Click track

A click track is a series of audio cues used to synchronize sound recordings, sometimes for synchronization to a moving image. The click track originated in early sound movies, where marks were made on the film itself to indicate exact timings for musicians to accompany the film. It can be thought of as something like a metronome in that it serves a very similar purpose (and also in that, in the music industry, it is often used to serve exactly the same purpose [as a metronome] during recordings, and sometimes performances as well[1]).


On click tracks

The invention of the click track is sometimes credited to Carl Stalling, although other sources have given it to Max Steiner and Scott Bradley. The click track was sufficiently useful as a synchronization tool that it became part of standard recording technology, whether for films, radio or other sound recording and the click track took one of the tracks on a multi-track tape recorder. By the late 20th century, particularly in the realm of synthesizers and digital recording, the click track became computerized and synchronizing different instruments became more complex, at which point the click track was supported or replaced by SMPTE time code.

The click track may also be used as a form of metronome directly by musicians in the studio or on stage, particularly by drummers, who listen via headphones to maintain a consistent beat.[1] As said before, one can think of a click track as essentially being a kind of metronome (except that in musical recordings it is fed through headphones to one or more of the musicians during a recording or performance, but as previously mentioned, quite often to just the drummer[1]). This is because drums (often along with the bass, guitar and/or piano when present, together making up what is often called the rhythm section)[2] tend to provide the rhythmic fulcrum in small ensembles, not just because drums are loud, but also because drummers very often go through the most advanced rhythmic training compared to many other instrumentalists.

The practice of recording using an aiding click track is contrary (and bothersome to some) to the practice of using a metronome during practice and then turning it off come time for a performance or recording, which has traditionally been more common in the past. More information regarding criticisms of click tracks will be found in the relevant section of this article. The use of a click track allows for easier editing in a digital audio workstation (DAW) or sequencer, since various parts can be easily quantized and moved around or spliced together without worrying about minute differences in timing. This approach to recording is sometimes criticized for making the music sound "dead" and artificial, but in the right circumstances it can be useful. For instance, there exist modern "one-man bands" who may record all or many of the different parts of a recording separately themselves, and put them together in a multi-track audio editor. In this case, click tracks are usually essential.

This can be especially true [regarding one-man acts] with regard to longer pieces of music. This is likely because the longer a human being tries to keep a metronomic rhythm without a reference, the more time there is to get significantly off-synch with the project's BPM. However, if they are able to maintain a very consistent tempo throughout, but fall slightly shy of having performed at the song's overall actual tempo, the resulting recording can often be time-stretched or condensed to fit the proper duration evenly so that it can be added to the mix of tracks, without the need for quantization).

Click tracks can also be essential for certain types of metal, especially if the music is played at an extremely high tempo. In circumstances like these, where the margin of error is so minute, the performance may need to be aided by a click track, or it will completely fall apart, and it can become a blur in which the downbeats can't be clearly recognized, with the overall rhythm possibly in ruins. Furthermore, there is also the case of electronic music artists, whose music is generally entirely (or mostly) based on multiple, individually created tracks, all set to rigid timing by the very nature of the medium used to produce the genre.

It is not uncommon for musicians or engineers to subdivide click tracks at slow tempos[1] (for instance below 70 BPM) into smaller parts, with (for example) a click on the start of a bar and a beep on every individual 1/4 (or 1/8, or 1/16, etc.) note. Some musicians also use pre-recorded backing tracks with additional parts such as synthesizers, strings or layered background vocals to recreate parts that would be impractical to play live, in which case a click track synchronized with the backing track is played through headphones or in-ear monitors to keep the musicians in sync with the backing track.[1]


Some people believe that click tracks may ruin the recordings and performances of certain types of music (such as Classical music for an extreme example, especially if we are therefore also ignoring all instances of fermata, accelerando, ritardando and any other musical indications instructing some change in tempo), while it conversely may not ruin recordings and performances of certain other genres ("Pop," for example, especially if it involves synthesizers, or a previously recorded vocal backing track, which would make a click track necessary in most cases). Many believe that nothing beats a talented musical ensemble keeping time together; When done with expert skill, it can be, as perceived, better than a click track aided performance or recording.

When there is no need to post-process the music with it properly fitting up to a tempo grid in a DAW, it can be reasoned that there is thus no need to record or perform to a click track, particularly if the band is good at keeping a steady rhythm between each other. And although it is possible to create "click maps" (pre-programmed click tracks designed specifically for a song or musical presentation that changes tempo and/or meter throughout), much live music can benefit from natural shifts of pace (tempo) between different sections of a song or piece of music. Genres like jazz are especially said to have this type of character to it. If one listens to some jazz from the 30s or 40s, and then imagines those musicians having to record it to an unchanging click, one might be able to see how it could ruin the musicians' "grooves," so to speak. Similarly, if one loads an old jazz recording into a DAW and tries to automatically calculate the average BPM, they may be surprised to see just how much the tempo naturally goes up and down, depending on the current mood of the piece.


  1. ^ a b c d e Gavin Harrison (August 2003). "Creating Click Tracks For Drummers". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  2. ^ Randel, Don Michael (1999). "Rhythm section" in The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians; p. 560. ISBN 0-674-00978-9

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