Playing live piano along with a backing track

Thanks to Luther from California USA for this question about playing a live instrument over a backing track…


Hi Kenny,
I’m a solo piano player who is looking at playing a place where others use backing tracks. I never used drum machines because I don’t like the distraction but backing tracks might do. So I downloaded your free one to check out the drum and bass qualities etc. By the way, since I’m in California, how would I figure out prices. Just got a 5 pound note as a tip at a gig last night. Don’t know what to do with that either. Thanks very much,


Hi Luther

I play piano too and playing live piano over the top of a backing track adds a really great live feel to any backing track.

And the good thing about using backing tracks rather than just a single instrument is that it gives you (and your audience) a full band sound.

As more and more entertainers use backing tracks, todays audiences have now come to expect a full sound from entertainers so sadly the old solo piano/vocalist or solo guitar/vocalist tends to sound very empty and a little bit too dated for todays discerning audiences.

It’s even quite common nowadays for bands to use backing tracks. They will usually have special backing tracks created with a click track so that the band can still get the sounds of violins, brass section, synthesizers etc – sounds that are essential to the song but they couldn’t achieve live without employing a brass section or a string orchestra.

Some musicians who don’t understand backing tracks often think that if it is pre-recorded then it is somehow fake in some way, but this simply is not the case.

Take a look at just about every Broadway musical and every major artist who performs live nowadays (artists like Madonna etc). They all have their drummer wear a pair of headphones and play along with a click track so that they can use pre-recorded parts as well as the live instruments.

This is done for two reasons:

1. It makes much more sense to pre-record a particular piece of music which will only be used in one particular passage of one song rather than employ a musician to stand there the whole night just so that he can play that small 30 second part.

2. If a musician calls in sick, a replacement has to found at short notice. So the guitar effects or keyboard/synth sounds are usually set up to change automatically at certain parts of the song so that the right sounds will be played at the right times. Yes, it’s easy enough to find a replacement musician even at short notice and give him the written music sheet so he knows exactly what to play and when to play it. But what you can’t do is write in to a music sheet exactly what synth sound should be selected when he plays that part and how it should be selected. The stand-in musician won’t be familiar with the equipment he’s going to be using but that doesn’t matter as long as he just plays what’s written – the pre-recorded click track and program changes will do the rest.

On a lighter note, I can tell you what the five pound UK bank note that you were given as a tip the other night is worth….erm…not very much I’m afraid!

It used to be worth a lot of money until the recession hit us here in the UK!

Seriously though, it’s probably worth around $7 – $8 USD. That’s not a lot, but I suppose if 100 people asked you for a request every night and gave you a five pound note, that would be a rather nice little bonus!

It’s probably not worth changing it in to dollars – perhaps you could just keep it and give it as a gift to a friend who is maybe thinking of visiting the UK…