The Metronome: Blessing Or Curse?
by Caleb Kay
The metronome (sometimes referred to as a ‘click’) is an often-disused piece of equipment in worship teams, and sentiments toward it run the gamut from mere disregard to extreme disdain.
Ten years ago, I was asked to play the drums with a click, because the opening song of a special service needed to be in sync with a video. I struggled and gave lots of
excuses reasons why it couldn't be done. I'm sure some will be familiar to readers:
- It's so rigid!
- It's distracting or hard to follow.
- I can't worship with it (and don't you know that's the most important?).
But over the last ten years, I've grown to learn how to play with it, and even how to appreciate the significance of its role in worship music. As with everything in life, there's a learning curve, but I've grown to enjoy it, and have discovered three benefits to using it in a band setting.
1. It's an objective foundation.
Ever had that experience where your band rehearses a song and at the end, someone goes, "Hmm that felt draggy," and someone else says, "No, it was too fast"? How easily swayed we can sometimes be!
The advantage of having a metronome is that you can always set it to the speed of the original song that the team is referencing. If the worship leader wants adjustments, tweak it from there.
We don't have to rigidly follow the original without budging, but at least having the click makes it objective, and not subject to feelings – unlike how I might play anywhere from 2 to 5 BPM slower after a heavy dinner.
2. It's a foundation that frees.
In my early years of using the click in a worship band setting, I found it so hard to play freely because I was so focused on following its timing. But there was a day when we went into spontaneous worship, and in our debrief after the set, all the musicians remarked that the click had "disappeared"!
It was really still playing, but what actually happened was that, as we all got better at following the click, it ‘disappeared’ because we were playing precisely in time. It takes practice, but eventually, your internal clock gets better at playing at a constant tempo.
It might seem counterintuitive, but having the click eventually liberates your team to express yourselves; because you're less focused on keeping time with each other, the metronome becomes a solid foundation for your band to express more creatively - together!
(A question that might come up: "Don't the band and all the singers need to be able to hear the click? What if not everyone hears it?" In such cases, the metronome can still be used as a guide for what tempo to start the song in, at the very least. It should also be used in personal practice time, when you're working out your own instrument or vocal parts at home.)
3. Craft and heart go hand in hand.
"It doesn't matter if I can't play or sing in time; what's most important is my heart! I simply can't worship with the click so take it away!"
I think that this may be the cry of every worship musician at some point of our journey (myself included), but we must understand that as musicians on platforms leading others in worship, our craft is just as much a part of our worship as our hearts' postures. They are not mutually exclusive. As a congregation member, it is easier to follow the leadership of a worship band that plays in time, rather than one that doesn’t.
So keep stewarding that heart of worship, because it starts from a heart that loves Jesus. But get better at your craft, too, because that expression is the overflow of what's within, and to grow in it is to better serve the communities we lead in worship.
It takes humility to honestly assess ourselves – perhaps our craft has not caught up with our heart – and take steps to ensure both are growing in tandem.
I hope this article inspires you to not only consider using the metronome in your teams, but also hone yourselves to become better musicians. I can safely say I’ve seen the hard-earned fruit when teams collectively work towards improving their craft, specifically in the area of timekeeping. Strive towards greater excellence - because Jesus is worthy of that!
AG is excited to share that we are kicking off a pilot Drums Stream for our 2019 cohort, and it is now open for applications. If you'd like to apply or find out more, do email email@example.com!