How to get a drummer to play in time to a click track

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Monday September 16, 2019
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You're recording to a click track, but the drummer just can't hit the beat. What can you do?

A question from an Audio Masterclass website visitor...

How do you get a drummer or guitarist to play to a click track? It seems that I often run into 'musicians' that have never played to a click track before and they find it difficult to play to. Any suggestions?? - Stewart

It's an interesting question why anyone should want to record to a click track. After all, music has been made for thousands of years without a click track, so why start now?

One reason for a click track is so that a song is precisely at the same tempo all the way through. Without a click track it will almost certainly vary slightly.

But if a song maintains the same tempo, it can be edited in any way you like. This method developed in the 1980s when remix versions first became common.

The second reason for playing to a click is so that the contribution of the live musicians can be supplemented with sequenced tracks.

Yes it is possible to synchronize a sequencer to a varying tempo, but it's a lot easier if the tempo doesn't vary in the first place.

(There are other reasons too, but these are enough for now.)

So, how to get the drummer to play to the click? Or the guitarist, except it won't matter so much if he's out of time a little.

There are two keys to this...

Firstly, use a click that is easy to play to.

Secondly, encourage the drummer to practice playing to a click - this doesn't necessarily come naturally to even the best drummers.

Your sequencer will probably generate a metronome pulse, or you could easily sequence a repetitive click.

But this isn't very good for playing to. If the drummer is playing mostly on the beat, then he will be obscuring the clicks. The only occasions when he can hear the click is when he is out of time!

So if you make the click so it includes at least some of the in-between eighth notes, then the drummer will have something to lock on to.

Another strategy is to use a different sound for the click.

A shaker can work well, because there is a little bit of 'shh' before the main pulse of the sound. The drummer can hear this and know when the precise beat is coming.

Of course, you will have to adjust the timing of the sequence to compensate for this.

These methods both work. But the drummer has to help too, by practising. A drummer who can't play to a click isn't necessarily a bad drummer. But if he learns to play to a click, then he will have mastered a very useful technique.

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