The Elusive “Pocket”

There is this term used in music called the “pocket” or the “groove” and I can only describe it as this musical place where your one usually simple rhythmic part fits in perfectly with the other perfectly simple parts.

Consider an automobile engine for a moment. Each of the 8 cylinders fire only once, but in perfect succession, creating a powerful energy that can move a car! If one of those cylinders fires in the wrong place, the engine loses energy and doesn’t function as well.

In a band, a powerful rhythmic energy can be obtained by, contrary to a beginner’s first instincts, playing less rather than more. The trick here is to find out just which notes are really the important ones to play, and then play them in just the right place, with perfect timing. As each person finds their perfect part, the combined effect is a full, powerful sound.

But what the real obstacle often is, is the player’s willingness to forego the notion that playing more means you are a better player. I consider a good player to be one that plays the right notes at the right time, not a bunch of notes all the time.

Consider another example:
Have you ever noticed someone who talks constantly about themselves and their achievements to the point that no one else seems to get a chance to join the discussion? They talk so much that they leave little room for anyone to contribute to the conversation.

Now see if you recall anyone who tends to wait patiently for the just the right opportunity to say the perfect, simple statement. That statement is often so insightful that it encourages others to share their thoughts on the subject, too.

Finding that elusive pocket means being confident in your abilities to the point that you don’t feel the need to show off or dominate the musical conversation, but rather finding that simple yet profound statement to contribute. And it’s a group thing – you find and create your part with the others’ in mind.

This is a hard concept to explain in words, but I can only tell you that when you have truly experienced this, you won’t forget it. Playing becomes effortless and magical.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have you ever experiences anything like this?



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11 Responses to “The Elusive “Pocket””

  1. david joel Says:

    Rhan –
    Your explanation of the pocket is great. The pocket can be very elusive – especially when players are are more worried about technique and just “keeping up”, but there is no mistaking it when you find the groove. It’s a little like achieving a runners endorphin high.

    Interestingly, I think our group has achieved a groove more when we are doing vocals than with our instruments. Perhaps this is because we are more used to using our voices than playing instruments??? But the groove will get easier and easier as the group progresses.


    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Thanks, David.
      It is something like a runner’s endorphin high, though I’ve not achieved that. It is being in the moment – very Zen-like.

  2. Chuck Says:

    The “Magical” performance isn’t on paper, it comes from the participants each making their contribution

    The All In Good Time Orchestra makes those moments more possible than any other in my experience. I regret that I won’t be playing with you on a regular basis. When I come back to Santa Cruz ill try to make it on Wednesdays.

    All the best!

    Chuck Buchanan

  3. Marilyn Says:

    I’m still working on finding that moment when singing/playing with a group but have occasionally felt that “right connection” where everyone and every instrument fit together like a perfect puzzle. It’s wonderful! Marilyn

  4. Says:

    i am beginning to understand this. At the beach I can sit back and play only when it makes sense and then I notice others who look like they are beating their ukulele to death. strumming every time…..

    not that I don’t do that too…..but I am beginning to experience just being able to play when it fits in with the group.


  5. Mary Atkinson Says:

    Preach it bro.

  6. Lor Larsen Says:

    And also, of course, in order to do this you have to really listen, which is such a gift in itself. When I open my ears to receive, then I have a chance to participate in a way that transforms me, instead of just playing the way I always play because I’m only listening to what I already know (me!). This is true about music and about life!

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Thank you Lor.
      That’s exactly what this blog site is about – music and how it parallels life. I am glad you enjoyed this post and contributed to it.

  7. Sandra Taylor Says:

    The pocket…I was just playing guitar yesterday…I finger pick a lot and was playing a song I hadn’t played in literally decades. I kept missing a string but I liked how that sounded. The timing was still intact but that missing note every so often actually added to the piece. I was fully aware of the beauty in this and started choosing which note to leave out to experiment with it. Interesting that Rhan’s newsletter was forwarded to me later in the day. Life is mysterious. Thanks Rhan for your good words.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      This is an excellent example of finding a unique piece or phrasing and knowing just where to play it.
      Thank you for commenting and I am glad that your friend forwarded my newsletter to you at the right time.

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