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Drummers playing to a loop / click


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  • Drummers playing to a loop / click

    A post in the spam thread got me thinking about this, and I will probably ask in a few places, but I'd really like to know what you guys think. Do you have any experiences with your drummer playing to a click track in the studio, or to a loop or click live? How did it go? Can they handle it fine, or is it a problem / issue for them?

    I've always kind of been surprised whenever someone has a problem playing to a click or to a loop. As long as you can hear everything okay, to me, it's not much different than playing along to other musicians - they just have really good "time." Another analogy is playing along with the radio or to a record - again, something I've done a lot of, which probably helps, but I find it strange that others struggle so much with something that seems to be so basic to me - the ability to listen and play along with others.


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  • #2

    never had issues with drummers and clicks in studio situations.

    live, i was in a band that had a couple hiccups while playing along to a nintendo DS looping some noise.

    really though, the problem came from the drummer not being able to hear the loop loud/clear enough. when we were able to split the signal/send him more in the monitors or separate headphones it was fine.

    i can't imagine having in ear monitors or something and not being able to play along to it.



    • V
      V commented
      Editing a comment

      Usually I am ok with it as a guitarist or on bass. However, it does kind of kill some of the natural change in tempo that typically happens when you're playing and get into it.

  • #3

    Playing to a click in the studio is really important.  I consider myself a drummer first and foremost and one of the first things I learned was how to play to a metronome.  I don't understand how a lot of drummers overlook that.  Knowing when to bury the click and when to push/pull on the tempo is often what makes a good drummer a good drummer.  If they can't play to a click when recording it seems like a pretty clear sign that they don't have their **** together.


    Live gigs are another story.  I don't really think a click is necessary for anyone unless somebody is doing a lot of really bizarre delay/looping/crazy ****.  Otherwise it's kind of superfluous.


    • Player99
      Player99 commented
      Editing a comment
      When I play guitar to a CLICK CLICK track I find it difficult, but if that click noise get changed to anything else I have no problem. that sharp shrill staccato click drills right through my head. I like a snare if possible.

  • #4
    i suffer from that and consider it an entirely different struggle


    • #5
      Being a drummer for well over 40 years a click track takes a lot away from any song. Music is a living breathing thing where you feel each other out. Don't get me wrong I have played on many songs with a click track just don't care for it.


      • Phil O'Keefe
        Phil O'Keefe commented
        Editing a comment

        plasticguy wrote:
        Being a drummer for well over 40 years a click track takes a lot away from any song. Music is a living breathing thing where you feel each other out. Don't get me wrong I have played on many songs with a click track just don't care for it.


        That's a fair and reasonable point - music often benefits from some ebb and flow in the tempo department, and a great drummer can give you that in a very natural and musical way. Believe me, I'm not a producer who "forces" everyone to play to a grid just to make my editing life easier. I can edit and fly things around just fine, even without the grid.

        But there are drummers who can't play to a click (or facsimile) to save their lives, no matter how loud it is in their cans - even if that "click" is a rhythmic pattern of their choice using sounds they prefer, or a acoustic guitar or bass part that was laid down before they play, a click that was generated off the ebb and flow of live playing, or with tempo fluctuations manually programmed into the computer via a tempo map, etc.

        Yes, drummers like to determine and control the tempo - I get that. But in the real world, all musicians sometimes have to follow the tempo that is set by others - whether it be another musician, the conductor, the producer or a click in the studio... and in all of those cases, a good drummer should be able to do that just fine as long as they can see the conductor and / or hear the reference tracks / click track. If they can't, I consider that to be a fundamental flaw in their musicianship. And there are a LOT of drummers who just can't seem to "follow" (IOW listen) to other musicians or cue references.


    • #6

      It can be a big problem for some.
      In most band situations, the drummer is the click and everyone follows him.
      Put him in the role of having him play to a click is essentially like having him follow another drummer.
      For some drummers, this is just something they have never done and is a totally foreign concept.
      Those drummers can really have a hard time.
      Other drummers are fine with it.

      Neftali Santiago likes the Urei/MPC sound and doesn't focus on it.
      His approach is that he barely pays attention to it.
      In fact the Urei Sound blends into the track and at times is hard to hear.
      He likes that.

      I did a seesion with Abe Labouriel Jr once and he liked
      1/8 note closed hi hat and a clap on 2 and 4.
      I have had good luck with this method if you can get drummers to agree to play to it.

      If I do a session with an unknown drummer, I always lay five clicks.
      1/4 note MPC/Urei
      1/4 note Tone (Cowbell or Ableton Live type Beeps)
      1/4 note side stick
      1/8 note electric hat (808)
      Claps on two and four or backbeat

      Usually out of all of them you can get something that will work.
      Sometimes just letting a drummer who doesnt have a lot of experience at it,
      make some choices, relaxes him enough to get something.

      This might seem like a lot of work, but it's not since you only need create a bar of each then loop.
      I like to print to audio so i can mute any parts that might bleed and the endings.
      But mute automation works too.

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      • Phil O'Keefe
        Phil O'Keefe commented
        Editing a comment

        This might seem like a lot of work, but it's not since you only need create a bar of each then loop.
        I like to print to audio so i can mute any parts that might bleed and the endings.
        But mute automation works too.


        Great advice. It's easy to be accommodating with the click and can / cue mix - especially if you plan a bit in advance. And IMO, it's usually is the best approach too. I think keeping the musicians happy in the studio is one of the most essential jobs for an engineer.

        I make sure I let people know I care about giving them the cue mix they want, and the reference they want to hear. Or see. Sometimes people want or need visual cues to go along with the audible ones. The important thing is, you do whatever it takes, and you let the musician know you're there to give them whatever they want to hear in the cans - all they have to do is ask, and you'll gladly adjust the cue mix for them... although, in some cases, they're just not prepared for it, and they just can't seem to play to the click, no matter how much you try to facilitate it or assist them.

    • #7

      Yeah, I've never understood the hows or whys of any musician being unable to play to a click--let alone a drummer. I've played with a lot of drummers who seemed to take offense to the idea of playing to a click. I think there's a false assumption that a click can ruin the feel, when IMHO solid time is absolutely necessary for the feel. An accomplished musician can alternately lean back or push harder while maintaining a steady groove.

      I've only known one drummer to ask to play to a click. He is rock solid. Here he is playing solo drums and triggering synths via a TrapKAT and DrumKAT. Notice he's wearing cans so he can hear what's going on.


      • wschart
        wschart commented
        Editing a comment
        I'm not a drummer, but as a guitarist I do have a hard time playing a piece of music to a metronome or click track. I can play scales and technical exercises OK, but playing an actual song or other work just causes me problems. I can play fine along with either a backing track, or a recording.

        I think it has to do with the fact that with actual music as a backing, you are getting more information than just the beat beat beat beat. If I happen to get a bit off with a click, I often am not sure if I'm ahead or behind, so I don't know how to adjust. With other musicians either live or artificial, you get other clues about timing other than just the beats.