5 Stages Of Learning To Play With A Click

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The Boss Dr. Beat DB-90. It has no association with Dr. Dre or Beats headphones. No matter what that Guitar Center employee tells you.

The Boss Dr. Beat DB-90. It has no association with Dr. Dre or Beats headphones. No matter what that Guitar Center employee tells you.

So your worship leader wants you to start playing with a click. Maybe your open to the idea or maybe not, but either way, you’re terrified of the idea.

I’ve been there. I’ve also walked besides a lot of other musicians who have taken this journey. I’ve noticed some commonalities the journey of learning to play live music to a click track. Based on my observations, there are five stages to learning to play with a click. They are as follows.

1. Shock

The first stage is sheer shock. A consistent pinging of a metronome while your trying to play music is bizarre. It’s super weird.

Every quarter note of the click feels like an electrical shock starting from your ears going straight to your brain. Like a foreign object in a human body you want to reject it. Whatever machine is making that noise is obviously sent by aliens to kill peace, joy and happiness on earth so we will welcome extraterrestrial rule with open arms.

Your worship leader, now obviously a Sith Lord, tells you a lot of musicians in churches do this on a regular basis. You don’t believe your worship leader because only a Force user could play with this thing. You ask your worship leader, “Are the master or the apprentice.”

2. Combatant

Just because you get over the first stage of the click track doesn’t mean you like it. The click feels like an enemy combatant and the worship leader is telling you to play nice with it. Really, worship leader? That’s like trying to waltz with a velociraptor.

Sometimes you win, mostly you don’t. Either way you are positive the click is not on your side. It’s like a playground bully. Every chance it gets it tries to prank you in front of all you friends.

When you go from a quiet verse to a loud chorus the bully will change tempos on you. And again, it changes tempo during drum fills. If a teacher saw this behavior on the playground, they would do something about it. But your worship leader isn’t that nice. Apparently, your worship leader is heartless because they are just sitting back watching the whole thing.

Forget about enjoying the music your playing, let alone worshiping. There’s a constant pinging and dinging that’s sonically stabbing your ears and you just want to kidnap that little metronome, wrap it in a little box, put that box in another box, put it where the airline keeps luggage cause it’s bound to have a rough ride there, have it delivered to your door and when it arrives, SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER!

3. Focus

Fortunately you get past the second stage. Part of it has to do with fact that your worship leader is the most stubborn person on the planet and you couldn’t find Mordor or Mount Doom on any current maps, so you are forced to stick with it.

But now things have changed a little bit. You still feel like it’s a battle to tame the click, but now it’s a battle you can win. In fact, you win pretty often. Sure it takes all of your concentration, especially during drum fills and dynamic changes, and yes, it can leave you both physically and mentally exhausted, but you can win. You can tell you’re turning a corner.

4. Unity

In stage 4, you don’t necessary notice the click. There are certain sections where you find yourself concentrating on it intentionally, but most of the time, you are one with the click. There are times during the set and you even forget it’s there. It’s like it’s another instrument your playing with instead of fighting against.

It’s possible to enter this stage without realizing you’ve entered this stage. Your brain has become so conditioned to concentrating on the click it becomes second nature. Now you have extra brain power to be in the moment and enjoy the music and worship. You find yourself enjoying music more than you did before. Songs are in perfect timing and it forces you and your band to pay extra attention to dynamics to bring energy instead of speeding up the tempo. The quality has been increased and your enjoyment has been increased.

You are one your way to becoming a metronome master. Your brain and your playing has become reprogrammed and is in unity with the click. Congratulations. You are dancing in perfect time with a waltzing velociraptor.

5. You can’t live life without it.

In this stage, you’ve been playing with the click for a while and it’s no big deal. One day you’re asked to play with a band and without a click. Old-School. That’s fine. After all, you used to play like this all the time.

The first song get’s counted off and you have this question in the back of your mind: was that the right tempo? Yeah it was close, but was it close enough? You also notice tiny changes in tempo, and it kind of bothers you. You talk to another none-click user and they wonder if maybe the click is like a drug that you’re addicted to.

You don’t feel like the click track is some addiction you can’t live without. You are simply more aware of how often your tempos used to fluctuate. You are also aware the click track is the solution. You aren’t addicted to the click. You are simply accustomed to a higher standard. Once you get used to a higher standard, it’s hard to go back.

Ironically, you play much better without the click in Stage 5 than you did in Stage 1.The metromone has gone from bully to best friend.

How Do You Get Through These Stages?

If you are on the journey of learning to play with a click, the journey is worth it.  Here’s some advice to help you survive the Sith Lords, bullies and dancing dinosaurs.

1. Have Faith That The Click Is Good

It might not feel like it at the time, but feelings can lie. The click is good. Not only will it improve you and your worship team, it will create a better worship experience for you church.

Will there be times when you feel stupid and frustrated? Yes. Yes you will. Sometimes, that’s what growing feels like. During those times of frustration, remind yourself that the click track is good and it is making you better. It may feel like an act of faith, but it’s true.

2. Relax

Muscle tension is a musical killer. No matter what instrument you play, it’s hard for you body to learn something new when your muscles are tense. It’s easy to tense up when you’re learning something new. Deliberately relax your muscles.

3. Be Easy On Yourself

Watch kids learn how to ride bicycles. The kids that feel bad about falling off a bike tend to take a longer time to learn how to ride. Kids that easily forget their mistakes learn faster and have more fun along the way.

Yes, there are a lot of people who play to a click on a regular basis. That being said, what you are attempting is hard to do. Expect to fall off the bike. It’s normal and part of the learning process. When you do, don’t be surprised. This is hard, but it’s worth it.

When you get off the click, be quick to get back on. Persistence is the key to success. Your mastery of the metronome is inevitable. It will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

Keep sharp,

-Jed

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