The Pocket Queen: What Is Pocket? (Video)

+ This lesson is presented courtesy of The Pocket Queen’s course on Soundfly, Moving at Your Own Tempo. Sign up and learn how to harness your inner groove and your outer authenticity.

The Pocket Queen — somewhat expectedly — talks a lot about the concept of “pocket” in her Soundfly course, Moving at Your Own Tempo. But that term can be somewhat foreign to musicians of many types, so what does “pocket” actually mean?

Well, the answer’s pretty simple… but it’s also kind of complicated. It’s one of those musical concepts that’s difficult to precisely put down in words — something that’s probably best learned through experience and observation. 

Throughout PQ’s course, we look at and interact with the idea of pocket in various ways but the video lesson above should serve as a pretty good general explainer. Let’s take a closer look at the concepts she explores in her video, and listen to some classic examples below.

The Right Place at the Right Time

At the start of the video, PQ references the song “N95” by Kendrick Lamar, which contains the lyric: “you’re out of pocket.”

At the end of the day, “pocket” essentially means being in the right place at the right time — serving an intended purpose. When it comes to drums, that means playing what fits the song or situation.

You might think of it as being the idea that guides how a part is phrased, rather than the phrasing itself. As PQ says, even a drum part played super straight can be in the pocket as long as that’s what the rest of the music calls for. On the other hand, playing behind the beat in the same situation would be playing out of pocket since it would conflict with other musical elements and intentions.

+ Learn more on Flypaper: “Kiefer on How to Sound More Like Yourself (Video).”

Feeling Over Phrasing

PQ also tells us she thinks of pocket as relating to how something feels. It’s tied to the nuances of how a part is performed.

She uses the metaphor of human speech: You can say the same group of words at the same pace and yet tweak tiny aspects of your delivery such that you completely transform what’s conveyed. Think about how sincerity sounds different than sarcasm because of a number of details rather than any one particular thing.

Like meaning and feeling, pocket is always informed by context.

Pocket Examples

Much like “vibe” or “warmth,” pocket is something you know when you hear it. It also comes with plenty of variation. A deep pocket can be paired with a loose time feel or with metronomic, precise playing. The best way to fully wrap your head around the term is to listen to do some intentional listening.

We asked PQ to describe the drumming styles of some drummers who are well-known for their sense of pocket, using no more than three words for each. Dig into some of their work and unique characteristics below.

Bernard Purdie

“Deep, consistent, stylistic”

Bernard “Pretty” Purdie is the ideal example of a drummer gifted with a perfect sense of time. In addition to the precision with which he plays, he’s known for his trademark use of triplets against a backbeat (also known as the “Purdie Shuffle”).

His performance on the Steely Dan track “Home at Last” is an excellent example of his deep pocket and that signature shuffle:

Steve Jordan

“Rugged, consistent, warm”

When you think about the way he plays drums, it makes perfect sense that Steve Jordan is also a legendary producer. He listens intently to everything all at once, elevating all the other parts through what he plays. It’s an approach that takes some serious pocket.

He also has the abiity to make dynamic parts sound consistent and locked-in. Just listen to his performance on this live cut of John Mayer’s “Who Did You Think I Was,” paying special attention to the wonderfully trashy hi-hat:

Clyde Stubblefield

“Legend, creative, vintage”

Funk-focused, pocketed playing was a pre-requisite for every member of James Brown’s bands and Clyde Stubblefield had that in spades. 

His career is filled with prime examples of pocket, but “Cold Sweat” is perhaps the most quintessential. Listen to how he lets the groove breathe, injecting the track with his creativity and otherworldly time feel:

Vinnie Colaiuta

“Advanced, technical, complicated”

From fusion, to metal, to country, to swing, and everything in between, Vinnie Colaiuta has the ability to bring his style to any genre as one of the most versatile drummers to ever live. 

His approach is technical and finely tuned, always crisp and loaded with pocket. He even has the ability to make odd-time grooves feel natural, like on “Seven Days” from Sting:

Terri Lynne Carrington

“Musical, smooth, necessary”

A pioneering woman in the jazz world, Terri Lynne has broken so many barriers with her fluid and ever-musical skills as a drummer. 

To get a sense of her time and versatility as well as her compositional approach, have a listen to her track “Money Jungle.” Note how she creates distinct differences in time feels while maintaining a solid pocket throughout the song:

Sheila E.

“Exciting, charismatic, stylistic”

Pocket isn’t just felt in the music you make, it can be seen in the swagger and confidence you have as a musician. Nobody exemplifies that more than Sheila E. 

Check out her hit, “The Glamorous Life” below and listen to the conviction pour out of every moment in the track:

As a bonus, check out this live version including a crushing percussion solo at around the 3-minute mark.


“Pocket, identity, charismatic”

Listen to anything Questlove has played on and you instantly hear a musician steeped in the traditions of funk, soul, hip-hop, rock, and R&B. 

Questlove’s playing is the backbone of every group he’s been a part of, perhaps most notably on the records he’s made with The Roots. You can almost hear all of his influences coalesce on the band’s track “The Fire.”

Spend some time considering how you define the word “pocket.”

Then, make a list of songs and/or musicians you associate with the concept. If you think of a particularly excellent example, share with the rest of the Soundfly community in your Discord group!

Keep on Grooving…

Continue your learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with artist-led courses by Kimbra, Com TruiseJlinKiefer, RJD2, and our new The Pocket Queen: Moving at Your Own Tempo.

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