By Richard Best
Whenever the discussion turns to click tracks, drummers like to cry foul (usually accompanied by a sour face). For many drummers, the use of a click track is unnatural, cheating, insulting, or all three. I'm afraid I can't agree.
A drummer's prime responsibility is to keep time. Unfortunately, keeping steady, unwavering time is hard to do. My own journey required countless hours working out with metronome and bass tracks. Unless you were born with a perfect sense of time (which is about as common as perfect pitch) you probably need to work on your time sense now and again.
So is using a click track ‘unnatural’? Yes, but only if you consider good time to be unnatural. I agree that, in a live setting, music can benefit from being allowed to breathe. But even that assumes that you and your fellow musicians can keep time once you've settled into a tempo.
Insulting? If your time is not that good, then a click track should be humbling, and a pretty loud wake-up call. If whoever is in charge simply doesn't trust you (or others) to play in time, and a click track is the only solution. There is also a tendency for musicians to push up the tempo once they become familiar with a tune. This can be even worse if the musicians are getting bored or tired (note how often the 'live' version is played a lot faster than the original studio version).
There are situations where keeping everyone in line is vital to a successful project. A record producer may be adding different tracks with different people at different times and different places. This process would be nearly impossible without a click track.
The best attitude is to simply look at the click track as a tool. It's there to help. It's a consistent and reliable guide. So rather than fight it, why not treat the click as just another member of the band. If you play well with the click, you'll find that it will virtually disappear. And if it doesn't, well maybe it's time to dust off that metronome.