How do I keep time with a click track?
November 30, 2005 6:14 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep time with a click track? I've played in a band, and I can keep time with other people both live and when recording. But when I'm recording solo, I can't seem to keep time with the click track without slowing down the song and/or losing all the feeling of the music. So I mostly do only one-track recordings even though I have the technical capability to do more. Indie musicians, how do you do it?
posted by scottreynen to Grab Bag (19 answers total)
Practice practice practice. Sorry, that's all I can really tell you.

Although if you can, somethings programming the "click" with an actual beat instead of the relentless click might help too.
posted by jasonlatshaw at 6:28 PM on November 30, 2005

I agree. It really is a matter of getting used to the "artificial" circumstances of overdubbing, and gaining the ability to orchestrate in your head while technically only hearing one part. Programming a basic beat, if you're using a drum machine or somesuch, can help immensely. Even if you have to record a "metronomic" bass part or drum track to get the basic meter down on tape, you can always re-record those scratch parts once you've added more to the skeleton.
posted by mykescipark at 6:39 PM on November 30, 2005

I find if I'm playing guitar or bass to a click track, tapping my foot helps a great deal. Playing the drums to a click track is hell, though, and always comes out sounding robotic.

Jasonlatshaw's idea of changing the click track to something else ie. a programmed drum track is also something I'd recommend.
posted by iamcrispy at 6:40 PM on November 30, 2005

Drummer here.

I record with a click all the time, and while it was a little bizarre to get used to at first, it eventually became second nature. Try adjusting both the volume and the type of click, if your machine allows it. I found that certain "click sounds" were easier for me to get along with. Good luck.
posted by peewee at 6:41 PM on November 30, 2005

See if you can double the speed of the click track, so that it clicks not only on the beat, but on the in-between beat as well. The beats will be more frequent, with less space in between, and it might be easier to stay on track (no pun intended).
posted by kdern at 6:53 PM on November 30, 2005

Do you practice with a metronome? If not, maybe that would help.
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:58 PM on November 30, 2005

I'm seconding the suggestions to use a track that sounds more like actual drums and to tap your foot (or twitch or whatever helps). Practicing with a metronome would probably help too, but I have a hard time making myself sit down and do that.
posted by clarahamster at 7:03 PM on November 30, 2005

Best answer: Learn to relax. Loosen up. Dim the lights. Empty your mind and just play like you would if you weren't recording.

The more you practice, the closer you get to being able to do it. It'll happen suddenly, then you'll lose it for awhile, then you'll suddenly be much better at it.

Adjusting levels can also help.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:05 PM on November 30, 2005

If you don't already do this, just listen in one ear. If your hearing is noticeably better on one side, put the click track in that ear. Leave your other ear free to hear the sounds you're making. It will be choppy for a little while, but then you'll get it and you won't lose it.
posted by Tholian at 7:13 PM on November 30, 2005

I can only say two things:

1. Click tracks suck, I hate them to death and they are the death of real music.

2. Turn that baby up so loud it hurts. And then imagine it's a thumping bass or a psycho with a tom tom.

Beyond that, there is no hope. I lament the death of real music.
posted by Decani at 7:22 PM on November 30, 2005

Try a metronome with a swinging arm like the one your childhood piano teacher had. The visual cue of the pendulum going back and forth is a lot easier to keep track of (for me at least) than an isolated TOK-TOK-TOK.
posted by stet at 7:34 PM on November 30, 2005

While I've never played with a click track, the advice from a friend who ran a studio was for people who were unfamiliar to get high as hell, then to play along for an extra few minutes before starting tape, to get into the groove (though I'd assume this is bad for intros).
He was paid by the hour, though, so his advice might be seen to have a certain bias. He swore it relaxed people who were too stiff or overly hesitant though.
posted by klangklangston at 7:59 PM on November 30, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice. I have a snare drum sitting around, so I think I'll start my next recording by making a simple drum track and then play with that on other instruments. That will hopefully feel more natural than the click track, and I'll eventually build up a library of drum tracks for different tempos. I suspect ZenMasterThis pegged my problem. I'd probably find it a lot easier to focus on just my playing and the click track if I didn't have a dozen other things distracting me. I'll try recording with my eyes closed next time too.
posted by scottreynen at 8:31 PM on November 30, 2005

Like everyone else has said. It just takes practice.

