Learning an instrument on your own just isn’t going to work. If you want to progress quickly, we all know that you need a teacher. Why is a teacher so important? One major reason is just because they are an educated third party listening to your playing.
You practice constantly preparing diligently for an upcoming performance, but it’s just not enough. You need someone to listen and critique so you can make appropriate changes. Lessons are usually held once a week, and it’s great that you can get your teacher’s feedback that often, but it’s not enough. You need this feedback daily. One way to get this specific feedback is to record yourself.
You Sound Different Than You Think
If you’ve ever recorded yourself, you likely understand this. You may think you’re listening to yourself objectively, but when you press play, you notice you don’t sound anything like you thought you did. Why is this exactly?
Playing an instrument is a skill that is so difficult that listening objectively often takes a back seat. You’re often too occupied with getting a good run through, or not making the same mistake that you don’t notice exactly what your music sounds like.
Especially Important for Singers
For singers, recording yourself takes on even more meaning. Have you ever listened to your voice on a recording? Were you horrified by what you heard? Was it more high pitched and nasally? That’s how I feel about my voice. In my head I sound like a voice over professional, but when I hear a recording, I sound more like a chipmunk.
But of course we don’t sound like the recording right? The recording is just distorting the sound somehow right? Unfortunately, the answer is not much. Depending of the quality of the recording of course it doesn’t match true life exactly, but it’s much closer to what everyone else hears than to what you hear.
I wish everyone else heard the commercial quality voice I hear, but no, they hear what I hear on the recording. Why do we hear our voice so differently then? The video below will go into a little more detail as to why it’s different.
In addition to all the things that singers have to think about while producing their sound, they also have to realize that the actual tone of their voice is different in real life than what they hear in their heads. Recording is just that much more important for singers.
With Recordings You Can Focus Entirely On What You’re Hearing
Once you record yourself, you can just sit and listen. You can listen from the standpoint of an audience member at your performance. Or you could listen from the standpoint of a critic and teacher. You can listen to your tempo. Is it steady? Do you need to work with a metronome some more?
One of the most important improvements that can be made is with your musicality. Often you think you are doing more than you actually are, but from a listeners standpoint they hear nothing. You know the crescendo is there. You know the accent is there, so that influences how you actually perceive the piece. When you turn on a recording, however, you’ll often notice what you thought you were doing well, is actually completely inaudible. Once you make this discovery, you can work on exaggerating these parts of the music, so the audience can hear them.
Recording is Great Performance Practice
Beyond the need for critique, even if you don’t listen to the recording at all, it can be fantastic performance practice. In order for this to work, you need to have a goal of getting a great recording of your music. The music should be memorized and pretty much performance ready. Prepare yourself mentally by closing your eyes and putting yourself in the room where you’ll be performing. Picture the audience, see individual people. Take a bow and start the recorder.
Even though no one is listening, you know that you’re being recorded. You end up trying to avoid mistakes like you would in a performance. You shoot for a great recording. You may even feel nervous. This is why it’s great performance practice. You can work on how to overcome your nerves outside of a performance when you record your practice.
Recording as a Progress Tracker
Practicing can be a little disheartening at times. You can really only make good progress when you practice daily, but that also means progress is slow and steady. It can be pretty difficult for a musician that has to practice hours every day if they feel like they aren’t progressing.
First off, if you are practicing effectively daily, you are progressing. Let’s just get that out of the way. But it can be really helpful to actually get some feedback. There’s a reason that weight loss products always show a before and after in their marketing. Progress is inspirational and motivational. When we see progress in ourselves or others we want to continue doing whatever it was that showed us that progress.
Because we are with ourselves daily, it’s hard to determine whether or not we are really getting any better. This is where recording can come into play. Progress is black and white when you have a before and after. Make sure to make at least weekly recordings of pieces you are working on.
You can record pieces at any stage, but for the purpose of progress tracking, it’s often helpful to record pieces you’re working on that you can play through from beginning to end already.
If you’re still working on the notes of a piece progress is pretty obvious. “I memorized a page this week!”
Once the notes are learned, you may still continue working on the piece for a while. This is where it’s important to make a recording at each stage.
After a few weeks, go back and listen to an older recording. You’ll be surprised that you’ve progressed a lot. That’s some important motivation to keep you doing what brings results.
Record Video or Audio Only
So far we haven’t specified whether to make audio or video recordings. Both are valuable in their own ways.
Why Video Recording
It’s important to see what you look like while playing your instrument. If you sit, are you sitting correctly? How’s your physical technique? Do you have any bad habits you should be working on?
In addition to looking for bad habits, if you know what you look like, you can begin to try to imitate what professionals look like when they play.
