What Playing In The Pocket Really Means
Playing in the pocket is a term used by musicians to express when they are all playing the same tune at the same time and completely in sync with each other. There’s more to it than that but that’s the basic principle of playing in the pocket.
Imagine a song that should be played at 78 beats per minute (BPM) and your band plays that same song perfectly, except for the fact you play it at 65 BPM. That will make the song sound slow, it will not be in the pocket even if the band are all in sync. Tempo has its part to play in a band playing in the pocket.
The drummer keeps the beat and the bassist accompanies the drummer emphasising the beat and tempo. When they get it going perfectly, that can be classed as playing in the pocket. If the rhythm guitarist can get in touch with that vibe, he can play in the pocket too.
Playing In The Pocket
When every member of the band is playing tightly together, and they are all playing the track in perfect timing, that’s playing in the pocket. The phrase is often used by non-musicians who wish to identify with having a particular knowledge of music and/or seeming to be in touch with the music scene.
If any band member is slightly off with their timing they are considered to not be playing in the pocket.
What Does Playing In The Pocket Really Mean?
In many cases a band will be playing a track together with every member hitting the correct notes at exactly the right time. This is playing in the pocket. It’s all about timing in this respect, not just the tempo of the track, although that’s an important part of it.
It’s about all of the band being in sync with each other, and staying within the confines of the correct tempo for that particular track. When it comes to pop songs, they’re invariably in just one tempo from start to finish. So once the band masters that, it’s easy to maintain the tempo.
Where things can get complicated is during jazz sessions. A jazz tune can start off in one tempo, change to another tempo midway through and then return to the original tempo further on. Keeping this sort of arrangement tight, is the true meaning of playing in the pocket.
In The Pocket Performances
To create in the pocket rehearsals takes practice, lots of practice. Repetition gets results, you need to rehearse that track ‘til you know backwards, forwards and sideways. That way you and the band will easily get into tempo and remain there from start to finish. This is where a good drummer comes into play.
Drummers act as a metronome for keeping the timing constant throughout the track. A good drummer will not falter, but will keep the beat going and at the correct tempo from start to finish. As long as everyone else takes their timing from the drummer, the band will achieve an in the pocket performance.
Remember the old saying “Practice makes perfect”, then practice some more until it is 100% perfect every time you and the band play that track.
Frequently Asked Questions
All vocalists have a particular range of notes they can sing in. Many have a large range of notes, but there are a set number that can always be relied on to be pitch perfect. That perfect range is your pocket or “tessitura” as it is known when related to singing.
Being in the pocket when drumming means to be at the perfect Beats Per Minute for that particular track. Keeping perfect tempo and playing in sync with all members of the band. So it’s the correct tempo and in time with everyone else (or them in perfect time with the drummer).
It is widely believed that the expression playing in the pocket relates to the days of pocket watches. And so to “play in the pocket”, you know exactly what the timing is for the song.