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Ahead of the beat. Behind the beat. On the beat. Pocket.


frogmonkey

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This is something I've been trying to quantify for a while. Let's talk about it :) I consider it one of the remaining mysteries in music.

 

Say you hear a record with a killer groove, with everyone playing in some awesome pocket- one guy laying back, another pushing, another guy right on the beat. Nothing quite so obvious as the snare in "When the Levee Breaks". I can't confidently and reliably identify who is doing what particular pocket.

 

I went to hear a reggae band that I really like, Midnite. Sometimes they have this pocket where the organ bubble is laying back so far it's almost in the triplet grid. It's not typical of reggae, but it's so freakin heavy and cosmic. I opened for them recently, and during their sound check the drummer asked to get the keyboards out of his monitor :D

 

I've done some work with a metronome, trying to play consistently one way or another and get used to the feeling. Apparently it hasn't worked as I thought. I play with a pretty good feel-it gets people excited- but I don't have the control over it that I'd like. In recording sessions, and at home recording myself, I am often surprised to see that I'm ahead of the beat when I look at the waves (or the midi matrix) on the computer screen.

 

At a recent session, the bandleader/producer wanted me to play certain phrases behind the beat. In one tune, there was a single note that he wanted behind the beat in the middle of a phrase. I got through the session, and managed to produce the desired results, but it took me a good number of takes.

 

Alternately, in Salsa I'm trying to get right on the beat. I still tend to play ahead of it :mad: I'm practicing like crazy with a quantized sequencer.

 

I really want to understand this, to command it in my playing, and to be able to communicate it with the players I work with.

 

Do you have a method for practicing this skill?

 

Do you have an internal reference for identifying the sound of these three different categories of pocket? An external reference?

 

Do you have any thoughts at all about this topic? Are there any examples of this that you particularly like?

 

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Hi Andric, I do have thoughts on this ... I'm pretty tired but I'll try to make sense, LOL.

 

I am very conscious of where I am in pocket. My "default" is to play slightly behind the beat, which works well for Brazilian, jazz, blues/blues rock, reggae (never specialized in the last, only referring to the sense of how I played the songs when I played the few I did). When I played bass in heavy rock bands, I would be either on or behind the beat a little.

 

With salsa and other forms of Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican beats, though, I try to play ahead of the beat a bit. This is because my tendency would be to play behind it, and in salsa, I was taught (I studied privately with a renown expert of Latin music) that one should really think of one's place in that groove to be "on the edge of the cliff", that is, just ahead of the beat. And my playing experience confirms what I was also taught, which is that it is quite acceptable to speed up during a song; dancers don't mind as long as it's groovin', but they never want you to slow down. Of course in reality the individual note placement that makes up the feel for a happening montuno isn't all uniform; this person I mention said a drummer friend once ran a recording of their piano playing through a beat analyzer and it did show variances ... it was purely out of the drummer's curiosity.

 

Anyway, point being, maybe your playing ahead of the beat is not such a bad thing. I don't know what your experiences with salsa audiences have been like, but since you mentioned that specifically I thought I'd comment on my experiences. :)

 

As far as practicing the skill of getting a groove right, I just pick some definitive (to me, and hopefully, universally) recording and really listen to how the keyboard parts fit with everything else, in particular the drums and bass. And then I play along ... but again, really listening. Getting the notes right is a foregone conclusion. I am listening for and practicing the sense of time more than anything else, especially if I'm new to a genre or style.

 

And I record myself often. Not just with bands but practicing at home with groove tracks I make (basic drum loops and separately recorded bass track); I don't make tracks for every song but it helps when I do make them.

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby

 

"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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Over the years I've come to the conclusion that pocket is determined by personality and musical environment. Players are often known for playing a certain way, because it's inbuilt...and that's what they're hired for. Players in certain cities were/are known for playing a certain way because of environment (laid back in New Orleans, for example).

 

To change 'pocket' at will requires a person to go against habit and/or personality type. With the former, you really have to work at it as well as surround yourself with the type of music that reflects the feel you're trying to achieve. Hopefully, things change with time. With the latter, you're always going to be fighting that. You are what you are.

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Players in certain cities were/are known for playing a certain way because of environment (laid back in New Orleans, for example).

 

To change 'pocket' at will requires a person to go against habit and/or personality type.

 

I've found this to be true. Moved from Philly to Nashville and discovered you could drive a truck between where drummers from these cities place a snare hit. It's taken me years to get used to playing closer to the beat and I can't say I'm always successful.

 

 

9 Moog things, 3 Roland things, 2 Hammond things and a computer with stuff on it

 

 

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You have to remember this is cultural music and sometimes to understand it you need to understand the culture. Salsa and Reggae is important to their culture as the food, customs and everything else. Just as blues is tied into American culture. If you really want to get into it you have to develop some ties and understand where the music is coming from.

