On Tuesday I shared with you some tips for maintaining energy while recording. The general idea was that sometimes it can be difficult to play along to a metronome/click track without sacrificing some musicality.

I personally LOVE playing to a click track, even live. It just helps “lock” everyone into place musically.

I’m certainly not suggesting that you must use a click track on every recording session, but you may be wondering “Should I use a click track?”

What IS a click track?

Very quickly, let’s define a click track. It’s nothing more than a metronome, a steady “sound” that plays at an exact speed, measured in bpm (beats per minute).

Most DAWs have the ability to create a click track, which normally has a fairly boring “tick…tick…tick…” sound. Whether you use the boring sound or a more complex drum loop, the part that matters is that the entire song/session is record at the same tempo.

3 Reasons to Use a Click Track

There are some songs/recordings where it makes sense to ditch the click track and let the tempo breathe a little bit. However, for most of the recording work I do, I always try to use a click track. Here are three reasons why:

1. Protection against recording at the WRONG tempo

Do you ever play music live? I do regularly. It’s amazing to me how when I’m playing a song on stage, the tempo can feel absolutely perfect. However, when I go back and listen to the recording, I realize that I was playing the song WAY too fast.

All the excitement of playing live tends to make me speed up and play too fast.

I would do the same thing in the studio, too. A click track lets me establish the correct tempo, and ensure that all the takes are recorded at that tempo, rather than too fast.

2. Copy, Paste, Loop

Do you want to use all sorts of loops in your song? Do you want to be able to copy and paste a performance from one section of the song to another?

For example, sometimes I’ll take a guitar part from the second chorus and move it over to the first chorus. Without the click track, there’s no way the different sections of the song would be at the same tempo.

Using a click track essentially lets you record everything to a grid. Once it’s recorded, it can be moved around without worrying about tempo changes. This can open the door to all sorts of creative options.

3. Multiple Takes

When you have that very first tracking session for a song — whether it’s drums, guitars, piano, whatever — you typically want to record multiple takes of each part, right?

That’s what I do. I’ll record 3-5 full takes of the acoustic guitar, then I’ll go in and comp together the best parts of each take into one master comp track.

Now imagine that you didn’t record to a click track. Suddenly multiple takes are out of the question. You can’t use the chorus from take 2 and the verse from take 3, because they will inevitably be at slightly different tempos.

If you’re multi-track recording a full band, it’s even more imperative to use a click track. You could have the band record 5 full takes of the song, then you have the luxury of using the bass player’s 3rd take, the drummers 5th take, and the guitarist’s 2nd take in your final mix — all because they were all recorded at exactly the same tempo.

There are certainly no rules in recording, but I almost always use a click track, because of the flexibility it offers after-the-fact.

Comment Question:

Answer this question in the comments section below:

Do you use a click track? Why or Why not?

Photo Credit

  • Leonardo DiCapario

    Good post. You deserve my Oscar.

    • Haha

      • Leonardo DiCapario

        But on a serious note. In a click track is there really ONLY a metronome being heard?

  • Audiochocolatestudios

    I’m a drummer and track the drums for most projects I do in my studio. I mostly work with singer/songwriters and always ask them if they have a drummer in mind for their project. Many times, they would prefer to have me perform the drum tracks. I always use a click track for tracking the drums; however, when building bass and guitar parts, I prefer to have the performer lock into the drum track and I kill the click. Parts that are open and require a click to count or to anticipate the next beat, I’ll bring the click up for those parts. All in all, I find that tracks gel more together if performs are listening to the drums. Bass parts especially, Additionally, there may be parts in the drum track that I miss that are just flam the click and are hard to pick up when just listening to the drums and click track. If the bassist is having a little difficuty locking in on a small part, I’ll mark the spot and go back and start looking at the drum part in that section. If done successfully, I find Having everyone else lock then into the drums and bass parts keeps tracks lively, edgey and better feeling all around.

  • Anonymous

    I always plays or practice to some kind of click track whenever possible, why? Because then I have a good timing when both listening (and for example are mixing) and playing music. A good timing is possibly even more important when it’s tempo changes in a song.
    To people who don’t like metronomes, I say this: -Always practice to a metronome, sooner or later, you get used to it and everything comes to live (if you think that a click track kills human feels, then you are -generally speaking – wrong). And another good thing if you are used to metronomes: -It is a lot easier to play with others, and you don’t potentially make a fool of your self when you are in a studio situation or plays with really good musicians – at least not because of timing problems.As allways, one can always find exceptions too, take Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman, it’s starting at around 115 bpm and they are drifting up to around 126 bpm at the end of the song not many words has been written about it as I’m aware of.

  • Yes and no. even a simple boom – chuck drum loop allows me to move within the beat much more fluidly than with a click. I often play solo acoustic pieces with constantly fluctuating tempos. Cubase allows me to record and Then arrange a “tempo map” to my exact specifications. This can save a session or ruin one, but is very handy. (responding to user7971561)

  • Yeah, it’s easier to make it a gradual change over a bar or two.

  • As long as it sounds good to you. If you lay down with a grid/tempo, then you can copy and pasted between sections easily.

  • Great post, Joe. The key to playing to a click is to be comfortable. It should be your best friend, not an annoyance. I wrote a little article of playing to a click track awhile back for anyone interested as well: http://silverlakestudio.com/2010/02/08/the-art-of-playing-to-a-click-track/

  • Anonymous

    I don’t care much for click tracks I usually take a simple drum track or a drum track from the song I’m working on. I have recorded people without it and then you have to go back and add drums or percussion one bar at a time. I would prefer a real drummer but really don’t have the room at this time.

  • Noah

    the only time I wouldn’t use a click is when recording a full band all tracking at once and only if doing full band with a click isn’t working out. Sometimes, the energy of speeding up at the chorus is just too natural too dampen. No one notices or cares about a slight speed up expect for the metronome. But if I’m doing something by myself or track by track, metronome is just too convient.

  • Yes, I do use clicktracks, and there is a 4th reason to do that:

    I always record the main theme first with guitar or piano, then I add further tracks of bass, synths, effects and drums. But, there is a problem: I play several instruments except drums, so all I can do is to use pre-recorded midi drum groves, which come in 1, 2, half or quarter bar formats. And because of this, it’s simply inevitable to arrange the whole song in a solid and consequent tempo snapped to the grid.

    I would be happy if I could find a solution to intelligently adjust the bars/grid to the actual song I played without a click track allowing me to play in slightly or even violently changing tempo, but I found none so far.

  • Phildebourg

    YES! Because we play Progressive-Rock šŸ˜›
    (just try to record 11/8 at 140 follow by 6/4 at 120 without lagging šŸ™‚

  • Click tracks are definitely invaluable, and I use them whenever I’m recording something (unless I’m just jamming). I can’t really get behind the simple “tick tick tick” metronome type, opting for a simplified drum beat instead, mainly because it’s a more realistic backing track.