Tricks for Clicks


Today’s discussion is about the famous “click track.”

A term used to literally describe the track on a tape or computer recording system that is dedicated solely to the metronome. A concept first developed in film production when they wanted to align musical cues with the action that was happening on screen. The conductor would listen to a click track printed directly onto the audio portion of a film and conduct the orchestra to match what was happening in the movie. Then it became a staple in studio recording. Now we use it for live playing as much as we do for studio work.

Playing with a click or metronome is one of the biggest challenges for musicians. From my early years of study on drums, percussion, and piano all of my teachers required that I practice with this tool of the trade. And so it is today. I use it for EVERYTHING! Practicing, recording, and live events get the same attention to the mark of the metronome. The infamous b.p.m. (beats per minute) rules the drummer’s life.

I’ve played with clicks, clacks, pops, beeps, dings, and many other sounds. So let me show you a few tricks to make this experience more enjoyable. Hopefully this will help you and the whole band feel like the click track is your friend.

Ultimately you should be able to listen to whatever is sent to you as a click sound. There are still times when I have to listen to an annoying pop or beep.

The main thing is to be the team player and don’t complain. But if you can be the one who creates the click then make it something you want to hear all day.

There are some sessions where they like to hear that old sampled pop that is typical on the Akai MPC machines. I normally like to have a soft sounding high cowbell sound on the quarter notes and then use a small shaker for the subdivisions of the beat.  Some want a different sound on the quarter note (or pulse) of the song. Other players I’ve talked to like to hear just a shaker playing 8th notes, 16ths, or triplets depending on the feel of the tune. Be careful with the sound of the shaker you use for a click. There are times the sample hits a little strangely and it doesn’t sound steady. That’s why I normally choose a short snap shaker sound.  WOW!  Say that fast 4 times. “Short snap shaker sound”…….

There are so many metronome devices on the market today there’s no excuse for all musicians not have one. I just got a music distributors catalog in the mail today and the whole back cover is full of metronomes. Everything from a basic $11 mini version up to multi-functional Yamaha Clickstation that list for $189. I don’t think Yamaha even makes that anymore except as an app for your iPhone or droid. I also like the Tama RhythmWatch or the Boss DB-90.

If you can spend a little more I highly recommend getting one of the little drum machines rather than an ordinary metronome. In stores everywhere and on line there are always drum machines for sale. You can easily spend under $200 and get a machine that will work great. An Alesis SR-16 is a great little inexpensive machine. You can even use a foot switch to start & stop it. I keep the switch by the heel of my hi-hat pedal.  I like to use the percussion sounds that I can program rather than a plain click or beep sound. The main point is to start with something that works for your budget. There’s just no reason not to have a metronome.

The first time you play to a click can be a very frustrating experience.

I recommend starting with the metronome playing double time. In other words if you want to play notes at 80 b.p.m. set your device to play 160 b.p.m. and so on. If your machine can play the subdivided notes then you can easily keep the main pulse at 80 and then let the other sound play double time. (ie: cowbell on ¼ notes and the shaker on 1/8th notes) Listen and count for several bars before you start to play. 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4; then begin. We call this “internalizing the time.” Stay very relaxed and keep your strokes smooth. Don’t allow any stiffness in your arms, wrists, or fingers. If you feel your tempo is wandering a little don’t tense up. Just try to feel the pulse and lock into it. If you get totally lost; STOP! Breathe; start counting again; internalize the time; and start again. You should feel your ears and hands locking into the sound of the click. I often tell my students not to think of a click as isolated blips, but as long notes that are connected. Picture in your mind the bouncing ball image. “Follow the bouncing ball!” If you think of clicks and all percussion sounds as having length it should be easier to keep the proper tempo spacing in your playing. I had one teacher tell me to thing of the pulse of music as being “round,” not pointed or square. Whatever picture you can use to get this idea hang on to it. It really does work!

I would also use ear buds or headphones to listen to the click. Most metronomes have a headphone plug. Use it!  In most band settings this is the way you should monitor the sound anyway. Don’t send the click sound through the speakers. If you have to, get your own small headphone mixer.

Again, they are easily found in music stores and catalogs. In one channel I have the monitor line sent to me (2 lines if a stereo mix is available). I send my click line into a totally separate channel. If I’m using drum loops, that is also in a separate channel from the click and mix sends.  Having the music mix and the click in separate channels allows you to adjust levels according to the moment. In softer songs you can turn the click down, but when everything is loud you might need to turn it up.

Trust me; there have been enough times when I couldn’t control the click volume, and I wished I had taken the time to set up my little mixer. If I have no choice I will ask the engineer to send me the click at a much higher level in my mix so that I know the music will never cover it. This can be very annoying if you have to listen to a loud click the whole time you are playing.

But do what you have to keep your tempos steady.

I use a click for everything. Besides always using it “on the job,” I use a click when practicing rudiments, snare and drum kit studies, and even when I’m soloing. At least 95% of my work out is with a metronome or drum machine.

