One reality that us drummers have been coming to terms with over the last decade or so is many worship bands use metronomes, click tracks, and backing tracks in worship gatherings.
If you’re like me, and grew up without using click tracks in a band setting, adding such a “rigid” structure to your playing can be extremely challenging. One comment I hear often is, “I feel so robotic or mechanical when I play with a click track. I have more groove or feel when I don’t use one.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could put all of the “feel” we possess as drummers into worship gatherings, even when we are playing with a click track? The following three steps might help get you there.
Step 1: Turn the Click Down
When I first started playing with a click track I was so afraid of (and so prone to) wandering off of playing accurately and in-time. A quick solution was simply to turn up the volume of the click track.
And while that did help keep me focused on the click and staying consistent, I realized over time that, mentally, I became unable to separate out the sound of the click track from my own playing. So, if there was a 16th note pattern in the click track, I would forget that everyone in the congregation couldn’t hear that subdivision. The end result would be me playing patterns that were “empty” and didn’t support the other rhythmic elements in the band – which the congregation could hear.
So, as you grow more comfortable drumming with a click track, start to ease that volume back down. Nowadays, I really enjoy having the click so quiet that I only hear it when I play something wrong. Otherwise I don’t hear it, and I’m able to have a much clearer picture of what the congregation is hearing, which lets me put more “feel” back into my playing.
Step 2: Use Fewer Subdivisions
Once you’re comfortable with a lower volume on the click track, consider how you might use fewer subdivisions. So, if you’re using an 8th note pattern, think about dropping those down to quarter notes.
This, again, will give you a clearer picture of what the audience, and even others in the band are perceiving when it comes to your drumming. It also lets you be a little more “fluid” in circumstances where you may have drifted off from the click track slightly. Instead of immediately correcting and, in the length of one quarter note, jumping back to playing exactly with the click track, you can more gradually drift back into correct timing. This has the added benefit of being much less distracting to a worshipping congregation.
Of course, there are considerations we need to make for the other band members who may be relying on the click track as well, and might not be comfortable with such an extreme change. In those cases, you might only be able to change the click track for your practice time during the week.
Step 3: Focus on the Kick and Snare – Not the Hi-Hat
The previous two steps have built up to this point. The number one cause of drummers playing “robotically” with a click track is focusing so much on the 8th note subdivision in a pattern, which, of course, is normally played by the hi-hat or ride cymbal. What’s interesting to me about our tendency as drummers to do this is: humans aren’t naturally “wired” to engage with rhythm like this.
For example: Imagine you’re in a large concert setting and everyone has their hands up in the air, clapping along with the music. You’re probably imagining them clapping on beats 2 and 4 – the same beats as a snare drum might be playing. The same would be true if you imagine them both stomping and clapping: the stomps would land with the kick drum.
You rarely find a crowd of people who are clapping along with a hi-hat pattern. But we, as drummers, tend to focus primarily on our hi-hat when playing with a click track. By lowering the volume and decreasing subdivisions in the click track, we free up our minds to be able to focus less on that hi-hat subdivision, and more on the parts of a pattern that everyone can feel: the kick and snare drums.