Sound Advice

Do you love the sound of your own playing?

You should.

What's the best way to get quick, objective feedback?

Record yourself.

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 iOS, 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 main objectives:

  1. 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.
  2. To capture lightning in a bottle, and provide yourself with objective accountability. One of the biggest reasons students come to me as a teacher of all levels, it because they want accountability. We need an objective 3rd party that’s neither us nor our instrument, to give us feedback on how we’re advancing.

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.

How to master recording yourself on a the reg:

When you sit down (or stand up) to practice, do so with the intention of refining a single piece to record. Work through it with the aim of spending time smoothing out the rough edges, and don’t sweat over the easy stuff.

This is a dangerous trap that many students fall into. By just playing 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, hit record.

Mistakes are OK. You just want to make sure you play though the entire piece, top to bottom. Actually, mistake are very helpful in this process, and here’s why: You are not allowed to listen back to this recording until right before your next practice session – a minimum of 24 hours – ideally no more, because you practice every day, right?

What you perceive as the most egregious “mistakes” will clearly define how you spend your time practicing.

If you head to your “woodshed” each day with the understanding that you can change the things about your playing that you don’t like, it opens the doors of possibility. They key is to stick to one or two simple, clearly defined objectives, so you can measure your progress.

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 other 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 to the mechanics of the instrument, the song, the stage, etc . You’re too “in the 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, not what a teacher or critic wants to hear from you.

Rinse and repeat!

Give it a try the next time you practice, and try to make a lighthearted and fun affair. There’s nothing worse that giving yourself stage fright, simply 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 Kenny Warner’s book “Effortless Mastery” as an antidote to performance anxiety. Be consistent and show up every day. Integrate this quick and painless technique into your practice routine, and you’ll see results.

Read more articles about recording.


About the author: Encouraging students to pursue their passions, self-improvement and creative critical thinking in a contemporary musical landscape. -- Chris Conly moved to Brooklyn from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He studied Music Education at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, and proceeded to work in a variety of musical and educational environments, encouraging the next generation of musicians. Passionate about music, the move to the Big Apple was a natural fit. Serving the growing demand for musicians versed in today's rapidly evolving skills, Chris started his own teaching studio in 2008. In his free time, Chris loves relaxing with his girlfriend and their rescue dog Pepe & cat Ralph, or catching a set of live sketch comedy. He is also a songwriter/producer, and loves working with artists to craft their sonic visions. Grateful for a thriving music scene, Chris makes sure that new students are welcomed in an unassuming and encouraging way that has become his hallmark as a music educator.