Recently, I’ve really been spending a ton of time working on refining my click track playing. Think of it sort of like a professional golfer who is intensely working on his putting skills. Most beginner and general amateur-level golfers spend a lot of time on the Driving Range perfecting their ability to drive the ball long and straight. I get it; hitting things really hard and really far is fun! By the same token, a lot of up-and-coming and non-professional drummers spend the vast majority of their practice time working on endless hand & foot combinations and extreme speed drills. (The result of those lengthy, often futile, endeavors has stemmed what we now call the “Gospel Chops” movement in drumming. I will save my thoughts and opinions on that topic for another time.)
Professional drummers realize that 1) Touch on the instrument and 2) the ability to play consistent, grove-able time are the two true musical Holy Grails for working musicians. So, all of that being said, part of the study of playing time is listening to how other drummers play along to their click tracks. Many marquee drummers have a very identifiable, signature ‘pocket’. Those guys seem to always hit things within very narrow tolerances with respect to the click (or in consideration of the collective perceived pulse when playing with a live band sans click). Other pro drummers, like myself, find that we are called upon to be ‘sonic chameleons’. That means that our exact placement of The Pocket can change from song to song.
I don’t really have time today to take you through the sorts of exercises that I use to work on own my “Malleable Pocket”. So, what I would rather focus on is HOW we listen to the click track in our own specific in-ear & headphone mixes. One of the first questions that topic brings up is “What and how much of different sound sources do you put into your in-ear / headphone mixes?”
Instead of answering that question in a long diatribe, let’s check out Caleb Gilbreath, a drummer and engineer out of Nashville. He has recently posted a Drum Cam video of himself, backing Country music singer Brett Eldredge. The audio for this video is Caleb’s own personal in-ear monitor mix with the click track included. Check out the volume of the click in relationship to that of his drums. Also, listen to the instrumentation mix that he has dialed into his ears. It is very sparse considering the number of musicians (and vocal mics) on stage.
How do you set up your own in-ear mix on a live gig? Is it different from what you prefer in the studio? Do you really even have a preference? How does not having that “perfect” mix in your ears effect the way that you perform with the band?
Over the coming months, I am going to start lacing in some lesson articles to help you with your own ability to play great time with other musicians. I will also share some of my own in-ear mixes so that you can get a sense of what works for me. Hopefully, all of this discussion will help us all refine those in-ear mixes while refining our ability to play strong, consistent, groove-able time behind the drums!