I have the pleasure of playing for Harvest Christian Fellowship (Greg Laurie’s ministry) a few times a month. Every Sunday they have at least 40+ musicians playing for their different campuses. They have a pool of 130 players they draw from. To get on that list one must go through auditions and be a very competent musician. The drummers must be comfortable playing to a click or track. All campuses have the same song list. This keeps all the satellite campuses on the same time frame as the main campus. The drummers are asked to be familiar with the app Prime, which is used to trigger tracks and clicks. We are the ones pushing buttons to start and stop everything on Prime. This article was inspired by a conversation I had with one of the new drummers regarding getting comfortable playing with a click.
So, what are the essential tools needed to be click proficient? First and most importantly is a good metronome. Every musician should own one and practice with it. It is not only the drummer’s obligation to have good time, it is each band member’s responsibility.
Three functions a metronome should allow you to do:
- Program a series of tempos.
- Subdivide the beat so you can hear accented quarter notes with softer 8th notes or triplets.
- Have an “audio in” jack so it can accept an outside sound source (i.e., an in-ear monitor mix) allowing you to hear the metronome and in-ear monitor mix at the same time.
I recommend getting a stand-alone programmable metronome like the Boss Dr. Beat or Tama Rhythm Watch.
The second necessity is a great set of headphones or in–ear monitors. Often, we drummers are in a box or playing behind Plexiglas. A good set of custom molded in-ear monitors is a game changer. I use Ultimate Ears. I got my first set 17 years ago and have been spoiled by the pristine sound quality they provide ever since. If they fit well they cut out about 25 to 30 db of external sound making it possible to keep the click and music level much softer in your ears. In the long run your hearing will thank you for this.
Thirdly, another essential is a good in-ear monitor feed that allows us control over our mix, which will eliminate a floor monitor in the drum cage. The most common mixers I have worked with are made by Roland, Aviom or Allen & Heath. Harvest uses an app by Yamaha called Monitor Mix that gives us control over our individual mixes from our phones.
Having command over what we hear when we are behind a sonic shield is imperative to having a successful rehearsal or performance. If we can’t hear what is being said or played, rehearsals will go slower and it is impossible to play our instruments musically. When it comes to worship, I feel it is important to have an audience or ambient mic. That way we feel more a part of the corporate worship experience.
Many churches may not be equipped with these essentials. I always make sure to have my own in-ears, a metronome and my own personal in-ear monitor amplifier. I can take whatever source is going into the floor monitor and plug in and have volume control. Then I take a cable going from the headphone jack of the personal in-ear monitor amplifier and run that into the auxiliary input in my metronome. Then I plug my in-ears into the metronome so I can hear the monitor mix and the metronome. In this case, I might be the only one hearing the click but at least with this the basics are covered.
Playing with a click or tracks has become the standard in many churches and there is an art to doing it efficiently. Over the next few articles I will discuss ways to improve our time and become more comfortable grooving in this realm.
But for now, make sure you have a good metronome. We all have time issues and this tool keeps us honest. Metronomes don’t drink too much coffee or stay out too late. They give us the consistency we need. We all need to be comfortable using them in practice and performance.