Working with clicks – why and how?

Simon DringBlog

metronome

DING-donk-donk-donk
DING-donk-donk-donk
DING-donk-donk-donk
DING-donk-donk-donk

For some drummers, this sound drives fear into their hearts, causes the hands to sweat, and the brain to fry. However, the metronome is an essential tool for both practice and performance.

I have worked with clicks, backing tracks, drum machines and sequencers for many years. To be honest, I love working to a click. I don’t have to worry whether a song is a little too fast or too slow. The click is right. Playing to a click allows you to do many things. Here are a few situations where (and why) I have worked with a click:

LIVE #1

A band that plays 90s Dance music (think Vanilla Ice, Prodigy, MC Hammer). A lot of the material is on backing track, mainly because if they were to hire musicians to play EVERYTHING you hear, you’d end up with over a dozen people on stage, with piles of keyboards/samplers, extra vocalists, etc. Therefore, a lot of the sounds are on computer and sequenced. However the drums are not. The drums are live. I play to a click*. Without the click, I couldn’t stay in time with the tracks.

Even more cleverley, some of the songs the band perform have a “audio commentary” that only the musicians hear on stage. So in my ears, as well as the click, the backing tracks and of course the live instruments, I also hear a pre-recorded voice that tells me when the chorus is coming up, when I should cut down to just bass drum, when to add crash cymbals, and when the song is about to end, and how. I have to trust the commentary track 100%, but it works.

For this computerised contemporary music, the click is vital. I have to recreate what machines would have done originally.

Live #2

genista click 2With another band, one particular song we performed needed 6 backing vocal parts that the three of us were obviously unable to replicate live. Therefore, we recorded some backing vocals to a click, and put them on my sampler (a trust Roland SPD-S). I had to fire off the correct vocal sample at the correct time, whilst playing drums and singing my own backing vocal part. And this song had to be performed to a click to make sure we were in time with the sampled vocals. Ouch. Felt a bit like an octopus when I played it.  but it worked. In fact, I had quite a few drummers ask me after the gigs what I’d used the SPD-S for, and were quite surprised when I said there were vocal samples on there. Seamless!

(the photo above demonstrates the electronics I used for this gig – SPD-S and Clickstation)

 

Studio

In the studio, clicks are used 99% of the time. This is for 2 reasons: 1) to make sure the track keeps a steady tempo 2) to ensure that once the track is recorded, any edits are easy to perform. Once you have recorded a song to a click, it is relatively easy to cut, copy and paste parts of the song into other parts. Without a click, we naturally move the tempo around, which may not work once editing begins.

HOW to work with a Click

Practice. Practice. Practice.

A vast amount of modern music is recorded to a click, so playing along with songs can help a lot as you will be playing to tracks with “perfect” time. Once you are comfortable with keeping time to a full song, then try with a metronome.

Stay relaxed.

Don’t feel that you’re racing to keep with the click. Instead, relax into it.

Listen.

Realise that if you are playing 100% WITH the click, you’ll probably be playing strong notes on each click sound, and will therefore not be able to hear the click if you are 100% accurate. This of course panics a lot of drummers, as they will be playing to a click, will realise they cannot hear it, and assume they are out of time. You may only hear the click when you are OUT of time. Weird eh?

Experiment.

try different click sounds, patterns and volumes. Many drummers prefer to have a shaker/conga loop to play with instead of a simple crotchet cowbell part. And don’t be tempted to have the click too loud. You’ll be surprised how loud you DON’T need it…!

Which metronome?

There are 3 main options:

1) The small portable electronic metronome: price: £15.00

metronomeAdvantages:

  • – cheap
  • – portable

Disadvantages:

  • – sometimes too quiet to hear (even with headphones) when drumming.
  • <>– headphones may only work one side!

2) Metronome app: £0 to £5.00

metronome-appAdvantages:

  • – even cheaper than the metronome above
  • – often has advanced features that the cheap electronic one won’t do

Disadvantages:

  • – need a smartphone/iPod Touch to use

3) Professional metronome: Yamaha ClickStation or Tama RhythmWatch

YAMAHA click stationAdvantages:

  • – high quality, programmable
  • – advanced functions
  • – loud
  • – powered by batteries or plug in to mains
  • – mountable on drum kit

Disadvantages:

  • – expensive

* When I say play to a click, I prefer to think that the click plays to ME. Instead of seeing (hearing) the click as the master, it’s much more healthy to think of it as a person you are playing with who happens to have perfect time. In my head, there’s a chap called “Juan” (Juan/one. See what I did there?) sitting next to me playing cowbell keeping everything together. Juan is great.