When playing in a band, group or combo situation there is a term you will often hear known as “in the pocket”.
And no…”in the pocket” does not refer to a place to put your hands while on a gig! In simple terms, when a band is playing “in the pocket”, they are playing musically “in sync” with each other.
First off, it’s important to realize that a band can be playing a song together on stage – the same song at the same time – but not truly be playing “in sync” with each other.
It can be compared to the old analogy of an 8 cylinder car engine. If the engine is only firing on 6 or 7 cylinders, it will still take the car down the road and eventually wind up at its destination. But on the way the car may cough, sputter and hesitate, making for a bumpy ride.
Conversely, when the engine is running on all 8 cylinders the ride will be smooth and easy – almost effortless.
When a band is playing “in the pocket” it is running smoothly on all 8 cylinders.
The “pocket” of a song is its “rhythmic core”. The foundation upon which all the other instrumentation, vocals and melodies are layered.
Quite often, the term “in the pocket” is used to describe the ability of the drummer and bass player to “lock in” to that rhythmic core of the song. As a result, many times a drummer or bass player will be favorably described as a “pocket player”.
But we, as guitarists, also have the ability to make a contribution to the “pocket” of a song.
Here are some things a guitar player can focus on to play “in the pocket” with the band.
1. “Listen to me” vs. “Listen to us”
It’s natural, as guitar players, to be focused on what we are doing individually. We are often engrossed in dazzling the audience with our leads and solos.
But playing “in the pocket” requires a bit of a mind shift from that of an individual player, to one of a “team” player.
2. Pay Closer Attention
Rather than focusing on what we are doing individually – in order to become better “pocket players” – we should spend more time “really listening” to what’s going on around us.
Try to focus more on actually “hearing” each individual part that the other players (drummer, bass player, keyboardist, horns, etc.) are contributing to the piece.
3. Make a Contribution
Once you become adept at truly hearing the other parts of the players around you, now try to focus on what your contribution is to the “pocket”.
Truly listen to how what you are playing on guitar contributes to the overall sound of the band as a “whole”.
4. Simple is better…..Less is more
Quite often, for a guitar player, the best contributions to the pocket are the simplest things such as a “chink chink chink” chord pattern that matches the snare drum – or a simply strummed chord that rings out with the bass.
Always keep in mind that a guitarist’s rhythms should complement the bottom end – not be in contrast to it – and that can often be accomplished most successfully by using simple techniques and allowing the song to “breathe” with plenty of spaces.
5. Feel It!
All technical considerations aside, the ability to play “in the pocket” really comes from learning how to play from the perspective of “feeling” the music.
Avoid the natural tendency to “over think” what you are doing and simply lose yourself in the “feel” of the song – and you will be amazed at how quickly you will find yourself “in the pocket”.
Keep in mind that it’s not just the responsibility of the drummer and bass player to find the “pocket”. We, as guitar players, have an obligation to make our contribution as well.
Always remember that there’s a subtle difference between bands that play “in the pocket” and bands that don’t. But quite often, it’s that fine line that separates good bands from great ones!