Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

A place where discuss about secrets, tips and suggestions for practicing on congas and to improve your skill and technique ...

Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby bongosnotbombs » Sat May 22, 2010 4:22 pm

I've been gigging, jamming and sitting in with a couple of different groups lately. Mainly jazz, some latin jazz and a group that plays Spanish/Cuban stuff with a twist like Ojos de Brujo meets Buena Vista Social club. Of course I'm still playing rumba but that's something else

Well it's hard to know what to expect, some guys want you to play straight and keep time with fills on the changes. Others kind of want you to play more free and open, not quite soloing, more like continuously varying a rhythm for the whole song, like playing bongos, except with congas. I notice a lot of new jazz and "nu-jazz" I listen to has more free playing, kind of continuous flavor. The older bebop and hard bop kind of keeps it straight.

How do you guys make the decision of playing straight versus playing open?
User avatar
bongosnotbombs
 
Posts: 2869
Joined: Fri Apr 06, 2007 4:17 am
Location: San Francisco, Ca

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby CongaTick » Sat May 22, 2010 5:48 pm

Great quesion BNB, and one I've been coping with for awhile. I am active in two bands: one, a Reggae/funk group, the other, JazzFunkFuzion. At first I played it quite loose and free-flowing using a solid tumbao only occasionally. The freestyle rhythms worked alright and seemed to please the crowd, however after awhile I decided to find a steady balance: Establish a solid pattern that fits, maintain it, and freestyle variations in the changes and breaks, but always set the pattern. I found that freestyling throughout a song does little to plow the groove deeply and becomes pure textural rhythm, but it's use diminishes one's percussive "power". Now, I strive for a pattern which compliments, deepens/adds to the groove with fills only as needed. Less is more.
CongaTick
 
Posts: 1257
Joined: Sun Dec 29, 2002 3:49 pm

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby tigre77 » Wed May 26, 2010 1:46 am

I can't help but give my newbie point of view. I recently took a couple of classes with an old school cuban cat who knows his $hit. I took up classes after 5 months into learning to play initially mimicking youtube.com and later the Tomasito series which I finished book two but without music to play along to. After watching my conga teacher play openly with massive improvisations you can imagine the downer of realizing how little you are as a conga player just starting out. Anyways he praised my tones (which made my day) and said there is no more to be done regarding that aspect of learning but the teacher did emphasize always playing or landing on the down beat if either at the 4, 8, 16 or 32 count but always in step so to speak. Actually he stressed this as key to progressing. I think this is where the skill/talent crossroads intersect, those with sound who struggle to follow rhythm or those with rhythm who struggle to achieve that dominating sound that sounds so sweet.

I fall into the first school of sound but no swing. I can play a wicked salidor tres golpe, columbia, or a solid in-the-pocket tumbao no problem but without the swing of flams and accents which really makes the difference. Similar to the 7 hour practice thread elsewhere on this site, my opinion is that if after sufficient dedication the talent will come out or it won't. I think pocket playing is the first milestone in really learning. My unqualified opinion lends to the belief that freestyle is not only playing what you interpret in your head, assuming the talent is there, but more importantly translating those thoughts from brain to wrist in the framework of the beat while landing on time. Of course there is the element of flavor and "less is more" but that is the talent factor aside from skill that distinguishes really great players from good ones who don't have the cohesiveness or lack the ego to lay low in certain situations. This is what I see as crucial to achieving the liberty of playing free...practice, practice, practice...1...2...3...4...1...2...3...4 tahtahtahtah 1...2...3...4 along with a groovy instrumental. Some of my ideas come from what others have told me so don't think I think I am a know it all ni nada de eso, just imparting what I learned or have been told. Peace!
User avatar
tigre77
 
Posts: 86
Joined: Mon Mar 15, 2010 10:06 pm

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby jorge » Wed May 26, 2010 2:29 am

Play for the sound.
jorge
 
Posts: 1011
Joined: Thu Jun 15, 2006 3:47 am
Location: Teaneck, NJ

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby goingquinto » Wed May 26, 2010 11:06 am

Great topic. My 2 cents: I think it depends on what kind of music you are playing, and who is playing it with you. When I play with a salsa type band, I tend to stay in the pocket almost the whole show. Then, when I go play with a rock/funk band , I tend to play a lot more freely. The rock group has a drum kit already keeping the basic timing, so I don't feel the need to "hold it down" so much. I guess you could say I'm in a quinto role in the rock band, sort of. And if I am playing, the drum kit player is very good about not doing as many fills as he usually would, to leave me some space. I guess I'm saying I just look at each situation, and try to hear what is missing, what part would make it better. I usually steer towards "less is more" myself.
goingquinto
 
Posts: 83
Joined: Mon Feb 25, 2008 9:32 pm
Location: Asheville, NC

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby CongaTick » Wed May 26, 2010 11:52 am

Provocative replies to BNB's inquiry. The dynamic challenge of playing with kit players with varying (or no) degree of experience playing with congas/percussion is a constant for many of us in non-folloric/traditional groups. Less is more-- for me-- is a continuing and conscious challenge. KNOWING the "less" that IS "more" is the key.
CongaTick
 
Posts: 1257
Joined: Sun Dec 29, 2002 3:49 pm

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby pavloconga » Wed May 26, 2010 12:12 pm

bongosnotbombs wrote:
How do you guys make the decision of playing straight versus playing open?


