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Drummers are known for being the heartbeat of the band. However, they’re also notorious for leaving another impression — playing in the pocket. As you learn more as a drummer, you’ll come to find that it is a term that is very popular amongst drummers, especially while playing certain types of genres of music.
Similar to how most drummers can’t wait to master creating exciting drum fills, playing in the pocket is a widely desired skill. If you become great at drumming in the pocket, you can land many more gigs. Below we are going to go in-depth about what pocket drumming is all about.
What is Pocket Drumming?
Why is pocket drumming so crucial, and what precisely is it? Some may claim it is similar to feel and groove, but not entirely. Furthermore, pocket drumming is a technique that sets some drummers significantly apart from others.
The notion that pocket drummers are even better drummers is widespread. In summary, pocket drumming creates a sweet spot in the song, allowing you to play in time with the beat and rhythm. Technically speaking, pocket drumming refers to the drummer’s timing, ability to stay in the groove or be musical, and overall feeling. Once this is done, other musicians can participate in the pocket, stand out with their own solo groove, or even offer a singer their own area to shine.
A “deep pocket” drummer doesn’t need to perform any insane drum fills or be flashy since their subtle ghost notes or small strokes that add to the groove make the pocket much more substantial.
How To Get in The Pocket
You may wonder how one gets “in the pocket” while drumming. Becoming a pocket drummer requires skill and practice in these three elements: timing, the groove or musicality, and feeling. When it comes to time, this refers to the same thing a drummer needs to do, no matter what drumming style.
Keeping up with the beat or tempo of the song is the key to becoming a pocket drummer. To be a good pocket drummer, you need to be able to play different things at the same time while being able to keep time.
If you have trouble keeping the beat, you’ll inevitably confuse the other musicians and the song as a whole. Additionally, you disrupt “the pocket’s” entire euphoric experience. Because of this, the drummer is the band’s foundation or “pulse.”
Musicality refers to drummers’ choices when they play — where and when to add subtle strokes, ghost notes or choosing what type of groove goes well with the song.
This not only requires excellent playing skills, but it also requires tremendous listening skills. Drummers need to be able to listen to tell when a song needs less or no strokes or where being in the pocket is going to be the most effective in the music.
Finally, being a great pocket drummer requires understanding the song’s feeling. For instance, some drummers may play a groove with different ghost notes. As you progress as a drummer, you will discover that how you play the drums is unique to you.
You may learn and know how to play all of the same rudiments as any other drummer, but how you execute it is your own style, similar to how a group of dancers may know the same moves, but each one moves differently. The more you play, the more you will discover your drum feel and why it’s unique from others.
Ways to Practice
Now that pocket drumming is more understood, perfecting it is the next step. There are a few tips to take while you practice.
First, just like learning any drumming style, using a metronome is essential. Remember playing in the pocket requires excellent timing, so the metronome is the key to helping you to keep up with the tempo.
As you play with the metronome, you will start to get into your “feel” naturally. Next, while using the metronome, practice the groove for the song. Feeling confident in a groove is going to be what makes the pocket sound the best.
For instance, if you played a groove with no accents, it wouldn’t have any dynamics. Without dynamics, it’s not easy to get deep into the pocket. A more technical way to practice playing in the pocket would be to maintain the 2 and 4 beats of a drum fill. This creates what is called a backbeat.
Another simple but valuable way to master becoming a pocket drummer is by simply relaxing. That’s right, relaxing is part of the pocket technique. If you are overthinking what you are playing, it will take away the essence of playing in the pocket. Relaxing and feeling the groove will allow you to settle into your unique feel and fall into the pocket.
Finally, a great way to practice is to listen to songs known for great pocket drumming and try practicing to those songs. See if you can figure out your own feeling to play in the pocket.
Famous Pocket Drummers
Several drummers are known for being fantastic pocket drummers that you can look to for inspiration.
Nate Smith is a drummer that is known for being a smooth groover. He has a modern jazz vibe, perfect for practicing playing in the pocket. He even has an album called “Pocket Change” that you can listen to and experience how great he is at finding the pocket and keeping you as a listener engaged.
Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith takes a more aggressive approach to pocket drumming. The contrast of not playing in a calm, smooth manner but still being able to create a deep pocket groove makes Smith a great pocket drummer. He is an excellent example of how you can take pocket drumming into any genre of music.
Taylor Gordon (The Pocket Queen)
Then there is Taylor Gordon, also known as The Pocket Queen. She is known for making videos of her playing anything from 70’s funk to nostalgic 90’s TV theme songs and finding her feel to groove into the great pocket drumming style of her own.
She has become so famous for her pocket that she has performed with Beyonce, Robert Glasper, and even Stevie Wonder. She has even recently developed a course of her own where she teaches just how she plays within the pocket and how you can do so yourself.
Does Out of Pocket Drumming Exist?
Drummers who play perfectly to the click are considered out of pocket. Unfortunately, the playing is very stiff, and songs have no feel or groove, almost making them feel choppy.
Drumming out of pocket is drumming without adding any exciting flair or making the song feel humanized. In contrast, drumming out of pocket could also mean doing too much while playing.
For example, showing off with extra sticking, playing complicated drum fills, and adding too many cymbal crashes. Not to mention, it does not create a groove for the listener to vibe with.
Playing deep in the pocket is something that even the most famous drummers are constantly working to improve on. Learning your feel, musicality, and timing takes much practice, just like with any drumming technique.
Listening to a lot of music can help improve your playing and help you understand why the timing, feel, and musicality is so important. It is a concept that seems confusing at first, but once you watch a drummer do it or learn how to play it yourself, you will understand why it is such an important skill to hone as a drummer.