Tracks, clicks, and cues can, at times, be a lifesaver. How can we take advantage of their benefits without forfeiting our own musicianship?
This Side of the Tracks
Using tracks in worship is all the rage today. Between Multitracks, Loop Community, and a few other sites, you can purchase almost any mainstream worship song, broken into its individually recorded tracks. This gives you great flexibility in customizing the additional parts that you want to supplement your live band. Add extra guitar parts. Use the acoustic tracks if your acoustic player is sick. Add in the multitude of keys parts that you would otherwise not be able to cover. Rearrange the format of the song with Ableton. Do this all on the fly with midi controllers. In the end, you’ll sound almost like the original recording.
In order to stay in time with the tracks, a metronome (or click track) can be used in in-ear monitors. With the clicks, cues or guide tracks are also included to let you know where you are in the song. You hear a person saying, "Intro, 2, 3, 4," or "Verse, 2, ready, go."
These cues are great for someone who might not be as familiar with the song. On some level it is helpful, but I’m seeing more and more musicians rely solely on the cues rather than truly learning the song. Many instrumentalists and singers might lose their place in the song if you were to remove the cues completely. They might jump to a bridge when it was another chorus or come in early, rather than waiting those extra two bars.
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Timing is Everything
In addition to this, I find that many times the cues are late; not in terms of where they are placed in the measures, but rather, in terms of feeling. Most of the time a cue is placed in the bar before a new section. A measure before a verse would say, "Verse, 2, ready, go." Depending on the tempo, that might be too fast for someone if they are not paying attention. When in the role of Musical Director, I pre-empt the cue about a measure or so ahead. So I might say, "Verse, ... , 2, ... , 1, 2, ready, go." That way it catches the musicians' attention and gives them an extra measure to be ready. I’ve also found that when rearranging the song, cues don't follow the new song structure. The cue might call for a bridge when it’s time for a chorus. The band then plays the bridge while the track is still playing the chorus. If the band plays the wrong section, the singer won’t know where to go and will stop singing. (This is where a Musical Director comes in handy ;-)
The cool tools at your disposal are helpful, but be a musician first! Then let them help accentuate your musicianship.
Cues, in and of themselves, are not to be avoided completely. Just like anything, they can become a crutch and hold you back in your progress as a musician. I started my journey as a church musician when there were no tracks, cues, clicks, or in-ears. We shared a monitor or two with the whole band. We learned to play with each other, compliment one another musically and, frankly, learned to just be good musicians. In this, we had to learn the song. We might use charts, but we definitely didn’t have someone in our ears telling us what section of the song was next. We talked about the format at rehearsal and communicated. We learned the song and we played it. That freed us to truly be musicians.
Don’t let clicks and cues keep you from becoming a better musician. The cool tools at your disposal are helpful, but be a musician first! Then let them help accentuate your musicianship.