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Recently I participated in a project where we played film music live with the film playing. We got an earbud that played the click track for one ear so we stayed in time.

Now this was an amateur project and my first time playing to a click track. It seemed to me that the click was more distracting than helpful. I started out by kind of trying to ignore it as much as I can because I had trouble hearing the orchestra clearly. As we practised more I got somewhat used to it and saw the advantages it brings, especially if you play along a film where you absolutely need to stay in time for the whole thing.

There was one issue I had until the very end though. I wasn't able to adjust the intonation as well as I usually would. I knew when the intonation was off but I was simply not able to know the cause. I usually can tell if I'm too high or low but with the earbud in I felt lost.

I put the earbud in my right ear and I was sitting slightly to the right of the orchestra so my left ear was directed more or less at the middle of the orchestra.

With some practise it got better but it was nowhere near playing without the click.

How do the pros handle this? Is it just a lot more practise with clicktracks or do they take out the earbuds for parts where intonation is very important? I imagine that intonation is much less of a problem at a certain level of play but I assume they still need to adapt their playing during a piece.

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    Pretty sure the pros follow the conductor, who follows the movie visually. Did you not have a conductor? Oct 30 '17 at 12:09
  • Yes we had one but he insisted on having (some) players have one too.
    – Carpid
    Oct 30 '17 at 12:44
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There are two problems here.

Firstly, if you find the click distracting, it's too loud. You need to find a level where you can hear the click without it getting in your way. Often that level is quiet enough that you can't hear the click when the orchestra is playing at full volume. If everybody is playing, but out of time, there's no way you can fix it by yourself.

Secondly, earbuds are not optimal for woodwind players because closing off the ear canal affects the way you hear sound resonance from your mouth. For a demonstration of the effect, try closing one ear with your finger and speaking. This adversely affects tone and intonation. Open headphones (just on one ear) are much better, particularly the type that just sit on the outside of the ear without enclosing it.

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I suspect that earbuds themselves are not the problem. You are either being distracted by the click track or you are having difficulty hearing yourself.

If the earbuds had the click track overlaid on a monitor is suspect you would not have have been so lost. I experience something similar performing live with a band. If I could barely hear myself, getting intonation right was incredibly frustrating. I could tell I was off but too late to do anything about it.

On the other hand if the click track itself is distracting you then it is psychological and you just need to practice to get used to it. However I doubt that is the case. A click track is basically like a metronome and we all regularly practice with them right?

Next time if you are one of the specially selected people to listen to the click track ask if you can get your sound piped through as well. I think it would help you a lot.

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Like everything in music, what you repeat, you learn. Intonation is an ongoing battle for anyone performing in large groups, especially with varied instruments. If you feel uncomfortable doing ANYthing, try recreating it in your practice time.

In this case, you could practice with a tuning track through speakers while listening to a metronome in earbuds. The closer you can get to creating the performance environment while practicing, the better off you'll be!

Another tip: Try to focus on how intonation feels in your body....without relying solely on your ears.

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If sound is heard in only one ear it's perceived 10 dB more quiet in comparison to the same sound in both ears. That's a large difference. In order to hear the click in one only ear you need to have it 10 dB louder, which might feel weird, distract you, and in extreme case cause hearing damage.

Headphones for both ears would work better. If the other instruments become too quiet due to attenuation by the headphones, you also may need to have them mixed with the click track.

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