The Click Feel Matters

It has always bugged me as a musician when asked to perform to a click track when there's little flexibility in how the click sounds and feels.

I'd often dedicate a new track to record the click exactly as I wanted it to be instead of accepting the built-in click sound.  This tends to be even more true with drummers, where the wrong click absolutely destroys their groove and feel, but small tweaks to the click's subdivisions and relative volumes can make playing to it a breeze.

Lots of devices just bang out Quarter Notes, with possibly a stronger accent on the Bar's downbeat.  This seems like a universal way to fit a click to most material, but is it really the right click to use?  Sometimes perhaps, but depending on what needs to be played, the spread of the beats can be a problem.

Quarter Notes - 90 BPM


The obvious next step would be to add Eighth Notes to give the musician a little more to latch onto.  But should they be Eighth Notes that are the same volume as the Quarter Notes?  It adds information, but can be detrimental to the feel:

Eighth Notes without Dynamics - 90 BPM


But listen to how it changes with a simple volume adjustment that places the Eighth Notes below the Quarter Notes:

Eighth Notes with Dynamics - 90 BPM


Dial in the volume until it feels right for the song in question.  When it's right, there won't be a conflict of feel between what you are playing and what you are hearing.  And you can go further by adding 16ths; the idea is the same to use dynamics between all the subdivisions to make a better experience:

Sixteenth Notes without Dynamics - 90 BPM


Sixteenth Notes with Dynamics - 90 BPM


Time Signature is another factor.  It's not very helpful when the song has an odd Time Signature and that information isn't part of click in a meaningful and usable way.  Here's an Odd Time Signature click that has both feel and an unmistakable Time Signature cue:

5/8 Time Signature with Sixteenth Notes - 90 BPM


And how about Triplet feel?  If you have a metronome that is not capable of Triplet feel, then you are forced to go back to square one and use only Quarter Notes, putting everything at a disadvantage.  What you really want to hear is:

Triplet Feel - 90 BPM


Tempo Map

The final creative element is whether to use a metronome that is static, which is to say that it never "waivers" from the BPM.  Or to look for areas within a song where a slight increase in BPM might add excitement, or pulling the BPM back slightly adds a sense of weight.  Its worth exploring the Tempo Map capabilities of your DAW and to not fall into the trap of feeling like you are "wrong" if playing over a static click doesn't feel right.

Check out the section of this video where a Tempo Map is used.  This is a VERY extreme example.  Tempo Maps that adjust only a couple BPM between song sections can make a difference for the musicians performing to them.


All of the click tracks used in this article were created with CLOCKstep:MULTI.

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