Click Track in Live Music Performance

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Hi All,

I was reading some posts today and came across a posting by @Derek made elsewhere that commented on using click tracks in live performance. I was struck by a comment that drummers speed up the tempo when they do the fills in their songs and as a result bring the tempo up overall during the course of the piece. I have been observing this phenomena since i began playing live music with sequencers in the 70’s and eighties and learned to play against a machine driven beat. I recently made a few custom backing tracks for folks using a click and found that this subject has legs because the evidence shows that both types of performance exist side by side all the time. For example, take older touring bands, I know some of the people in the ‘Loving Spoonful’ and they have no clicks or backing tracks and plainly state that they are an “Old School Rock Band” no sequencers or tracks used. Brian May’s group is this way too from what i have read, they breath up and down on the tempo in a human way during the song. Then there are bands like ‘3 Dog Night’ or ‘Eagles’ who had backing tracks for years and groups like Pink Floyd who couldn’t perform without click and backing track that are synced. So, I am of the opinion that it depends on a few factors as to whether the click track works or not. The truth is when we perform, be you a string player, keyboardist or drummer you tend to change the tempo to create excitement or to calm down the emotion in a piece. I feel it our band, we have 3 main players, a percussionist a keyboard and a guitar and no click track. Any of us can change the tempo, our guitarist/singer speeds when a chorus happens, the drummer lose’s strict timing on a roll and I tend to pick up beats on high speed or energy solo’s. Each of us try to keep the other in check and when it “feels” off we all feel it. Another related subject i have been working with is “tempo mapping”. Using tempo mapping I can produce “Human” feeling click tracks too and have done so on some solo projects, I did this because I was trying adapting existing Pubic Domain MIDI tracks to feel like the original Album tracks they were inspired by, (it makes a difference IMO). I would be interested to learn what all of you are doing with this subject.

Thanks! :slightly_smiling_face:




Listen to many of the rock bands of the 70’s and you will hear tempos change frequently. I could show you examples, but won’t flood this thread right now. Doobie Bros were notorious for it. I spent several years as a professional drummer, and I know how hard it is to maintain a strict tempo. The “stars” I worked for demanded it. Click tracks are extremely hard to adhere to. We are humans, and tempos vary with excitement and sadness. It is our expression. It’s how we perform and entertain. When you have a lively, supportive audience, we tend to push and sometimes overplay.
I have been performing with one of the old STAX drummers lately, and I got to tell you, he sets a tempo, and it doesn’t change. I’ve tried to push him, but hell no, he will not move. Always slightly behind the beat. Perfect for blues and soul.
Things changed from the old be-bop, jazz, and blues when Rock n Roll appeared. Rock brought individualism to the group. And, we embraced it, then ran off with it.

My son’s prog band uses no click track. Their time signatures change many times within a song. Their drummer is amazing, and NEVER varies from tempo. The difference is they grew up with click tracks in the studio. Tempo is accurate and matters to them. So things are changing. I would tend to say digital recording reeled the drummers in to exact tempos.

Addition: In one of my 4-piece bands, drummer sets the tempo and watches a metronome device. He always varies, but not enough to feel the difference. He started using the metronome when we complained about his extreme variance.

In another 4-piece, drummer pushes the tempo slightly, and it seems to feel and sound more exciting. We never have our guitar player start a song without me counting him off. It will always be extremely fast if he starts it.

In my 3-piece experimental, I count everything off by watching C3 metronome that I have pre-set for song tempo. Drummer is bad about drifting to a faster tempo after the first few bars, but I have been working with him, and it is getting much better. Of course, this is the one band I am in where we can all discuss things, and we get along. No Divas.


Quick reply as I am about to hit the road. Interesting subject and no one true answer. It’s what is right for the band and what you are doing.

In my small sphere of musicians, I’ve worked with some great drummers, but I only know one who is rock steady. For most material varying tempo is fine. For some (like Floyd) if you vary too much away from the guitar delay it becomes a disaster.

When I joined the Floyd tribute it was the first band I had been in that used clicks, I and was a little against at at first, but quickly realised that it was the only way a four piece (as we were when we started) could get that full sound including all the sound effects. Then I took over the clicks in Canatabile (moving away from the bands unreliable MiniDisc player), suddenly realised what I could do with the lights, and I was hooked on clicks.

When we did new backing tracks/clicks for Welsh Floyd, and for another project I did, I tempo mapped them against the original songs, which I can do in about 20 minutes per song, so you get a more natural map.

I am currently working on a solo show, where I will need some backing, I will alsohopefully be working shortly with a guitar player with the aim to getting a band together and that will probably be free form, no clicks. I also have the option of working with another guitar player and will probably look for a singer to do a low key trio against backing tracks.

Horses for courses :slight_smile:


I’m available. :rofl::rofl::rofl:

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Having had piano lessons, I know that practicing tempo was as important as notation. I know that ritardo (or something like that) meant tempo change to slower. I would imagine that since music quality depends on tempo consistency with skillful variation for intentional changes according to the artist’s intention… is appropriate. Click tracks can change tempo for the desired effect with proper cues during the tempo change. Unskilled musicians have a couple of patterns that go hand in hand. 1) Over playing and the resulting 2) Erratic tempo. The click track only addresses one problem (tempo) but not the other (overplaying - which is refusing to mind your part and the “rests” in notation, which is as important as the notes). I play with and without click tracks (I can do either, my desire is to serve my fellow musicians in sounding good). Musicians who are interested in the band sounding good as a team, usually play well. Musicians who just want to have fun are typically ignorant of their fellow band members. In that condition, click or no click, they suck.

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