Try different ways of using the click. I’ll set up only a ¼ note pulse for some exercises. If I’m mixing the subdivisions of the beat I don’t want the machine playing them for me. It might be interesting to hear triplets against 1/16th notes, but sometimes I really want to focus on just the main pulse.  If the primary feel is heavy with a certain subdivision then I will allow that to keep playing.

For the opposite approach try playing with a click only on the “off beats.”

Rather than hearing the ¼ note pulse, only hear the “and” of the beat (for 8th notes) or the “and ah” part of the beat if you playing a 1/16 note feel. Try other variations of this concept. If you use a drum machine, program a pattern that accents the notes you “don’t” play. When you do this you really get a feel for how well you are grooving around the time, because you can hear the other notes. The ones that you’re “not” playing. You should think of the machine as another player and begin to relax as you play along with the click. Again let me emphasize the word RELAX! Stay loose!

Other tricks that are fun would consist of leaving beats out. Have the machine click 1, 2, 3, but rest on 4. Try any variation of this you’d like. You could also count the clicks as only sounding on beats 2 & 4 and you have to place the 1 and 3 in the gaps along with all the patterns you are trying to play. I got that idea from my friend Don Harris; an outstanding bass player with impeccable time. By the way he always practices with a metronome too.

If you play with a basic click on ¼ notes try keeping the volume of the machine down. When your time is perfect you won’t even hear the click. We call that “burying the click.”  This is also a great way to tell when your playing “on top” (a little ahead of the click) or “laid back” (slightly behind the click). Mentally you almost feel like the machine is rushing or dragging, but believe me it’s you, not the click, that’s moving. Don’t become tense when you hear this. Concentrate and become aware of your feel of the time. There are musical settings when you want to change where you feel the tempo. The key is to learn what it feels like and to be able to control it at will. A little pushing and pulling can be very musical, but keep it smooth. Never let it feel like you’re jerking the time around. Again, RELAX!

If you start using a click everyday you should notice your time improving.

Hopefully all the musicians will start doing this as part of their routine as well. But even if no one else does, do it for yourself and for the sake of the music. Your team will notice the difference.

Maybe you can suggest that everyone use a headphone monitoring system and listen to the click with you. Even if they do just at rehearsals it will help. I know several groups that have gotten so comfortable with it that they use it all the time.  It’s amazing how the whole band will improve their time as you all play along to your friend the click track.




Groove is Everything:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • email
  • MySpace
About Carl

Carl has been a professional drummer & percussionist for over 30 years. He has played on over 80 Integrity Music projects; Maranatha Praise Band recordings 7 thru 10, & numerous other Christian, Pop, Country, Jazz, & Commercial projects.


  1. Great article Carl! I love playing with a click or perc loop. Even when I’m leading from the keyboard. I’ve also noticed when I’m playing drums to a click I feel more free. I don’t know if that makes sense but I feel more creative. All in all, great info on click play! Thanks man. Enjoy your trip.

  2. Nancy Renda says

    Hey Carl. Our praise team has been using a metrognome (sp?) recently during rehearsals and once in a while on Sunday mornings. We have the aviom system.. I was thinking of sending your article to our drummer. But it keeps saying unknown user. His email is at gmail. How can I send this article to him? Any suggestions? Thanks My name is Nancy Renda

  3. Danny Knox says

    Good stuff Carl. I’ve been using a Tama Rhythm Watch for a few years. it has all the basic note divisions and can store up to 30 tempos which I find handy. I also like that I can mount it on the treads of a cymbal stand. I have a small extension that I mount the unit on that is tucked under a cymbal but within reach.

    When I get the run sheet for the week I set my tempos then use a foot switch to advance to the next tempo. I primarily mix the quarter and eighth notes – I think this is where most drummers die when first using a click. If you can hear the subdivisions its easier to play some of the slower tempos being able to hear the time between the major beats. You also can nail hi-hat and ride cymbal 8th notes – if your off while listening to 8th notes from the click you can hear it and adjust accordingly.

    I have a small Peavy mixer next to me that I mix the Roland kit that I play with the monitor mix, my click and any aux source that I need to hear while I’m playing – all pumping through my Shure in-ears. Wouldn’t play without a click.

    Danny Knox
    Carnation, WA

  4. Lance Beckford says

    Hi Carl,
    Great article you wrote. I’ll definitely apply some of these concepts to my practice. I’m also a professional drummer (worship and secular) and we share Evans, and Yamaha (great sonic combination). A lot of my students have picked up your Drum Grooves for Worship DVD and are now auditioning for our various worship teams. I’d love to speak with you about Education as I am a Private Drum Teacher and Clinician, with several events coming up. Thank you for sharing.
    -Lance Beckford

  5. Joel Bozich says

    Great article! Thanks for serving God with your rhythmic skills! I think I use every technique you mentioned in my teaching studio. I thought I’d add another perspective I use when I teach or give clinics. When I reference the metronome, I stress that our job as the “drummer” is to control the space between the beats. When considering the character of a snare drum (for instance), one finds that almost every note is the same length, in other words that “click” length is usually the same, it’s only the empty space between the notes or clicks that varies. I applied that to the metronome and learned to control the space between. When I learned that I was totally freed up. I learned (many, many years later) that to live between the “clicks” is to learn to rely on them so much that we think hear them even when Dr Beat is silent.
    I have only a few rules in my studio but they’re important. #3 “The drummer’s/percussionist’s job is to control the space between the notes” Keep percussing! Joel Bozich