I’m primarily a pianist, so I’ll be using piano as an example, but this advice can be applied to any other instrument. Spend some time watching videos of the best pianists playing their instrument. Really focus in on how they move. Every pianist has slightly different technique, but all of the best pianists make very efficient movements. That is, they don’t waste energy. Watch some amazing pianists play extremely softly, then compare that to yourself or your student. The professionals move differently. When playing the softest of sounds, they almost don’t move. They don’t use their arms. You’ll see a steady hand and very small movements in the fingers.
Playing softly is just one example. Analyze very closely what exactly the professionals in your field look like when they play. When you do this often, it will teach you how you are supposed to move to make the best sounds, and play the most accurately.
But just like listening, you don’t really know what you look like when you play until you can actually look at yourself. This is another reason why video recordings are very important as well.
Video Recording Show Tension
I used to have the habit of opening my mouth while I played. I mean really opening it. It was a little embarrassing when I would see a recording of myself. Having my mouth open created a lot of tension all throughout my face. It looked bad, it likely made me play worse, and increased performance anxiety. My teacher would mention it on occasion, but I never really thought anything of it until I saw it for myself. Seeing is believing. You’ll likely find you have some interesting performance and practice tics that cause tension and reduce the quality of your playing. Once you see them, you can get rid of them.
Why Only Audio Recording
Music is primarily for our ears, but often our eyes get in the way of the music. Seeing yourself on a recording can also make you hear things differently. If you are really into the music, making all kinds of gestures, you may trick yourself into thinking that you’re playing extremely musically. It’s possible, though, that in reality you aren’t making any of the sounds your body suggests you’re making.
This is when it’s important to just listen to an audio recording. Some auditions and competitions are “blind” just for this reason. The judges, or adjudicators, cannot see the performer because what they see may inhibit their ability to judge the music objectively. In an actual performance situation you should be using these physical gestures, so the audience can better relate to your music, but they shouldn’t replace actual musicality.
What to Use to Record
I don’t like to give you suggestions without practical advice on how to implement them. So let’s now discuss what you should physically use to record yourself. Obviously if you had a great recording studio where you practiced, that would be ideal. Most people don’t have that, so what could you use instead?
Growing up we didn’t have phones with amazing cameras like we do today. Now you are carrying around with you a recording device that may actually be the only thing you need to record all of your playing. You can record yourself both with video and with audio alone. It does a pretty good job too. Will the quality be studio level? Of course not, but for simple practice sessions, recording with your phone is a great idea.
To help with phone recording, you should look into getting a tripod for your phone. They’re really cheap, and it will make your life a lot easier.
You could definitely use just a normal digital video camera or any digital camera that can take video as well. There are some that are very expensive and some not so much. Honestly unless you already have one, or want something really amazing that you’ll probably use with something else, your phone is likely the better way to go.
Portable Audio Recorder
Although the phone does pretty well, the audio quality isn’t going to be amazing. Sometimes you really need to be able to tell what your playing sounds like from a more nuanced perspective. You also may want a decent recording of your piece that you can use for auditions or even just to have a record of how well you played a piece in the past. Without spending thousands on expensive recording devices that are big and heavy, you can by small handheld audio recorders that are surprisingly very good.
Zoom is the brand of audio recorders I see used most often by musicians. If you have an extra $100, I would definitely make the leap for one of these. I have some options listed below. At the time of writing these start from $100 and the most expensive one is $270.
Just for full disclosure, I will get a commission if you buy from any of those links, but I would suggest them nonetheless. I don’t own any of these newer models, but I do have a Zoom I got about 10 years ago. It’s really incredible, and it still works well today. I can only imagine the technology has gotten better, and by looking at the reviews for these newer models it sounds like I’m right.
Here’s a new idea. What if you could record every second of your practice sessions? It might be cool. It might be overwhelming. You probably wouldn’t go back and listen to entire practice sessions. At least I would think that wouldn’t be very helpful, at least not on a regular basis. But you know what could be really helpful? Getting an instant replay.
You just played something you weren’t recording it, but you wish you could replay it to hear what it sounded like. It could be very helpful just to quickly analyze exactly what you’re doing to see if it was effective or not.
That’s where Kapture Audio comes into play. Kapture Audio is an app for your phone that is constantly recording as long as it’s open on your phone. It never stores more than one minute of recording. When you start practicing, you could press start on the Kapture Audio app. When you want to replay the last minute of your practicing, you press a button in the app. It can then play back your last minute of practice. Pretty cool right? It’s not meant for this purpose, but I’ve been using it and it’s actually really helpful.
Record yourself. It’s that simple. It needs to be done. If you’re not doing it regularly, you should be. How often? I would say daily. The more often you find an excuse to hear yourself play, the better. Make it a priority. It doesn’t mean you should be spending tons of time on it, but it should be part of your daily practice routine. The more often you hear yourself, the better you will be at evaluating your playing without recording yourself.
What do you think? Have you had any experiences that you want to share about recording yourself?