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Filling The Pocket

Or, More Precisely, Pocketing The Fill

By Paul Wertico

Establishing a groove and staying in the pocket is one of the marks of an experienced player. However, one of the more common problems I hear from students occurs when they are playing a beat, and then they try to play an embellishment or fill. It's not that what they play is necessarily out of time, but it's not in the pocket, either.

Take a look at Exs. 1, 2, and 3.


In the first bar of each of these examples, when playing just the beat, the feel comes, in part, from the placement of the 2 and 4 in between the 1 and 3. For instance, sometimes you might want to place the backbeats a little further behind the beat in order to achieve a certain feeling of tension and release. The problem arises when you play figures such as those in the second bar and you don't place the 4 in those figures in the same place as all the other 2's and 4's. If you're establishing a certain feel and mood by the way you're placing your backbeats, and then you play the embellishment or fill in a different place-such as ahead or even down the middle-it can sound out of place, especially on tape.


The same goes for Ex. 4. Many drummers play a great pocket until they get into a longer fill. Then the feel seems to change until they go back to the groove again. Now, if you're consciously trying for that effect, that's one thing. But it has been my experience that a lot of players do it because they don't think of a fill as an extension of the groove, but as something totally separate. It's almost as if they're thinking: Groove (stop) Fill (stop) Groove. To my way of thinking, a fill should be thought of as part of the groove. You may be playing more notes, or hitting different drums, but you should still feel the pocket inside your fills. This way you won't interrupt your time flow.

Again, working with a metronome can help. By using quarter-note clicks as your frame of reference, you can get an idea of where you're really placing your time feel. Since the metronome is playing in the center of the time, first try playing these examples with the back-beats down the center. Next, place them slightly behind the beat, and finally, play them with a slight forward edge. Then, make sure you play the embellishments and fills with the same feel as the backbeats. A helpful hint in doing this is first to play the exercises without the fill. Just play a backbeat in that spot instead, and concentrate on its placement. Then add the fill while still feeling the backbeat. Think of it as dropping the fill in and around the backbeat. Use the same principle when playing other grooves and fills.

I think you'll see that once you practice like this, you'll get a better idea of the feel you're projecting. That, in turn, will give you more control and versatility. Also, as long as you concentrate on internalizing your time down the center, you'll have your own frame of reference against which you can place your rhythms, with or without the metronome.

Images and Information from Drums & Drumming August/September 1990, page 54

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