For me, it depends first on the musical situation/context.

If it's a band playing salsa, then I'm going to play pretty much like the original song, with a little extra flavour here and there depending on the arrangement of the song.

If I'm playing in a funk or jazz situation, then it's a quite a different. I have more freedom and can play more free form - but not too freeform. Rather than playing say a typical latin tumbao, I may (for example) play an African rhythm which I've adapted to the congas, then quote from some of the phraseology of that particular rhythm into the song where appropriate. The most important thing I think is my gut feel for what I think the song needs. I'd rather nail the groove in a simple way than overplay.

Also, as I often play as an all-around percussionist in a funk/soul situation, I think it's important to know when not to play the congas. I try to break things up a bit in terms of the band's entire performance. On some songs I may not play congas at all, or to play the congas only in certain sections. I may play a combination of bell patterns with one hand/conga with the other, or bell patterns/shakers/tamb/talking drum etc. When the congas come back in, they sound altogether sweeter.

my 2c!
User avatar
pavloconga
 
Posts: 548
Joined: Mon Dec 26, 2005 12:41 am
Location: Australia

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby windhorse » Wed May 26, 2010 12:16 pm

Good question,, and good answers! I really like Tigre77's response. It's really heart warming to see a "new guy" approach the topic humbly and with big awareness. Some good teachers on this list, and people with big ears! :D

And the guy who posted the question is no slouch either! BNB can rock the house!

Just FYI, last night I joined our Middle school band. The kids were so appreciative of my joining them on their Latin tune. I did 3 rehearsals of the tune this previous week, and they already had a conga pair, drum set, and clave. So, I was thinking, "Well, do I just play shaker? Oust the clave and take that over? Take over the conguero and hurt his feelings? Just hit a few licks here and there hopefully without stepping on the conga, but feel like I didn't add anything - and why am I here?"
It wasn't really that bad in the end. The band director insisted I play a drum, so I brought in my quinto, and chose a few fills since the kid playing congas was staying really basic with his tumbao.. And he wasn't bad either. The thing that really got them pumped up was I did a basic quick roll at that classic fill spot we've all heard when the whole band stops, and the conga just does a long roll into the next segment of the song. I sort of kept a basic tumbao as a ride, but accented the slaps so that the tones wouldn't clash with the kid on congas, and my slaps stood out where his were just muffled touches. I think it was tasteful, and the kid on congas smiled and grooved right with me.
Anyway, it was a blast to play with my kiddos who I just love like crazy. It's something special when they acknowledge you as a mentor, a coach, and an honored team player.
User avatar
windhorse
 
Posts: 1430
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2003 9:01 pm
Location: Boulder/CO

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby bongosnotbombs » Wed May 26, 2010 3:52 pm

Well the main reason I asked is that I'm often surprised what I'm asked to play.
For example, in a jazz trio with a bass and sax, I'm asked to play more free, when I figured they want me holding it down.
A small jazz combo with bass, guitar, piano a singer and myself, I'm asked to hold it down and keep it simple, where with 3 other rhythm instruments I'd thought I'd they'd want me to open up more.
A small group playing Spanish and Cuban oriented songs from Buena Vista and Ojos de Brujo, strong coros with a guitar/tres, sometimes a bass, trumpet and clave/,'m asked to play free, when I thought I would be playing more straight patterns.
Well anyways, it keeps me guessing. Looking back, I can see how the direction I was asked to play fit into each context, but each time I kind of started off the opposite way they wanted. :shock:
User avatar
bongosnotbombs
 
Posts: 2869
Joined: Fri Apr 06, 2007 4:17 am
Location: San Francisco, Ca

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby Anonimo » Sat May 29, 2010 11:27 am

POST REMOVED BY THE AUTHOR
Anonimo
 

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby alabubba » Tue Jun 01, 2010 4:00 am

goingquinto wrote:Great topic. My 2 cents: I think it depends on what kind of music you are playing, and who is playing it with you. When I play with a salsa type band, I tend to stay in the pocket almost the whole show. Then, when I go play with a rock/funk band , I tend to play a lot more freely. The rock group has a drum kit already keeping the basic timing, so I don't feel the need to "hold it down" so much. I guess you could say I'm in a quinto role in the rock band, sort of. And if I am playing, the drum kit player is very good about not doing as many fills as he usually would, to leave me some space. I guess I'm saying I just look at each situation, and try to hear what is missing, what part would make it better. I usually steer towards "less is more" myself.


