Working with Click Tracks for Percussionists
The aim of this page is to help you develop
confidence in working with click tracks, so that you can use them
to your advantage. By persevering your general time-keeping will
The term 'click track' often strikes fear in many musicians, especially drummers.
Usually through a lack of experience.
Forget excuses such as:
"It will stifle my creativity"
"It makes the music too rigid"
"The music will sound clinical"
Most of today’s top drummers have mastered
the art of working with a click track and their 'feel' remains
You will almost certainly encounter 'the click' during your drumming/percussion career. So let's take a brief look at
so that you can be comfortable with them and know how to use them.
What is a Click?
A click is a constant pulse, beat or rhythm
generated by a metronome, rhythm box or other source which
enables musicians to stay at a chosen speed (tempo).
A click may also be programmed to maintain a chosen tempo increase throughout a piece of music.
Clicks are especially valuable in helping musicians to develop their 'internal clock/internal metronome', thus enhancing their general time-keeping when a click is not in use.
Practising with a Click
Below are some ideas on how to use a click as part
of an effective practice routine. As always this list is NOT an
exhaustive one, and specific tutors (books, videos and tapes) on
practice technique will provide you with lots more ideas.
A 'visual click' e.g., flashing light or LCD on
the metronome, is an alternative to an audible click/bleep, and
will help to develop visual skills and 'staying in time with what
The mechanical metronome shown here is a good option as you can 'watch time' as the pendulum swings, but be aware that its time becomes rather erratic as the spring winds down!
If you are practicing using drums/percussion which is quite loud and want to use an audible click, the use of an electronic sound source with headphone outputs is recommended. You can then use headphones/earphones to monitor (hear) the click. Alternatively, use a visual metronome.
WARNING: When monitoring a click using headphones/earphones ALWAYS set the level (volume) of the click in your headphones at the MINIMUM possible to reduce the risk of permanent damage to your hearing.
The following exercises are a guide to practice.
BE PATIENT and PERSEVERE. It may take you days, weeks, months or even years to become really comfortable and competent at working with a click and using it to your advantage.
Try using the following approach when practicing.
Start the exercises with only your right hand
b. Switch to using your left hand
c. Repeat using both hands, practicing various rudiments
d. Once comfortable with your hands, start to work on your right foot
e. Move on to your left foot
f. Then work on hand-foot co-ordination for rhythms and for 'breaks'.
Focus on where the strokes that you play fall relative to the click.
Start the click at about 100 beats per minute (bpm).
Play one stroke/beat/accent on each click of the metronome.
Listen carefully to where your beats/accents fall RELATIVE to the click (see image below)
a. Are they EARLIER than the click ('BEFORE THE BEAT')?
b. Are they exactly on the click ('ON THE BEAT')?
c. Are they LATER than the click ('BEHIND THE BEAT')?
At first that your beats/accents may not fall consistently in the same place. You may also find that your 'weaker' hand/foot plays in a different place relative to the click compared with your 'stronger' hand/foot.
a. First, aim to get each beat/accent CONSISTENTLY 'on' the
b. Then aim to get each beat/accent CONSISTENTLY 'before' the click.
c. Then aim to get each beat/accent CONSISTENTLY' after' the click.
Click on the picture below to see a diagram of this.
Playing with a Click
Relax whilst playing so that you can begin to
concentrate on where your beats/accents are falling relative to
Notice whether you are speeding-up or slowing down and adjust your playing to maintain a constant speed.
It may take you 5, 10 or 15 minutes, or longer at the beginning of a practice session to 'settle down' into playing with the click. DON'T WORRY ABOUT THIS; the time WILL get less as you become more experienced.
KEEP WORKING AT IT, you WILL get there in the end.
Once you are comfortable with 100 bpm, speed the click up to 120 bpm and repeat the above exercises.
You may then like to increase the speed still further.
HOWEVER, the more difficult exercises are at SLOW tempos (below 80 bpm). Try taking the click down to 80, 70, 60, 50 and even 40 bpm if your click will go that slowly.
REMEMBER: The aim is to become a more ‘all-round’ player so that you are comfortable and accurate, and can play with a good ‘feel’ at SLOWER speeds, as well at higher speeds.
As you become more relaxed you WILL be able to
inject more feeling into your playing.
For a bit of ‘fun’ you might like to try the following:
a. Play along to a click until you're comfortable
b. Switch the click off whilst keeping playing
c. Switch the click back on again and see where you are relative to the click.
The range of drums and 'toys' used by
percussionists can be huge, and includes drums, shakers, hand
drums, bells and tambourines. These present the percussionist
with a number of different challenges for playing with a click.
REPEAT the above exercises above using other 'toys'
The BASIC PRINCIPLES remain the same:
a. Listen to the click.
b. Play the instrument and listen for where the stroke or accent falls relative to the click.
c. Practice at one speed until you're relaxed, then play at a range of higher AND lower speeds.
d. Practice playing 'before', 'on', and 'after' the beat.
e. Practice with both hands.
f. Where combinations of instruments will be used e.g., shaker and congas, practice these together. Concentrate on the individual sounds and the sounds together and see how they 'sit' with the click (and with each other!).
g. If you use foot pedals e.g., for hi-hats, bass drum, cowbell, tambourine etc, practice playing these with the click.
Remember, and to repeat what I've already said, As you become more relaxed you WILL be able to inject more feeling into your playing.
Perseverance with click tracks WILL improve all areas of your time- keeping and playing. The PERCUSSIONIST who can work with click tracks and play with feeling is a much sought-after individual. So keep going and reap the rewards. It's worth the effort!
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