How to make a guide track?

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The importance of a solid guide track

When you are preparing for the studio and you want to record one instrument at a time, it is necessary to have a solid guide track. Without it, the drummer, or whatever musician plays first, has a tough time maneuvering through the arrangement.

As a musician, you have to react to the playing of your fellow musicians. When playing live, everybody can see each other and the collaboration happens naturally. If all you have is a click to play against, all musical context is different, and so is the outcome. Luckily, we have guide tracks to rescue us.

What is a guide track?

How to make a guide track

The guide track is a simplified version of your song and will contain just enough information to know where you are in the song. The guide track will also make sure you can feel the groove and it makes keeping time easy. In addition, making a guide track forces you to commit your musical decisions and it prevents discussions when tracking.

A good guide track will contain the following elements:

  • A vocal part to follow form. In case of instrumental music this will be the melodic instrument.
  • Chords to follow the key and mood of the song. Chords will also add context to the melody and it contains rhythmic and dynamic information as well.

This is all that is needed to assemble a guide track. It is important that the guide track is easy to follow and therefore should remain basic. If necessary you can always add extra cues, for example, to make the transitions between verse and chorus more recognizable. Remember that a guide track is made to be replaced eventually.

It should never be the case that a guide track distracts the musician from his task to lay down a fundamental base track.

If you decide to play with a click track make sure that the guide track is rhythmically tightly played. It might help to simplify rhythmically complex parts, but be careful! The musician will adjust his playing to what he hears and simplifying too much will change the entire performance. To prevent this, you can make a practice recording in the rehearsal room to check if the outcome is as it should be.

Less is more

Making a guide track isn’t that hard. A mobile phone is actually all you need. There are even apps available to make overdubs on separate tracks. Give this to your producer or engineer and he will take care of the monitor mix. The rule that applies to almost everything and certainly applies to making a guide track is: ‘Less is more’.

Good luck, and have fun recording!

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