Software reveals drummers who used click tracks

Because it's much easier to hack music that has a perfectly even tempo, drummers often use a click track to make life easy for producers and remixers. Coder and music technologist Paul Lamere developed a program that plots the deviations of a drumbeat from its own overall tempo, which tells us who brings a metronome to the studio, and who just lets fly.
I’ve always been curious about which drummers use a click track and which don’t, so I thought it might be fun to try to build a click track detector using the Echo Nest remix SDK ( remix is a Python library that allows you to analyze and manipulate music). ... I averaged the beat durations over a short window, and the resulting plot was quite good.
That wild blue line is, of course, John Bonham. In search of the click track [Music Machinery]

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18 Responses to Software reveals drummers who used click tracks

  1. kaosmonkey says:

    Seems like every time someone gives a shout out to Neal Peart from Rush, someone else chimes in with Danny Carey from Tool.

    This time, it’s me.

    And yes… I would love to see the graph from a Tool track.

  2. Casual_Casualty says:

    @#9 GEEKMAN –

    I agree. I’d label my drumming skills mediocre at best, but the first year or playing the drums I practiced to a metronome daily until I got to the point that I could play precisely (enough) without one.
    I would say what this software is showing is not necessarily whether or not a drummer is using a click-track, but the complexity of what the drummer is playing.
    Most pop-songs are going to have fairly unvarying background beats, but he mentioned that songs with more bps have a downward slope… so I don’t really get how this would account for a drummer playing a solid 1/16 throughout a song?

  3. bardfinn says:

    Since many of Rush’s songs have a wide variety of tempos throughout the song, the software would likely show many peaks and valleys for Mr. Peart’s performances. Given how /good/ he is, I’d be surprised if the graph isn’t fairly smooth on the small scale, though (If you can find a stretch without delta V of tempo) – As noted above, Neil Peart’s a /freaking machine/.

    Good drummers (shameless fanboying: Such as Mark Stone and John Joe Kelly) are able to subtly play ahead of or behind the ‘beat’ or the primary stress in order to effect a desired musical phenomenon. As Kaosmonkey mentioned Danny Carey – he has done this. Andy Stochansky did so while playing with Ani DiFranco.

  4. jitrobug says:

    Howabout Jo Jones?

    Music from the 30’s totally freaks out every automatic bpm counter I’ve ever tried…

  5. feedingfashionistas says:

    It’s worth mentioning here (though the point is obvious to musos) that the chief purpose of playing along with a click track is to rein in the errant tempo waverings of less-than-solid musicians.

    It’s just a nice side benefit that the resultant audio is easier to chop up, and, vicious cycle alert, easier to make ever more “perfect”, as the automatic rhythm correction software doesn’t have to work so hard to figure out where a given note was supposed to be.

    Proficient live bands like Led Zep are able to take the tempo of a song and bend and push it to their will- wherever Bonzo went, the band careened with him, to dramatic results. This kind of flexibility is sadly lost with today’s focus on “fixing” everything.

    This is why a lot of today’s dubstep, hip hop and glitchy music is really exciting to me, because people have started to rebel against this flat, quantized sound- the timing of a lot of this stuff is *all over* the place, and it really makes the ears prick up.

    Let’s all take a moment to posthumously thank J Dilla!

  6. bardfinn says:

    Ringo would sometimes play behind or ahead of the beat to ensure his bandmates sounded good, because Lennon normally set the tempo. I wonder which track was analysed for the Beatles.

  7. Troglodyte says:


    It accounts for deviations rather than absolute tempo, so a solid 1/16 the whole song would be an absolutely flat line, because there’s no deviations. In addition, a curve that oscillates or jumps wildly around is likely to be difficult to attain with a click track, while any straighter line– even with a non-zero slope– is more likely to be a click track adjusted to increase or decrease tempo.

    Either way, I wanna get my hands on this and mess with it a bit.

  8. Brother Provisional says:

    Maybe for his next feat, this guy can write a script to analyze which on recordings musicians used tuning forks or electric tuners, and on which ones they tuned by ear.

  9. bardfinn says:

    ah, from TFA, it’s Dizzy Miss Lizzie.

    This is pretty cool. I’ve always been able to hear the tempo deviations (and lack thereof) – now I might be able to prove them to my non-acoustically-gifted acquaintances.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The software might also be picking up drumbeats that have been time shifted with ProTools or some equivalent software, used heavily in the last few years.

  11. JoeKickass says:

    I’d really like to see this done on a couple of RUSH tracks. Neil Peart is a virtuoso, I wonder if he’d be distinct from a computer… which I doubt he uses.

    Regarding the earlier comments about Starr and Bonham deviating from tempo deliberately; that’s all well and good for a live performance when everyone is collaborating and “jamming” if you will. But for a studio effort I expect something a little more consistent. Aren’t studio tracks laid down separately with each member playing along with a recording of their bandmates?

    I’m not a professional musician but I don’t expect that the studio is really the place for experimentation.

  12. hectorinwa says:

    Neal Peart is a computer. He writes out every note of every solo he does live and does them exactly the same all tour long.

  13. tapehead says:

    Richie Hayward – Little Feat

  14. Anonymous says:

    Recall Animal from the muppets? We drummers are an enthusiastic bunch and one classic move is to gradually speed up as the song goes on until the guitarist begs for mercy. Part of the problem is there’s no frame of reference and the speed can easily creep up without it being noticeable. Another reason is that there’s even less reference from day to day. We decided to try using a click track after getting back a first mix of a recording session and being dismayed how unbelievably fast we’d played it during the session! It’s actually a real skill to be able to play along to a click track – after relying on your own brain and the other musicians as guides, it’s tough to change gears and you can give some really wooden performances until you get used to it. I originally regarded it as cheating, but have a new respect. Kudos to the cyborgs who can keep it perfect without.

  15. duallain says:

    I wonder what Keith Moon’s line would look like.

  16. philipb says:

    I’ll guarantee that a live drummer never came within 12 miles of the Britney track.

  17. GeekMan says:

    It’s an interesting THEORY, but one that fails to account for the fact that well-practised musicians DO have scarily good skills, including keeping time and rhythm.

    After the insane feats I’ve seen accomplished by pianists and violinists, to say that a very good drummer can’t keep near-perfect time on a good studio take (which has probably been rehearsed to death) is a bit unfair.

    Live performances are really the best environment to gauge the level of musicianship possessed by various bands’ members.

  18. artbot says:

    #7 – agreed. Who would ever even imagine Britney’s producers would hire a live drummer when there are so many great drum machines/software out there nowadays.

    And I would also like to see the results from a Rush track.

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