"Danny, ci manchi a tutti. La E-Street Band non e' la stessa senza di te. Riposa in pace, fratello"

 

 

noblevibes.com

 

 

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Intresting topic..I feel your pain. What helps me is subdividing the measure. Slow the tempo way down and really break that thing apart. Alot of the time I'll count sixteenths while everyone else is counting quarters. That will help with pratice. Your totally not alone with this issue. I wish more drummers would think this way! :)
"A good mix is subjective to one's cilia." http://hitnmiss.yolasite.com
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I suppose I can hit the tap button a BPM accurate if I want to, but that might require compensating for (electronic) key scan patterns, which can be the same for keyboard/synth (except analog) playing.

 

I recall my first band bass player selection process, God (no particular religious pun intended) that was a crime, but I think that had little to do with playing so many milliseconds ahead or after a beat or syncopation.

 

Or with not being practiced enough (I was) or with this idea: (/joking_on

 

Elwood Blues: "Uh, ma'am, we're the Blues Brothers. We do blues, rhythm & blues, jazz, funk, soul. We can handle rock, pop, country, heavy metal, fusion, hip hop, rap, Motown, operetta, show tunes. In fact, we've even been called upon, on occasion, to do a polka! However Caribbean is a type of music, I regret to say, which has not been, is simply not, nor will ever be a part of this band's repertoire. "

 

/joking_off)

 

but i´ts one thing to play the right rythm (and notes...) but what is "correct" timing ? I mean that has to do as described with knowledge of the type and variation of the music, the reverbaration in the space and the place of themain listeners in it, with the type of instrument, and even with how the amplifier system will create (low frequency) waves and wether the band is ambitious enough to do advanced rock/funk/(jazz-)fusion things !

 

Theo Verelst

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"So ya wanna dump out yo' trick bag.

Ease on in a hip thang,

But you ain't exactly sure what is hip.

..."

Tower of Power

 

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In one tune, there was a single note that he wanted behind the beat in the middle of a phrase. I got through the session, and managed to produce the desired results, but it took me a good number of takes.
I tend to play ahead, too. If I find myself coming in early on a particular note then I try a trick.

 

Instead of just relying on internal timing and counting and trying to land the note right there -- DA! -- I add a "mental vocalization". That is, where it feels like the note should be I imagine a "ta" in my head and then follow with a "DA!" in my hands: (ta) DA! Sometimes a little stutter like that works and nobody else is the wiser.

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Players are often known for playing a certain way, because it's inbuilt
Or sometimes it may be "beat in", as in the notorious case of French horn players. (They must always play ahead of the beat so their reflection off the back wall is in time with the rest of the band.)
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Do you guys really think about this stuff that closely? I mean instinct has to take over playing music sometimes.

 

That is very true - and should not be lost amongst the analysis -but having a vocabulary of "feels" allows one's instinct to have more avenues of expression, like a variety of chord voicings or scales....

Also - working with a producer, one sometimes needs to surpress one's instinct to help him/her realize their vision.

 

 

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Do you guys really think about this stuff that closely? I mean instinct has to take over playing music sometimes.

 

Absolutely. I'm thinking about it very hard, at home in my practice studio, so that when I'm on stage or in the recording studio I can just turn it on and go. I guess my goal is to make it instinctual, rather than having to exert effort to do it- but to get there I need to do conscious work on it. I'm really inspired by a drummer I've worked with since college (15 years), who has really done this work. He can take any part within his rhythm- bass, snare, hihat, whatever- and put it ahead or behind or right on as desired.

 

I guess it doesn't matter, if you've got your bag and you are known for it. But I really want to be a a generalist. I want the call from the producer for EVERY recording session, not just the few that my pocket might work for. And when was the last time your heard "Man, those cats in Vermont play with a killer pocket!" :D

 

 

Hi Andric, I do have thoughts on this ... I'm pretty tired but I'll try to make sense, LOL.

 

I am very conscious of where I am in pocket. My "default" is to play slightly behind the beat, which works well for Brazilian, jazz, blues/blues rock, reggae (never specialized in the last, only referring to the sense of how I played the songs when I played the few I did). When I played bass in heavy rock bands, I would be either on or behind the beat a little.

 

With salsa and other forms of Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican beats, though, I try to play ahead of the beat a bit. This is because my tendency would be to play behind it, and in salsa, I was taught (I studied privately with a renown expert of Latin music) that one should really think of one's place in that groove to be "on the edge of the cliff", that is, just ahead of the beat. And my playing experience confirms what I was also taught, which is that it is quite acceptable to speed up during a song; dancers don't mind as long as it's groovin', but they never want you to slow down. Of course in reality the individual note placement that makes up the feel for a happening montuno isn't all uniform; this person I mention said a drummer friend once ran a recording of their piano playing through a beat analyzer and it did show variances ... it was purely out of the drummer's curiosity.

