Do you love the sound of your own playing?
What’s the best way to get quick, objective feedback?
It’s super easy to do with all the technology available at our fingertips — yet many of us neglect to utilize this one ubiquitous feature.
I use the Voice Memos app on my iPhone, but it really doesn’t matter what you use as long as it’s easy. Otherwise you won’t do it.
There are a few tricks to working recording into your practice routine that I think you’ll see will really up your game.
Your 2 objectives are:
To enter a state of focus while you’re playing, with the understanding that you are capturing a single performance.
As you get better at this, it becomes a useful tactic to apply to your playing mentality, even when you’re not recording.
To capture lightning in a bottle, and provide yourself with objective accountability.
One of the biggest reasons students come to me as a teacher is for accountability.
We all need an objective 3rd party that’s neither us nor our instrument, to give us feedback on how we’re progressing.
You should also begin to craft your own instincts – not only of your progress – but of taste.
As musicians we are constantly updating our sense of what we think sounds good, what moves us, and what inspires us to practice and advance our craft.
And that’s OK.
In fact it’s a good thing.
Master recording yourself (make it a habit).
When you sit down (or stand up) to practice, do so with the intention of refining a single section of music to record.
Keep it brief and to the point, like 4 or 8 bars at the most.
Work through it with the aim of spending time smoothing out the rough edges.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
This is a dangerous trap that many students fall into.
If you just play the easy parts, that make you feel good about your playing, you make no progress.
Only by tackling the next most difficult passage in a song, can you stretch beyond your current ability, and grow as a player.
Once you feel you can play fluidly and confidently through the entire piece, it’s time to go on air.
Mistakes are OK.
You just want to make sure you play though the entire piece, top to bottom.
Actually, mistakes are very helpful in this process.
Here is why — you are not allowed to listen back to this recording until:
- Right before your next practice session
- A minimum of 24 hours, or a full night’s sleep cycle later (See how your brain decides what to retain every night.)
Ideally no more, because you practice every day, right?
Clarify Your Goals
What you perceive as the most egregious “mistakes” will clearly define how you spend your time practicing.
Each day, you should walk out to your “woodshed” (Jazzer slang for where your practice).
If you can change the things you don’t like your craft, it opens the doors of possibility. (See more about the skeptical optimist.)
They key is to stick to a few simple, clearly defined objectives, so you can measure your progress, and not get overwhelmed.
Keep practicing a fun and loose activity.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Life is short.
The only way you can develop any objectivity about your own ability, is to let your memory clear itself through one sleep cycle.
When you return with a fresh set of ears, you will be listening as if someone else is playing, and you will be able to judge the sounds from the perspective of an audience, rather than a performer.
The last roadblock you want to overcome here, is that you can’t ever truly “hear” 100% of what’s going on when you’re playing, because so much of your attention is attuned to reacting.
You’re too consumed by the “musical moment” to fully grasp the full consequences of your playing.
It’s only through the repeated process of recording yourself, and listening back objectively, that you can guide your practice time to micro-focus on the specific elements of your playing that you want to improve.
Rinse, and repeat.
Give it a try the next time you practice.
Keep it fun and loose.
There’s nothing worse that giving yourself stage fright, just because you know you’re being recorded.
If you do suffer from stage fright, this might be a good way to begin to overcome it.
I highly recommend pianist Kenny Warner’s classic book“Effortless Mastery” as an antidote to performance anxiety.
Be consistent, and show up every day.
Integrate this technique into your practice routine, and you’ll see results.
Next: How to track your progress using a “Practice Journal”.
Read more articles about recording.