Welcome to the 4th and final part of the series on Metronome Secrets for Guitar. Over the course of these articles I’ve covered lots of different and interesting ways to use the metronome to improve your time-keeping, groove and technique. I hope it’s been a nice intro for those new to this tool, and a refresher with some creative new ideas for those who are already metroprone.
Moving the Pocket
In this installment we’ll be talking about placement of the pocket within a groove.
Having read the last three installments of this series, one might be forgiven for thinking that ‘good time’ is the ability to play in perfect time with the metronome, striking your notes at exactly the place that the metronome does. Certainly one of the foundations for good time keeping is the ability to play a part without speeding up or slowing down. And while that’s a great place to start, it’s not all there is to it.
To really play with groove, you need to be able to identify where the band is feeling the pulse and sync in with that. It may not be exactly on the click. They may be consistently playing a fraction of a second behind where the ‘click’ would be…they’re not slowing down, they’re in time and maintaining the tempo…it’s just that they’re playing slightly behind it for effect.
Different styles of music have different ‘pockets’. Some require the musicians to play slightly behind the beat for a relaxed, lazy feel; while others call for a pocket that pushes slightly ahead of the click for a sense of drive and urgency. Different drummers have different pockets too, even in a simple backbeat no two drummers place their snare drum in exactly the same place.
If you play with the same group of musicians again and again you’ll find it easy to lock in with each others’ grooves. A seasoned pro can quickly identify a new ‘pocket’ and sit in it – this comes from years of playing with lots of different musicians. In most situations, every member is contributing to the pocket – different members holding back, pushing, setting the groove. The key is consistency – it’s no good playing behind the beat in one bar and ahead of it in the next!
In this video I play some examples of ‘on’, ‘ahead’ and ‘behind’ pockets – try to listen and feel the different energies in each one. I’ve exaggerated the examples to make things nice and clear.
For a really fantastic example of pocket playing, check out Steely Dan playing ‘Babylon Sisters’. How would you describe the band’s pocket? Is it behind, on the beat, or ahead? These are masters of groove, can you play along and lock in with their feel as if you were on stage with them?