Click Track Use in Drumming: The Hows and Whys
Even if you are just beginning your journey as a drummer, the chances are high that you have heard the mysterious phrase “click track” more than once. But what’s the meaning behind the two words? Some people would tell you it’s nothing but a crutch, while others would insist that you should never miss an opportunity to incorporate click tracks into your drumming practice. Stick around to find out what a click track for drummers is and how to get the best of one.
What Is a Click Track and Why Bother to Use It?
Probably somewhat surprisingly, a click track is a term that refers to an audio piece. To understand the origin of the name better, try to answer the question: what does “track” mean in music? The term has a number of industry-specific meanings, all of which suggest that it is a sequence of sounds that are perceived as a whole.
Talking about click tracks specifically, the phrase is used to denote an electronically generated metronome, that is, a software version of the device meant to help you maintain the right rhythm and tempo. If you are using a digital audio workstation, what it produces as click tracks is a set of samples played at a pre-set tempo.
Click Tracks as a Drummer’s Aid
There are several ways in which an audio track packed with cues to help you stay tuned can help a drumming enthusiast or even a professional player. First of all, it can be helpful if you are just learning to play and have trouble maintaining the right tempo throughout a song. In this case, a click track can be used as an electronic equivalent of the metronome. This will add extra value to your practice and help you develop your sense of rhythm and tempo. A common objection to this is that always practicing to a click track kills your ability to improvise, so you might want to fully unleash your inner drummer every once in a while and see what happens.
When it comes to playing with a group of other musicians, timekeeping becomes crucial. Speaking of modern music, it’s usually the drummer who brings together the various parts played by the rest of the band and is responsible for synchronizing the performance. This applies to recording as well as live performances. In the former case, click tracks can improve efficiency dramatically by sparing the team many tedious attempts to produce well-synchronized sound. It’s safe to say that using click tracks as metronomes has become the standard. That is, if you are looking for a recording studio and aren’t sure which to choose, make sure the one you are considering is comfortable with click tracks as it can immensely speed up editing.
On-stage performances can immensely benefit from the use of click tracks. This is especially true if the stage is too large or the musicians are positioned too far from each other to hear what each of them is playing well. Alternatively, the audio you use can offer just a count-in to help you catch the tempo. If you play in a band that uses some backing music and falling out of tempo is not an option as it will make the “cheating” part of your performance all too stark, click tracks are again a great solution.
In-ear monitors, often abbreviated to IEMs, are probably the most common drum click track machine for on-stage as well as in-studio playing. These offer a considerable degree of noise isolation while also supplying into your ear exactly the cues that you need to do your job well. Usually, it’s the downbeat that’s enhanced.
Finally, there are situations when a musician might need a steady beat for improvisation purposes, such as during songwriting sessions. This is another application of click tracks that can eliminate a lot of tiresome, repetitive performance.
If you are working with a recording studio, it’s normally the audio engineer who’s responsible for click tracks and similar synchronizing tools. For practice purposes, though, you can use DAW software to produce a free click track according to your frequency settings. Many applications also enable you to play with a wide range of samples in search of the ideal click track. Online click track generators tend to offer less variety but can still suffice for practice and songwriting purposes.
Beware of the Pitfalls
While it’s more or less typical of drumming enthusiasts to feel enthusiastic about using click tracks, you might hear that the instrument is nothing but a crutch to help those incapable of truly feeling a piece’s beat. This is partly true because the task of keeping the tempo is essentially delegated to a piece of equipment. You are thus spared a lot of effort, but you also run the risk of never actually learning to improvise.
Whether this is bad depends on your preferred genre. Obviously, a drummer who’s mostly interested in jazz is likely to only use click tracks very sparingly for the purpose of practicing since finding yourself unprepared to deal with surprises is not a way to live when all you seek is unrestricted expression. On the other hand, other styles can require meticulous precision. With heavy metal, for example, maniacal timekeeping tends to be essential, so click tracks should not be avoided.
Another situation where using a click track might be challenging is where the tempo of a piece changes multiple times. Unifying it is most likely to kill the song’s charm, but making a full-fledged tempo map can be a time-consuming process. Therefore, some musicians choose to trust their instincts when playing some highly variable musical pieces. Alternatively, you can use your device to switch the click on/off as needed, for example, when dealing with bridges.
Click Track for Drums FAQ
Here’s a small selection of essential and common questions that beginner drummers tend to ask answered briefly. For more details on the subjects mentioned, please read the above sections.
What does a click track do?
A click track is essentially a digital metronome, which is a vital tempo control tool for most musical instruments and not just the drums. That is, a click track is a device that produces clicks at a predetermined tempo, measured in beats per second, for you to hear and play along to.
How do you make a click track?
There’s a multitude of software products that can be used to make click tracks, including digital audio workstation software that allows you to change the track’s tempo as you play the clicks. Generally, any program that allows you to render the beat with reverb-free mono samples, such as woodblock ones, will do.
Do all bands use click tracks?
No. It depends on the genre as well as the band’s preferred setting. One situation where click tracks are a must is playing along with a backing because if you fail to synchronize with it, the whole performance will lose its glitz. However, musicians that rely heavily on “the flow” tend to avoid playing to a click except when recording.
Should I use a click track?
There’s no single answer to this. Click tracks can be immensely helpful whenever you have trouble keeping up the tempo or can’t afford to fall out of time with the rest of the band, so they are worth trying, to say the least. You might find that forever playing to the relentless click-click of the metronome track is too restrictive, though, so don’t forget to probe beyond the limits from time to time.
Clicking Your Way to Success
Click tracks have a vast scope of application in today’s music industry in general and drumming in particular. From producing a perfectly synced recording with your band to showing off your sense of rhythm during live performances, the metronome-like audios can be really helpful for professionals and beginners alike.
Do give the instrument a try if you feel hesitant, or share your experience with click tracks in the Comments section, if any. A list of favorite mono samples for DIY click tracks will be much appreciated.