No drummer is born with the ability to perfectly adhere to click, and failure to do so leads to frustrations on behalf of the drummer and his band. So why use this tool if it so often leads to frustrations, and is certainly easier to go without? Firstly, it improves band cohesion and lessens sloppiness. From a band’s perspective, it might feel more organic for tempo to ebb and flow with the dynamics of a song, but to the audience, it just feels disjointed. While it may feel restricting to the band, the product that click yields is much more professional and excellent to the audience. Secondly, think of everything you give up by not playing to click. Most top-tier worship bands are implementing the use of backing-tracks as a way of serving their congregation with a more excellent product. When you play with tracks, you have the option to insert a guide track that inserts reference cues throughout a song so your band knows what’s next at all times. None of this is possible without click, because you’d need to stay perfectly in time with the track, and that’s not possible without a consistent tempo reference.
Simply stated, playing to click creates a more polished, cohesive product and allows you to utilize tools that raise your level of excellence. How then can a band utilize a click track when most drummers find it so unnatural and frustrating? What follows are strategies to improve a drummer’s ability to play to click.
Start slow and work your way up
Simply put: drummers struggle with lower bpms, because their reference track is less present; there’s more space between each metronome sound. It might take more skill to play fast, but it takes more discipline to play slow.
Practice, practice, practice your fills
Fills are a great opportunity to lose click. Practice the fundamentals of each fill with click, so even when your fill varies slightly from what you’ve practiced, you’ll still play in time.
Set a good in-ear mix
It’s so easy to lose click with a muddy mix or a mix that has several competing sounds that drown each other out. A clear, well balanced mix allows every instrument to be heard without burying or washing out click.
Pan click slightly to the left or right
This only works if you have stereo in-ear mixes. If you’re having a hard time finding click in your mix, pan click slightly right or left so it sticks out more.
If there’s too much space between each click sound, double the rate for a more consistent reference. For example, if your click is set to play on 1/4 notes, move to 1/8 notes with an accent every other note.
Get the right click sound
With technology today, you can find virtually any sound you want and use it as a metronome sound. Some use drum sounds, but when the band comes in full, it’s hard to distinguish live drums from click. It’s important to find a sound that sticks out, but still allows you to hear other instruments in your monitors.
Know where you’re prone to wander
Most drummers are prone to fluctuate tempo on builds and fills. Figure out where these moments of fluctuation occur for you, and practice them to click until you can play them on auto-pilot.
Eliminate playing without some form of tempo accountability
The best way to improve at anything is to do it–a lot. The more you play to click, the more natural it will feel. No one likes playing to click at first because it’s hard, but the more you do it, the easier it will be.
Whether you’re perfectly aligned with click or just can’t seem to get it, improvement can be made with the right combination of strategy and effort. Like any muscle, this ability must be exercised over time for it to grow; Implementing the above strategies and committing to individual practice will allow you to enjoy the pros of playing to click as the frustrations fade away over time.