I think along these lines as well. However, I have not yet had the opportunity to play with a latin band - I am bringing congas/percussion to a band which is mostly old-school Muscle Shoals musicians, so I keep it in the pocket letting the kit drummer set up and stay in charge of the main groove, while I select and layer in appropriate (and wonderful) Afro-Cuban rhythms from those that I have learned (and the list keeps getting longer, as it should) in such a way that they add sophistication and enhance the overall groove (such that the dancers never want to stop dancing). This approach suits me well, and the audience seems to appreciate it also. I can swing almost every rhythm I know, move fluidly between one rhythm and another whenever appropriate, and play tastefully in support of pretty much any song (realizing there most certainly are some songs where you just lay out on congas, but maybe play shaker, bells, tambourine, etc.). However, I am not at the level of playing congas where I feel ready to solo - my artistry, such as it is, is currently at its best when I am playing "within" the rhythm section rather than out in front of it. So no quinto role for me for now! :)

My $0.02 :D
Bob

vids
User avatar
alabubba
 
Posts: 90
Joined: Sat Mar 25, 2006 3:41 am
Location: Alabama

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby Omelenko1 » Tue Jun 01, 2010 5:49 pm

When you play Afro Cuban music (Salsa, latin dance music) you have to play a straight tumbao and for the most part on "one conga" only, when the coro or mambo comes, then you incorporate the tumbao using two congas. When the sonero is singing you keep the tumbao on one conga, the timbalero plays cascara and the bongocero plays martillo. When the mambo breaks and the coro begins, the conguero incorporates the tumbao on two congas, the timbalero plays the bell and the bongocero plays the cowbell. This is the "mandated" discipline that must be followed when playing Latin dance music or Salsa.
I often play with a Latin rock/oldies group (Santana, War, Tower of Power, Credence Clearwater, Temptations, Curtis Mayfield...). I really rather play Salsa or Latin jazz, that's where my heart is. When I play with this Latin rock/oldies group I start with playing tumbao and then I add some songo patterns, which I know it adds to the groove of the song. I don't have to keep the strong accentuated "one conga tumbao" in this setting and I play a two conga tumbao adding "songo" as well as "mozambique" and sometimes even "a caballo" patterns. Here the playing is more free and eventhough "afinque" has to always be there, is not as essential as when you play in a salsa setting for dancers. In this less structured setting I take a set of bongos on a stand in top of the congas, I take a shekere , maracas and tamboring and I use my judgement on when to use them.
However, my heart is in the "mazacote" created with the conga, bongo and timbal, where less is best and where "afinque" and "in the pocket" is the name of the game. Mongo, Bobo, Puente. Barretto, Vilato, Dandy. Oquendo, Tommy Lopez. Tata, Berretico, Yeyito. That's where is at.

Dario
Omelenko1
 
Posts: 1170
Joined: Wed Jul 23, 2008 12:33 am

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby vinnieL » Wed Jun 02, 2010 8:41 am

I tend to really enjoy listening to guys that play in the pocket and hold rock steady. At least thats what I try to emulate sound and staying in the groove. I had the pleasure of jamming a little with Omelenko and thats what I was trying to key in on is staying clean and in the pocket.
User avatar
vinnieL
Moderator
 
Posts: 768
Joined: Wed Jul 11, 2007 7:20 am
Location: ft lauderdale

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby tigre77 » Thu Jun 03, 2010 2:33 am

So then can we agree that pocket playing whatever tumbao for uncomfortable lengths doesn't fly in latin jazz situations and latin jazz freestyling to the extreme cannot co-exist in a big band salsa situation? Also can we agree those who can play mongo-like latin jazz conga parts with the swing of playing free are superior conga musicians to those that for whatever reason can only play in the pocket without swing ability??

Omelenko1 said the absolute truth but I think this post is spot lighting a small band situation where musicians are short and everyone needs to step up a notch in order to fill the auditory void, no? Which in that case regardless of latin jazz or salsa everyone must fill more to compensate for the lack of *fill_in_the_blank_instrument/musician*, or so I think. Granted, I lack the experience to lay it down definitively but is there any truth to my understanding of this post? Of course this is assuming bongos band mates are not selfish bastards who make him play less so his shine does not envelope their puny musical aurora. :twisted: Siempre positivo!
User avatar
tigre77
 
Posts: 86
Joined: Mon Mar 15, 2010 10:06 pm

Re: Playing in the pocket vs Playing free

Postby bongosnotbombs » Thu Jun 03, 2010 5:00 am

It's more of like I'm making the wrong assumptions of what the group I'm playing with wants every time. I'm capable of mixing it with variations every bar and I'm also capable of playing a straight tumbao for 7 bars with a fill on the 8th or whatever for a whole song. But when I assume a group is going to want it one way, they always seem to ask for the other. Like I said, the son guys wanted more free playing and the jazz quintet wanted more straight and the jazz trio wanted more free.

I think this post is spot lighting a small band situation where musicians are short and everyone needs to step up a notch in order to fill the auditory void, no?


Now this right here makes a lot of sense when I look back at the size of the groups and actually it's very helpful. I hadn't thought of it this way, thanks a lot.
User avatar
bongosnotbombs
 
Posts: 2869
Joined: Fri Apr 06, 2007 4:17 am
Location: San Francisco, Ca

Next

Return to Congas Technique, Rhythms and Exercises

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests