One of the most valuable things a musician can learn to do is play in time. I know, I know, self explanatory right? Not always.
You’d be surprised how many times you’ll hear musicians play and everything is extremely sloppy or extremely rushed, or just extremely extreme. You know the expression, “it’s better to learn to walk before you run?” I cannot emphasize this more than in music. When learning drums or any other instrument for that matter, what I’m talking about today is in your best interest to apply to the process.
Have you ever been to a concert and the beat the drummer is playing is SO groovy that you can’t help but nod your head? I’m not talking about groovy fills all over the place or fancy stick work. I’m talking about straight up groooooooove. There’s something really satisfying about it. A lot of times you don’t even know you’re hearing it, because everything is so in sync. On the other hand, you ALSO have been to a concert where, you’re not sure why, but you’re not nodding, tapping your foot, in fact, you’re not exactly sure what to do. Chances are there’s too much going on, or too much flash or too much flat-out mess. Allow me to introduce and define a musician’s best friend: POCKET.
Pocket: the act of playing directly ON and sometimes on the TAIL END of the beat.
Have you ever heard another musician or producer tell you, “lay it back?” This is referred to as playing “in the pocket.” This is an invaluable skill and more often than not can actually secure your spot in a band or on a gig, taking precedence over your ability to play more technically or flashy. There’s nothing better than a musician who can play in the pocket. I’ll take a drummer that can give me laid back simple 2’s and 4’s over someone that can play super fast fills but rushes the beat ALL DAY LONG.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with flash or technicality, but if EVERYTHING you play is flashy or fancy, then you leave no room for those moments where people go WOW!! Being able to play simply in the pocket opens up the window to really impress and excite people when those spotlight moments happen.
Do yourself a favor. Go grab a metronome or a run a solid loop and work on playing right on that groove or just a tad on the back end. See if it doesn’t satisfy your funky soul! I promise you that the guys you’re looking to play with, that are actually working musicians or session players want to hear you play in the pocket more than they want to hear you do really complex things out of time to try and impress them.
I don’t say all this cause I’m a pro at it. Growing up as a white guy playing soul music I heard my fair share of “whoa’s” and “eeeaaassyy’s” and “just lay it back Joslin!!” So from one former beat rusher to another, thank you for allowing me to impart these invaluable words. Play in that pocket and I guarantee you AND your bandmates will thank me later.