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12 Tips for Using Click Tracks in Worship

Or, how my team survived aural water-boarding…

A few weeks back I wrote about The Most Loved (And Hated) Member of My Team: the click track.

I won’t go into all the background of how we got to the point of using it all the time, but here’s a quick review of why:

Since “the band” every Sunday is actually a different combination of rotating instruments, we don’t have the luxury of putting in the hours and days and months it takes to get tight.

I went on to say that,

If you have rotating musicians, you know that creating a tight sound is tough. The first step in playing tight is playing in time. We leverage the click to keep us all together.

The carpenter uses a level.metronome

The baker uses a measuring cup.

The accountant uses a calculator.

Even the freehand of an artist paints within the confines of a canvas.

Our tool for tightness is the click track.

So I wanted to follow up that post with 12 practical tips for using a click:

1. Start simple. 
Just use a metronome that has a headphone jack out and the the ability to subdivide (we’ll get to that in a minute). Don’t try to learn Ableton or other loops based stuff. Just learn to play with a click first.

2. Sell the right people.
There will be a backlash (See #10). So as you’re starting down this path, get key members of your team to buy in and help support the decision to use a click.

3. Learn this mantra: “Better to be together than right.” 
I’m not sure it’s the exact words of the venerable Carl Albrecht, drummer extraordinaire with Paul Baloche and others. But I heard him say it at a worship conference as he was exhorting drummers to turn off the click if the band gets too far off. His point: You can stay with the click and be “right,” but it won’t sound good. Just get back with the team and hold to the tempo as best as you can.

4. Learn how to bail. 
Because of #3, the person operating the metronome (most likely the drummer) needs to know how to shut if off quick in those moments of irreversible dragging and rushing.

5. Subdivide. 
It is SOO much easier to stay on tempo if there is a subdivision of the beat. For most songs, having the eighths in is enough. For really slow songs, sixteenths will give you that extra connection between downbeats that you need. Most modern digital metronomes do this.

6. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
Warning: the beeping of most metronomes can cause the loss of one’s sanctification. And if the volume is too loud in your in-ears, that aural water-boarding turns into a sonic icepick traveling horizontally through your head.

If you can find something that makes a more natural woodblock sound, great. However, the click does need to be a high enough pitch so it won’t get lost in the mix.

Just a side note: I actually prefer my iPhone’s $4 Tempo Advance metronome app’s click sound to one on our far more expensive Boss DB60.

7. Make individual practice a priority.
If the team practices with a click on their own, the learning curve will go so much faster. And don’t forget to “strongly encourage” your singers to practice with a click. They don’t like to admit it, but vocalists are some of the biggest culprits of tempo issues. Many are used to the fluid flow of a choir, or the accommodating accompaniment of the lone piano player.

8. Use only in rehearsal (at first).
Don’t push your team too far, too fast. Start in rehearsals where train wrecks are far less fatal. But don’t stay in practice-mode forever. Have a ‘go live’ date and stick to it.

9. Require everyone on in-ears to turn up the click.
Occasionally, I plug into another team member’s Aviom (personal monitor mixer) and wonder what in the world they’re singing/playing too (other than themselves). If a player is on in-ears (and that’s my whole team now), they’re strongly urged to turn up the click in their ears.

10. Be prepared for emotional outbursts.
Yes, really. For the uninitiated, playing to a click is akin to hearing your voice recorded for the first time. Most of us don’t realize how poor our timing truly is. The click track is this full-length, unforgiving, magnifying mirror that shows every last tempo blemish and blackhead.

Its ugly.

But that’s why people need to practice on their own.

11. Put tempo markings on your charts.
If you want people to practice on their own with a click, you’d better add tempo markings to the charts. And don’t be afraid to stray from the original recording tempos. Find what feels right for your team.

12. Keep after it.
When you go live for the first time, don’t get discouraged that you had to turn it off in the middle of EVERY song. That’s OK. Keep working on it at the next rehearsal, and try again the next Sunday.

I don’t remember when the first Sunday was that we finally didn’t have to turn the click off. But now, we’ve been doing it long enough that I don’t remember the last time we had to stop it in a service.

I’m telling you, the click track has really made us better, and better than we actually are. The experience of playing with a click has given us all a better sense of time. And the unifying factor of the click really does make us tighter as a band.

For discussion – how have you migrated to using a click? Any other points and tips for using a metronome or click with your team?

If you’re just starting down this path, any questions this post didn’t answer?

(This article was originally posted on WorshipTeamCoach.com. Used by permission.)