When I use a click track, I will use musical sounds via midi if I can - kick & snare, or a repeated bass note or something. That way I can connect with it on something of a musical level.

I can play along with a simple metronome but I don't like to.
posted by Rubber Soul at 8:50 PM on November 30, 2005

another vote for practice ... it just takes awhile to get used to doing it that way ... drum loops or machines help
posted by pyramid termite at 9:22 PM on November 30, 2005

One of the reasons most people find playing along to a click-track such a bind is that clicks are absolutely robotic and hit dead on the beat wheras, chances are, the track you're trying to record isn't.

A good trick (which builds on things others have said above) is to add some level of "swing" or a groove template to the click-track. Normally you can't do this to the built-in metronome on most DAWs, so you'll need to put together a MIDI drum track. You need to plan ahead - if there's some syncopation (particularly in the bass drum, but less-so in the snare too) in the drums, reflect that in your click-track. Once you have a click that emulates somewhat the drums of the track you're trying to record, hit it with a bit of groove quantise, or even just 10-15% of swing. You'll suddenly find that much easier to play along to without losing the feel entirely...
posted by benzo8 at 12:29 AM on December 1, 2005

The reason that it's easier to keep time with other musicians is because they adjust to you as well, whereas a click-track keeps its own time mercilessly. Just practice practice practice.

The 'set the click track to twice the tempo' idea is good, but this might really kill any spontaneity in your playing, as you will have even more beats to keep time with, thus you will groove less during the off-beats.

Playing with a metronome is excellent practice for technique, but you don't need a click track to record multiple parts. I just lay down the most recognisible track first (generally the guitar), then just play/record along with it for the other instruments. This may mean you end at a slower or faster tempo than you started, but so what?
posted by pollystark at 2:06 AM on December 1, 2005

I'm a musician in a signed band, and totally comfortable playing with or without a click on my own or with instruments.

Firstly, I find that really knowing the track, your part, and everything will make things far easier.

Next, relax. Don't pressure yourself to record in one take. You've practiced this, you know your part inside out and you can perform this to a sweaty crowd of people - this is a studio and you can do it as much as you like. ever 10 takes of the same song will only take 45 mins tops.

Ok. Here's the fun part - you can adapt the click to your needs. It doesn't have to sound like "tick, tock-tock tock". You can add whatever sounds you like to the click. As many sounds as you want. As many clicks as you like. Hey, even add a guide vocal counting along to the click - make it work for you. It's your studio, it's your music, it's your time.

Then, if you still feel that you're fighting the click, it could be that the feel of the song doesn't fit the tempo all the way through the whole song. We found that in one of our songs, the chorus naturally sped up with the momentum of the song and the verses backed off. So, we made up a click track which was about 90BPM for the verse, and 95BPM in the chorus. That really worked for us, and today, I still don't hear a noticeable increase of the tempo in the track and it sounded great. And, crucially, it felt great and we managed the live take pretty much first off.

To conclude, playing to a click can make things harder. And you don't always have to do so, unless you're using some kind of midi type trigger which depends on tempo. The most important thing that I've learned is to chill out, be totally sure the click is right for the track and to make it work for us.

Hope this helps, we've all been there!
posted by triv at 5:05 AM on December 1, 2005

There's some good advice here. I'll just add (sorry if someone already said this) that you want to put the accent on the one of the measure. I only really pay attention to that beat of the click.

When I first started trying to use a click track, I'd try to focus too much on hitting every beat at exactly the same time as the click. Once I relaxed and only used the click as a guide, it was much easier.

Good luck.
posted by fletchmuy at 12:41 PM on December 1, 2005

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