    • YES,,, right on,,, the spaces are as important as the click… Think “legato” not “staccato”. Good work,, blessings, Carl

  6. Tommy Christian says

    Absolutely the best direction I’ve ever read on click tracks. I’ve heard you play many times and realized that while the drummer is the backbone of the band, the click is the steering wheel. If anyone who plays at your level relies on a click track, it says that everyone should. Our band tried it at rehearsals several years ago and just like you said, failed miserably. Even the drummer who talked about tempo the most couldn’t stay with it.
    We currently don’t use a click with our current band but reading this inspires me to do so because like most bands, we have tempo opportunities. I have a small Boss drum machine that should work perfectly so that will be our main topic at our next rehearsal.
    Thanks for keeping us all straight on what we should be doing because scripture tell us that “Whatever we do for the Lord, do it the best you can”.
    In Christ
    Tommy Christian
    Lakewood UMC – Houston, Texas

    • Thanks Tommy… yea, great idea… just take your time… use it at rehearsals first… have all the team practice with it during their own practice… then gradually it will feel right as you use the click in performances. It’s tricky, but like anything that helps us grow, it will be worth the effort. Blessings, Carl

  7. Bradly Scott says

    Thanx for an excellent piece on click-tracking. I still owe you a pair or 2 of my custom multi-rods; Plaese re-send me your mailing address!

    Appreciatively, In Christ,


  8. Hi Carl,
    Thanks for all your advice on playing to a click.
    I have been using the Tama Rhythm Watch and tried it with headphones but the ‘beat marker’ is pretty intense and painful in my ears. Any suggestions? What ear monitors do you use?
    Thanks again and blessings in Christ,

    • Hey Emily, Always use the volume control to change the setting… or get headphone with a volume control built in… *Doesn’t the Tama machine have a volume control??* — If it’s the tone… you’ll have to get a small mixer with tone controls & adjust the frequency to something more pleasant. Blessings on your drum experiments. Press ON, Peace, Carl

      • Hi Carl,
        Thanks for your advice.
        It does have a volume control.
        I’ll keep trying- I know its partly just getting used to everything.
        Playing with a click can be different and difficult in more ways than one! 😀

  9. Jeff Mitchell says

    Thanks Carl, as always you are spot on!

    I began using a metronome (again) several years back and although it takes getting used to, it dramatically improves disciplined play. I know we have all been to venues where bands seem to play everything at the same tempo. Not every song is created for that. Using a metronome allows the musician to appreciate time more. There are times when you will feel you have more room in a measure, simply because it is being allocated evenly. Whenever a measure feels shorter, I am reminded that the time remains the same and I need to make a slight adjustment. Metronomes keep us humble and on track to be the best we can be as the foundation of musical worship.


  10. Richard Hembree says

    My first metronome had a bonus feature that would slow down on the chorus and speed up on the verses. I never knew how it knew where we were in the music. (Oh and it really slowed if there was a big build in the music. )

    Eventually the addition of the metronome had a huge impact on how well our worship band played together.

    I remember a moment during a seminar Paul Baloche was teaching where he had everyone put down their pen and put one hand over one ear. Once everyone complied, he said, “I have been teaching on using a metronome and I did not want it to go in one ear and out the other.”

    Now, I rarely play and lead worship but more on the sound system design side. When demonstrating a new potential speaker system for a church, I always take a moment to remind them that I can only faithfully reproduce the sound coming from the stage and deliver it to the congregation. And then I remind them of things I learned from you and the team during the seminars we did – Metronome, never play more than 100% of the music, turn down the music when practicing vocals to hear what you really sound like…….

    Thanks for continuing to help others improve at their craft of leading others in worship to our King.

    • Hey Richard, So good to hear from you. Thanks for the encouragement… & the laugh. Blessings for all of your service as well. We all work for the same “boss.” Peace, Carl

  11. We started using the click after I attended a drum clinic where the teacher recorded all of us playing a few measures without a click and then played it back to us with the click. WOW! I thought i was a pretty good keeper of the time, but that exercise proved otherwise! I left there and drove straight to the music store and bought the Rhythmwatch and began to use it immediatly. At first, I hated it and wanted to bash it with a hammer. But over time and with practice, it began to sink in and I got really comfortable with it, as did the rest of the band. We send the click out to the entire band through in ears, so that we can all have a little in our mix. Now, we cant play without it!!

    Blessings to you as you continue to help us through your articles. I for one, really appreciate your time and effort.

    • Hey Glenn, Great testimony to the use of a click. *You should also find that your over-all time feel is better too. AND… that when you play without the click the bands natural internal clock has improved. It’s good to play both ways, but always do what gives the best “musical” result. Keep up the good work. Peace, Carl

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.