In my opinion, the number one priority on a musicians ‘to do’ list should be to practice playing along to a click track or metronome.
I’ve met a surprising amount of musicians who have never practiced in this way. “Isn’t it the drummers job to keep time?” In part, absolutely. However, every member of the band should feel comfortable playing along to a click or metronome. Why? Because it will make you a better musician and you’ll begin to play and jive as a band, instead of 5 instruments playing their own part.
Practicing your timing is even more critical in the studio. And isn’t the goal of any musician to actually record your music? I sure hope so. In my opinion, practicing and learning how to play along to a click is not only a necessary skill — it becomes an art form.
Here’s a few tips and tricks that will help you get on the right ‘track’:
Your New Best Friend
Plain and simple: The click track is your new best friend in the studio. Too many times, I’ve seen and heard other players (and good ones) talk about the click as this dreaded, painful experience. The main reason for this attitude is that they’ve never practiced with a metronome. Then the session finally calls and it’s a battle the whole time for this amazing player to have feel.
Choose sounds wisely: Another popular myth for this ‘lack of feel’ when using a click is choosing the right sounds! For example, as a drummer — when I play along to a click track in the studio — I immediately pick anything other than drum sounds. Too many times, we set up the easy hi-hat or snare drum click, which sounds exactly like your drum kit! What happens is this tug of war game and confusion as to whether you’re hearing your playing or this so-called click. If you’re a guitar player, you probably wouldn’t want to play along with an annoying plucking guitar string sound, right? So — pick a nice, distinguished sound or loop and get to it.
Check your cerebellum: Definition — The cerebellum (Latin for little brain) is a region of the brain that plays an important role in motor control. Studies have shown that the cerebellum is our natural ‘internal clock’. A good exercise when playing to a metronome or click is to shift your prospective as if the click is following you! This way of thinking will subconsciously calibrate your internal clock to naturally follow the tempo. The key here is to relax, keep it simple and don’t over think it.
Finally, the most important point that I can make is to practice, practice, practice. I know it’s a cliche to say that practice makes perfect — well, it’s true. Don’t record another song without setting up your click track. If you’re in a band and you’re rehearsing your next big gig, try rehearsing with a click. You’d be surprised how much tighter the songs will be. Plus, you’ll become a better a musician as a result.