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When I record myself playing along with a drumless track I sound perfectly in time, but when playing along with a track that already has drums in it I am a tiny fraction out which makes every note sound like it is being played twice very quickly together.

I ultimately would like to perform live to the backing track, and I'm recording myself playing to it in order to gauge what the audience would hear. The problem is that I cannot get a drumless version of this backing track, and so I don't know whether I should go ahead with performing it.

Ultimately my question has two parts: how can I practice getting fully in time with the drums on a track, and how much would this 'double hit' effect show up if I was playing an acoustic set live to a recorded backing track?

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    Bear in mind that if the track was made with 'digital' drums, the beat will be 'perfect', whereas if it was recorded using a real drummer, even with a click track, it is likely to move slightly as the track develops. So, it may well be impossible to 'keep time' with the track with drums already on, perhaps either way... – Tim May 10 '15 at 18:33
  • Human perception of a double strike takes a remarkably short time. Unless you can lose the original drums, you will not be able to use that track. [I'd like to give you better news, but would rather you didn't waste your time. Unless you can find a transient reducer in software to perhaps mask the drums, you're out of luck, really.] – Tetsujin May 10 '15 at 19:40
  • I would never try to play the same part that is on a backing track. I would be afraid the audience could not tell I was actually playing. Are they hearing the backing track or me? If I started playing air drums, it would suddenly sound better. hmmmmmmmm. You could play on an electronic kit (like a Roland with rubber pads) and turn off the volume so the audience would only hear the drums on the track but could visually see that you were playing the same thing and most would not know that they were not hearing your drums. – Rockin Cowboy May 11 '15 at 17:18
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how can I practice getting fully in time with the drums on a track

It's doable. We had a similar situation in one project, and with some preparation it ended up sounding great. Depending on what you are doing, it might be more trouble than it's worth, but if you really want and/or need to do it, you can.

First of all, if the drum part was played by a human, you need to quantize. Otherwise you'd need to adjust to the performer's imperfections, which makes this many times harder (perhaps not even feasible) to do.

I used Ableton Live's warping for the quantizing, but all the top DAWs have tools for doing this. Because this is a complete track with many elements, you'll need something like Logic's Flex Time, Pro Tools' Elastic Audio, or Live's Warping (as opposed to audio cuts, where the cuts would be easily audible).

You don't have to quantize every hit, you can get away with quantizing to every beat, perhaps to eighths at most (if there's swing in something, you can bring it back with quantizing).

Now that the track is consistent in time you'll be dealing only with one time variant (you), not two (you and the other performer).

After that it's all about practice, you need to have very solid timing. If you are not used to play with a click this will be more difficult, but still feasible with enough practice.

In our project we had a very good drummer, that was used to play with click. Once the track was quantized he managed to pull off a great performance, but he was struggling with the non-quantized track.

how much would this 'double hit' effect show up if I was playing an acoustic set live to a recorded backing track

Not at all, if your timing is good enough. There isn't much room for error, though.

In my experience (so this is purely anecdotal) the ideal difference range (how much time you can differ from the recorded drums) is around -+4 milliseconds, so you have 8 ms of error range. From -+5 to 7 ms it still sounds fine, but some good ears might catch some subtle mistakes here and there, so 14 ms of error range might still be enough. At around -+8 to 10 ms the difference starts to be perceived as two separate sounds, so you want to stay away from that.

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Another problem could be latency when recording with the backing track. If you import the track, then attempt to play along with it. Depending on what you are recording, acoustics, electronic kit with internal sounds or electronic kit triggering samples there will be varying degrees of latency. It wouldn't be a big deal with drumless tracks but the double taps of playing along with an existing drum track. Try adjusting the buffers in your DAW to the lowest latency (in milliseconds) before you start to experience drop outs in recording. Depending on your computer you may not be able to reduce it enough to minimize the doubling. Shoot for under 10ms or you are probably screwed. I tried a I3 with SSHD and 16MB ram and couldn't get Studio One under 15. I went to an I7 and got to 7ms.

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If there's a drum track already, you don't need to play THAT part again. At the very best you'll get an ADT effect - quite effective on vocals but (as you've discovered) annoying on drums! (And if you DID manage to get it spot on, there'd be a danger of phase cancellation.) Play some 'extra percussion'. Or play nothing, if that's what the music needs. Which is a distinct possibility.

Yes, I appreciate this isn't the answer you WANTED.

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