Most orchestra musicians on cruise ships will have to play some of the production shows or headliner shows along to click track. Some musicians that are new to this concept may feel uncomfortable with it and don’t perform well with a click. Here are several tips that may help.
A click track is just a metronome beat that changes tempos according to the various section of the chart you’re playing.
Firstly, I believe it helps to accept the click track as your “friend” as opposed to viewing it only as an unmusical, obnoxious and annoying beat. Modern productions with large casts of dancers and singers, light shows, pyrotechnics etc. often need a click track in order to coordinate the production. It also ensures a consistent rendition of each show as far as tempos.
Secondly, it is just as important to make the click as comfortable to your ear as possible. If you listen to this click for two separate 55-minute shows per night at a high volume, you’ll soon damage your hearing, not to mention that your performance will suffer since the click may get in the way of you hearing the music that’s going on around you.
I solved this problem by getting ear plugs molded to my ear canals. The model I use has filters built-in that lower the volume of both click and music without losing any frequencies. This way my ears are protected while I’m still able to hear everything clearly.
Next you need to make sure that during soundcheck you get an adequate volume of both click track and monitor mix.
Especially for drummers, pianists and bass players, it’s important to pay close attention to the click track. When playing a show with click for the first time, it is essential that you don’t let other instruments or sequences distract you from your part and the click in your ear. Some instruments may play something completely different from what you play which can be distracting and misleading.
Seasoned veterans focus 100% on click and chart, especially when they sight-read a show for the first time. This eliminates silly mistakes.
One of the most common mistakes inexperienced musicians make is to use their ears to try to get through a chart. The music they play may often include songs they already know. However, the arrangement they’re playing may have a different song structure from what they’re used to and thus playing by ear may very well lead you to make mistakes that could easily lead to train wrecks.
As you gain experience playing with a click, you’ll realize that although the click itself is often very unmusical, stiff and machine-like, that doesn’t mean at all that you have to play like it. An experienced musician can make the music come alive even if he plays along to a click.
Transitions from one song into another can often be tricky as there’s often a tempo change. If there’s a big ritardando going into a slower tune, for example, the click often changes from quarter notes to eight notes to prevent musicians to rush ahead. This is often confusing to newcomers as it may not be clear what the click is marking.
It’s vital to mark tricky click track transitions on your sheet.
Count-ins are just as vital since it’ll ensure everyone starts on the right beat. Don’t neglect click tracks during “bird’s eyes” to ensure that everyone is “off” together.
I personally like to have my click turned down just a bit once I’m very familiar with a show. It makes me focus on the music a bit more and is easier on the ear. I also like to play with a regular set of headphones because it allows me to slide the headphone half-way off my ear. This way I can have a louder click during the passages where I really need it and softer click during quieter or less complicated passages by sliding the headphones on and off the ear as I need it.
Many people don’t have a great sense of time, so a click track can very quickly make your band sound a lot “tighter”. Also, don’t be fooled into believing that only the drummer needs to stick to the click. A drummer can play a perfect show but the band may still not sound together if some guys are out of sync.
I really believe that you’ll get better at playing with a click track if you accept it as a great tool and if you practice with it for a while.