I get frustrated, even a little annoyed, when I hear a drummer refer to a gig as “just a pocket gig.” I’m not sure what planet these people are living on because if you listen to music you will notice that 99.9 percent of the time the drummer is playing pocket. Know why? Because it’s their job to play pocket!

But I get it—these drummers are saying they want to be able to play music that allows, evens necessitates, the ability to stretch out and blow some chops. Yes, it’s fun to interact and improvise at a high level where all musicians on stage are pushing each other. But it is also fun to lock in a solid groove with a rhythm section and not divert all all from the groove. I have never heard any musician that digs any music say they do not dig James Brown, whose music is the epitome of groove.

That being said, let’s explore a balance between the pocket world and the chops world by diving into “pocket chops.” These techniques present an opportunity to play pocket but slip in a little bit of chops now and then—some Tabasco on the scrambled eggs, if you will.

Pocket Chop #1: Slippery Sextuplets

This first pocket chop is based on the sixteenth-note triplet, or sextuplet. Voiced between the hi-hat, snare, and bass drum, this lick evokes Steve Gadd and other groove masters who also posess ridiculous chops. Start out by getting the basic nugget of the chop down in Ex. 1.

Ex. 1

Next, play repetitively at a moderate tempo (Ex. 2). Make sure each note is dynamically even with the bass drum and accented snare notes being the loudest.


Ex. 2

The next step is to play a few beats of a groove with the lick inserted into beats 3 and 4 (Ex. 3).

Ex. 3

Expand your exercise into a four-bar phrase by adding the lick occurring in Ex. 3 to measure four of a repeated basic pattern (Ex. 4). It is important to be able to drop this lick in with precision.

Ex. 4

The lick itself can be repeated and reversed to create a circular pattern (Ex. 5).

Ex. 5

Once you have calibrated your note placements, play an eight-bar phrase and insert variations of the lick every other bar (Ex. 6).

Ex. 6

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.