Entry for EPMOW by Philip Tagg

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hocket, from French hoquet [Latin hoquetus] (= ‘hiccup’): musical performance technique in which individual notes or chords within musical phrases, not the complete phrases (see antiphony), are alternated between different voices, instruments or recorded tracks. Although the term is traditionally used to describe the technique in late medieval French motets (see ‘In seculum’), hockets are far from uncommon in modern popular music. A well-known example is the African woman shifting to and fro between voice and one-note pan pipe in the introduction to Herbie Hancock’s 1974 version of ‘Watermelon Man’. Indeed, hockets are a prominent feature of several African music cultures, not only among the Ba-Benzélé featured on the Hancock recording, but also among the Mbuti, the Basarwa (Khoisan) and Gogo (Tanzania) (Nketia, 1974: 167). In a more general sense, fast alternation of one or two notes between voices, instruments and timbres not only contributes massively to the dynamic of timbral and rhythmic distinctness that is intrinsic to the polyphonic and polyrhythmic structuration of much music in Subsaharan Africa (Nketia, 1974; Chernoff, 1979): it also gives evidence of ‘social partiality for rapid and colourful antiphonal interchange’ (Sanders, 1980). Such partiality may also help explain the predilection for hocketing found in funk music where the technique is intentionally employed for purposes of zestful accentuation and interjection. Typical examples of funk hocketing are the quick, agogic interplay between high and low slap bass notes, or the fast interchange between extremely short vocal utterances, stabs from the horn section and interpunctuations from the rest of the band (e.g. James Brown, Larry Graham). These affective qualities of hocketing were certainly recognised by medieval European clerics who characterised it as lascivius (= fun) propter sui mobiltatem et velocitatem. In 1325, Pope John XXII issued a bull banning its use in church (Sanders, 1980).

Another type of hocketing has been developed in response to restrictions of instrument technology. For example, the Andean practice of sharing the tonal vocabulary of a piece between two or more pan pipes (zampoñas) and their players demands skillful hocketing to produce runs of notes that are in no way intended to sound like hiccups (see Morricone, 1989). Advanced hocketing is also practised in Balinese gamelan music where very short portions of melody are allocated to many different players to produce highly complex sound patterns.


Chernoff, John Miller. 1979. African Rhythm and Sensibility. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nketia, J H Kwabena. 1974. The Music of Africa. New York: Norton.

Sanders, Ernest H. 1980. ‘Hocket’. New Grove, vol 8: 608. London: Macmillan.

Musical references:

Brown, James. 1996. ‘Get On The Good Foot’; ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’; ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’. Cold Sweat. Hallmark 305802. Recorded live at Chastain Park, Atlanta, 1978.

Graham Central Station. 1974. Release Yourself. Warner Brothers 56062.

Hancock, Herbie. 1974. Head Hunters. CBS S 65928.

‘Hindewhu’. Music of the Ba-Benzélé. 1969. Bärenreiter-Musicaphon BML 30L 2303.

‘In seculum’. Instrumental motet in the Codex Bamberg, 1908 edition ‘Cent motets du XIIIe siècle’. Cited by A.T. Davison and W. Apel in Historical Anthology of Music, vol. 1: 34. Harvard University Press, 1949.

Morricone, Ennio. 1989. ‘No Escape’, zampoñas played by Raffaele & Felice Clemente (‘Trencito de los Andes’). Casualties of War. CBS 466016 2.

Musik från Tanzania (ed. K. Malm). 1974. Caprice RIKS LPX 8.