 

Anyway, point being, maybe your playing ahead of the beat is not such a bad thing. I don't know what your experiences with salsa audiences have been like, but since you mentioned that specifically I thought I'd comment on my experiences. :)

 

As far as practicing the skill of getting a groove right, I just pick some definitive (to me, and hopefully, universally) recording and really listen to how the keyboard parts fit with everything else, in particular the drums and bass. And then I play along ... but again, really listening. Getting the notes right is a foregone conclusion. I am listening for and practicing the sense of time more than anything else, especially if I'm new to a genre or style.

 

And I record myself often. Not just with bands but practicing at home with groove tracks I make (basic drum loops and separately recorded bass track); I don't make tracks for every song but it helps when I do make them.

 

You know, I think I do pretty well with the salsa pocket. I do tend to be just ahead of the beat with it. And audiences respond well to it- though they don't exactly have a lot of salsa bands to choose from here in Vermont :D I have checked out your music, and I have a very similar quartet! It doesn't play that often, though. More recently, I've been directing (and arranging) a 10-piece salsa band with the conguero and bassist from my quartet. Instead of the drummer, we have timbales. The timbale player is from Trinidad, and wow does he lay back on the beat! It's been maddening, trying first to identify exactly what the problem was, and then trying to communicate it with him, and then being patient as he gradually fixed it. I also had to prompt the horns to get on top of it a little- especially the trombone.

 

After all that pocket-fixing in the big band... two nights ago I rehearsed the Quartet for the first time in over a year, for an upcoming gig- also the first in more than a year. The quartet sounded better and tighter than it ever had!

 

Out of curiosity, did you study with Rebeca Mauleon? She's awesome :)

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Yeah, timing is a weird thing. Using a looper is helpful as a practice tool, 'cause then you get instant feedback on where your sitting in the groove. I find myself naturally falling behind the beat and when that happens i mentally, and sometimes physically, re-enforce what the primary groove is, and re-align. It's a funny thing, I see it somewhat like a frame of video that's a few frames off and have to "bump" it to get re-synced up.

 

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Ideally, play with other musicians who have a strong sense of pocket. If that isn't possible due to location, language barriers, cultural differences, etc., listen to and play-a-long with old recordings. Plenty abound. Like Prego, it's in there. :cool:

PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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Do you guys really think about this stuff that closely? I mean instinct has to take over playing music sometimes.
Think of the situation the OP was in. He was directed to play a certain way in the studio. On each playback his playing was under the microscope and his instinct was not delivering what the producer wanted.

 

If he was playing live in a jam band probably nobody would have cared about his "interpretation".

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Originally Posted By: Cygnus64

One doctor cured everything in ye* olden days.

Actually, he didn't. He tried, bless his heart, but usually just cut something off.

 

Yeah, Mos' Scocious, for instance...

And he kept his sizzling Gris-Gris in his hand.

 

(* What a language, isn't it)

 

Hate to be contrary, but jamming from The Real Book isn't all that high a level of jazz.

 

That is strongly depending on how good you are!

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Out of curiosity, did you study with Rebeca Mauleon? She's awesome :)

 

Yes, I did. And yes, she is. :) Nice person too, and someone I am happy to consider a friend.

 

I figured you must have been doing just fine with the salsa pocket, actually. I can imagine, from your description, that the timbale player must have thrown you for a loop, LOL! I can only imagine Cuba by way of Trinidad. Are you doing original music in the quartet?

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby

 

"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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Also I want to say, in general, that pocket is different from tempo. You can still "drive a truck" (love that Ken, thanks!) between where you and other musos are within the beat and still be keeping perfect time. Falling away from the beat, ie, getting less and less accurate, means someone is either speeding up or slowing down.

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby

 

"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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Do you guys really think about this stuff that closely? I mean instinct has to take over playing music sometimes.

 

That is very true - and should not be lost amongst the analysis -but having a vocabulary of "feels" allows one's instinct to have more avenues of expression, like a variety of chord voicings or scales....

Also - working with a producer, one sometimes needs to surpress one's instinct to help him/her realize their vision.

 

 

+1 I've been blessed to play in many situations that I would not have been invited into if I did not stretch myself musically and become adaptable and able to learn new things over the years. Unless one is totally technical and feels nothing while playing, I think a player's voice and personality will come through! Technique, and working on intricacies of timing is just mastering a type of technique IMHO, is just a tool -- a means to an end of expressing what is in your heart and soul. [oh geez ... can I get a group hug?]

