If you’ve started learning how to play the piano or another instrument, you might have come across the phrase “click-track.”
It’s not to be confused with click tracking in computer terms, which is the recording of info of what computer users are clicking with their mouse while on the internet!
So, what’s a click track in music?
In instrument terms, it’s basically very similar to a metronome. A metronome is an instrument that will beep in a steady manner to maintain the tempo of the music. It can be useful when it comes to people learning how to play an instrument because it can teach them to keep their rhythm.
A click track can be defined as audio cues that help you to synchronize your sound recordings.
It can have many other benefits for musicians, whether they’re playing on their own or are part of a band. Here’s what you need to know about click tracking.
First, Understand What Metronomes Are About
It’s important to know how metronomes work as this can help us better understand click tracking.
When you think of a metronome, you probably imagine the old wind-up mechanical metronome.
This is a common one that can be placed on a piano and is used to help students maintain their rhythm when they’re learning scales or playing a piece of music.
There’s also a digital metronome, however. This makes a digital noise, such as a beep, to help one keep their rhythm, and a digital metronome operates on a battery.
A click track makes use of a metronome and it’s similar to a digital metronome because of how it can beep (or make other sounds) to help keep you in tune with the music you’re playing.
Basically, a click track gets recorded onto an individual track so that all the individually recorded parts in the piece are of the same tempo.
This enables them to be better synchronized with each other.
How Click Tracks Are Used
If you love movies, you’ll be interested to know that click tracks are often used in film scoring and music production.
They help to guide the music so that it moves faster at certain times and slower at others. Click tracks can also be used by musicians and bands to help them stay in the right tempo.
If everyone’s following the same click track, this guarantees that everyone’s following the same rhythm, which can help to produce a more professional and coherent sound.
But Click Tracks Have Other Awesome Benefits
Click tracking isn’t just about staying in the same tempo from the start to finish of a song.
Imagine that you want to use one part of a song that you’ve already recorded in a different recording altogether, or perhaps you want to move one part of the song you’ve recorded to an earlier or later spot in the piece.
For example, maybe you want to use the piano recording that’s in the first verse of the song in the chorus instead or vice versa.
This change of heart can sometimes – quite frustratingly – occur after you’ve recorded the piece and are in the editing stage of your music production.
Now, if you haven’t made use of a click track when recording the music the first time around, this can prove stressful because you won’t know if your music is in tempo or not when you move different parts of it around!
Some of the pieces might have good rhythm while others might be out of tempo.
If you’re adding that music recording to other places in the track or to a different recording altogether, it could be sloppy and produce an unprofessional result.
Not using a click track could also result in you having to re-record music.
Why Click Tracks Get Criticized
Although in theory, they seem to be useful for professional musicians and anyone who likes recording and playing music, it seems that click tracks are not always liked by people in the music industry.
One of the reasons for this is because click tracks are said to ruin the human feeling of the music.
Basically, by having to play an instrument or sing according to beep or click, some people feel that they don’t have much room for expression.
This has led to some people claiming that the click track has put an end to pop music!
That sounds quite extreme, and this isn’t really the case if you consider that music that’s produced will never have perfect or consistent rhythm from start to finish.
The click track should be there just to guide the tempo but it doesn’t mean that it should replace creativity.
A click track can actually be very useful in keeping the music production nice and neat. It removes errors that can make the recordings lack professionalism.
It can be useful to imagine that the click track is following you instead of the other way around.
As an interesting Medium article written by Travis Whitmore points out, the brain’s cerebellum is our internal clock so when you play an instrument while using a click track imagine that the click track is following you.
This is said to put your brain’s internal clock in sync with the tempo of the music that you’re playing.
By remembering that you’re in control, you won’t allow yourself to conform to a click track but rather just use it as a guide.
Do Click Tracks Create Distractions?
Another criticism is that the click track sound can get in the way of your playing.
This can happen if you find yourself focusing on the click track instead of on your own playing, but this is a problem that can be easily remedied.
The most important thing is to make sure that you don’t choose a click track that sounds like your instrument, as this can make things confusing.
So, if you’re playing classical tunes on your piano, avoid choosing a click track that sounds like a piano.
On the other hand, if you’re playing drums, avoid a click track that could be mistaken as someone playing the drums.
This will make it easier to distinguish the sound and prevent frustrations. The good thing is that you can find many different click tracks that have various sounds to combat this problem.
Finally, there’s the problem with bands whose members feel that they can’t deal with listening to the click while they’re playing.
This can happen as a result of realizing just how out of tempo you are, and it can be a horrible feeling.
However, to reap the benefits of having a click track, it’s important to ensure that all bandmates practice their music on their own sometimes.
This will help them stay in tempo and it will make the click track work much better when you all play together.
It might even make everyone feel more comfortable with a click track.
Times When You Shouldn’t Use A Click Track
There are times when using a click track isn’t advisable.
This includes if you’re recording as a solo singer or playing an a cappella performance unless you’re going to use this recording for another production.
It’s best to have a more natural feeling during these types of performances, especially if you’re not comfortable with a click track as of yet or are worried that it will inhibit you.
How Can You Deal With Tempo Changes When Using A Click Track?
This does prove problematic when using click tracking.
You’ll have to make the tempo a bit more constant, allow your drummer to use his/her own tempo, or create a click that works with your song’s tempo.
Either way, find what works best for you.
Is The Drummer In A Band In Charge Of Click Tracking?
Usually, this is the case because the drummer plays with headphones on and can keep the beat consistent much easier than his bandmates because he/she is so focused on the click.
It then makes sense for other bandmates to follow the drummer’s lead.
The use of a click track in music production is constantly up for debate.
Some people have criticisms of click tracks, such as that they don’t allow for enough creative expression, while others like them and insist on using them to create polished and professional-sounding music.
Ultimately, the decision to use a click track or not will come down to your personal preferences.
However, it’s always a good idea to try it out first before you decide against it.
Despite its criticisms, the click track can be highly beneficial for you, whether you’re producing music on your own or as part of a band.