving, play your hi-hats a bit more aggressively on the edge. If the music is laidback, try playing a softer hi-hat sound by only hitting the surface.
Great Pocket Drummers to Check Out
There are thousands of drummers to listen to that sound all sit in the pocket very well when they’re playing. However, here are a few very notable drummers to check out.
When you listen to them play, you’ll have an “aha” moment of realizing what pocket means.
Steve Jordan is an incredible drummer and musician. He’s an excellent groover, and that’s what makes him such a good pocket drummer.
He’s the kind of drummer that you could listen to on repeat for hours, even if he’s not playing with any musicians.
His grooves sound good because he has excellent control over his ghost notes on the snare. They do a fantastic job of elevating his sound.
Bernard Purdie was one of the first great pocket drummers. The Purdie Shuffle is an excellent example of a pocket groove when it’s played well, and it was literally named after him.
All of Bernard Purdie’s grooves sound incredible, and a large aspect of why they sound so good is that he simply enjoys what he’s playing.
Check him grooving and pay attention to how much of a good time he’s having.
Brody Simpson is a modern drummer with an amazing sense of pocket. Like many great hip hop drummers, he records a lot of grooves to sell them as samples for hip-hop artists to use.
Many of his grooves are very pulled back, yet they sound as tight as ever. That’s a good example of pocket drumming that stretches time a bit.
James Gadson is another living legend who is well-known for all the tight and wonderful grooves he’s played over the years.
Like Bernard Purdie, he enjoys the grooves he plays, and that’s a huge aspect of him keeping pocket with every artist he plays with.
Final Thoughts on Pocket Drumming
While pocket in music is an abstract concept, for the most part, there are a few things you can do to improve your sense of pocket when you’re grooving.
The most important thing you can do is to listen to as much music as possible. This will give you context into what drumming should sound like in various settings, and you’ll then be able to make your own good drumming decisions when playing with a band.
Want to know how to stay in the pocket? Just make sure that you sound good by focusing on timing, feel, and musicality in your drumming.