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby

 

"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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Something that strikes me as also being important in defining or even creating a pocket is knowing, not only when to hit the notes, it's also about knowing and practicing when to get off the notes or chords prior to that next snare hit or beat.

 

Concentrating on when to let off a note is an important part of creating the pocket and not always easily defined. I mean, I guess there's a rhythm to that too. It's the air between the notes that makes the drama of the next note that much more anticipated.

 

I personally try, as hard as I can, to match up with the snare drum and be right on the beat. For me, the snare is the key. I really concentrate on hitting my keyboard as close as I can to his hitting the snare, with the same sense of timing as him. In reality in doing that, I tend to be a little behing the beat more than anything because I am waiting to hear his snare. And that tends to open up the space between the notes fractionally.

 

Richard

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I have no "practice method" to share for this, as I've never practiced it, but I can tell you that being able to play on, behind or on top of the beat at will, is an essential skill for a studio musician. If your aim is to continue to pursue studio work you will need this tool in your belt. It also doesn't hurt to know without being told by a producer when you should play one way or another. Often they know something's wrong but they don't always know what.

I grew up in New York (where the tendency is to lean into nearly everything), but learned to make records in Muscle Shoals (where "behind the beat" is legendary). I've had to make it feel right with Roger Hawkins and Steve Jordan. :laugh:

You could drive a fleet of trucks through that expanse!

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I think with a confident and well-honed sense of rhythm comes the ability to sit in different parts of the beat. Some of it also comes from assimilating different styles of music which lend themselves to playing in different ways. I also agree that most people have a natural pocket, but like anything else, with practice you can learn to move your beat around. And by "practice," I mean mostly the practice of playing music and not any specific exercises, although I suppose you could specifically practice that technique if you were so inclined.

 

I won't tell anyone how to live their life, but smoke a big joint and play along to some Meters records, and you'll be waaaay behind the beat in no time. :freak:

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- have to anticipate the attack and play tht much ahead.This is an area where I struggle as well, and ultimately tend to do best and feel most comfortable listening very closely to the drums and locking up. Certain situations, lagging a bit feels right on certain phrases.

 

Let me through another aspect of this discussion out there - and the one that makes me least comfortable - patches with slower attacks. Sometimes with certain patches, I have to play way ahead of the beat to compensate for a slower attack so that it lands properly with the beat. Feels horribly uncomfortable. Similar experiences> Strings ar a big culprit, and even sometimes brass.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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I have a heavy tendency to play out in front of the beat as well.

 

The engineer who has been tracking the stuff for my originals project has really encouraged me to take a hard look at how my caffeine intake affects my playing. And it turns out he is right! Caffeine is totally my favorite drug :) but it definitely causes me to want to rush things.

 

I've already consumed a lifetime's worth of drugs and alcohol, so I don't have that option for getting laid back either.

 

This is a good thread, and a good reminder that this is something I really need to work on too...

 

--Dave

Make my funk the P-funk.

I wants to get funked up.

 

My Funk/Jam originals project: http://www.thefunkery.com/

 

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I'm sure most, if not all of you are talking about doing this by feel. However, I wonder if anyone knows if this subject has ever been quantified? I've searched for info a while back but never found anything. It could have been my search terms, though.

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

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I guess I asked because I dont think about it too much. Feel is paramount to playing different styles and all you have to do is know the rules. For example I dont do stuff in Reggae music that I would in a Santana song. Or there is some phrasing that only works in different styles. I take it on a case by case basis and learn about what I have to for the gig. It does not matter if it is studio, new project, or whatever. Really a lot of it comes down about knowing what pieces go in what place in the song. I guess you cant teach that.

"Danny, ci manchi a tutti. La E-Street Band non e' la stessa senza di te. Riposa in pace, fratello"

 

 

noblevibes.com

 

 

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Interesting, this conversation kind of reminds me of why I quit being a piano performance major after one year. Don't get me wrong, I get that there is a 'science' here, but when the science starts to artificially supersede the art...well that's when I changed my major.

 

That being said, there is absolutely still plenty of 'science' to be had. This regional aspect of the conversation strikes me as interesting.

 

I had an experience with a guitar player the other week, we change up the intro to "Dead Flowers" (Stones) so that it was him singing half-time to a piano accompaniment. I was without a doubt coming in late to let him drive the beat and set the pace....he absolutely could not function unless I played exactly on the beat, which in my opinion, defeated most of the purpose of the altered intro.

 

Must be an Idaho regional quality! LOL

 

Anyhow, I guess for me, you never really know EXACTLY what a band or studio session is looking for. Very hard to be formulaic.

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