How often do you record yourself when you practice?

One important aspect of efficient practice is recording yourself and listening back! Want to know why? Here are four reasons why you should record yourself during your music practice:

1. Find out what you REALLY sound like

Have you ever heard a recording of your own voice?

When you first heard it, you were probably caught off guard. You may have even thought, “How could that strange voice possibly be mine?” Which is why you would most likely agree that it’s pretty normal to be surprised (and perhaps even unpleasantly so) upon hearing your own recorded voice coming from a speaker for the first time.

This is because the way your voice sounds to you is not the way it sounds to everyone else. Your perception of your sound is precisely that – your own.

The same is true when you play an instrument.

When you perform, the sound that you hear your instrument making isn’t always the same sound that’s hitting the listener’s ears.

From where you are on stage, it might seem like you’re creating a particular musical effect. It sounds like it’s happening, so logically it must be happening!

But as soon as you record yourself and listen back, guess what? It’s not.

This is the revealing part of recording yourself as a musician. The movements and actions that you’re doing won’t always produce the desired result. Plus, the only way you’re going to realize this is to seriously listen to your own playing.

To take your playing to the next level, you need to line up your perception of sound with the actual sound coming out of your instrument.

2. Be able to zoom in on your weak spots

The good (and uncomfortable) thing about a recording is that it doesn’t lie.

Every little note that didn’t come out perfectly, every missed chord progression, and every backward rhythm can be heard there in the open, over and over again.

When you record yourself, you get an honest picture of where you stand as a musician. Terence Blanchard once said, “Art Blakey’s whole thing was, ‘Don’t lie to yourself, just tell yourself the truth.’ He meant that when you lie to yourself, you’re covering up inadequacies, and you can’t grow that way. Once I figured out what the problem was, I had the opportunity to fix it. Then it was a matter of being diligent, staying on course, taking my time and being disciplined.”

It may not be fun to acknowledge that you have musical weaknesses. However, it’s an important step towards improving as a musician.

In fact, a lot of people in almost every profession record themselves. Public speakers videotape themselves, and athletes analyze videos of themselves on the field. Why?

Because they want an accurate picture of themselves while performing. They want to study themselves, so they can identify what needs improvement.

Don’t hide from your weaknesses. Instead, seek them out, hunt them down, and fix them.

As you listen back to the recording of yourself playing, try focusing on the following:

  • Articulation
  • Sound quality
  • Time
  • Intonation
  • Phrasing
  • Overall feeling as a player

Now, what sticks out? What’s bugging you?

Once you pick up your instrument again, you’ll have a better idea of what you should work on to improve.

3. Be able to switch from “evaluating” to “conceiving”

You would probably agree that most of your time spent practicing is dedicated to actively evaluating, listening, and looking for the next problem you need to fix. This is great for making steady improvements, but not so helpful on stage.

Conversely, your best performances happen when you are conceiving exactly what you want to sound like, connecting deeply with this in your mind’s ear, and keeping this going in your head as you trust your body to bring it to life.

Both ways of thinking are critically important. However, you can’t really both conceive and evaluate at the same time. Like trying to sit and stand at the same time, it’s tough to be conceiving and creating music while also evaluating what comes out of your instrument.

Of course, when you spend so much time evaluating, this way of listening just becomes deeply ingrained. Which is why it can be difficult to simply switch your thinking and instead start conceiving your sound when you’re about to perform.

If you want to be able to switch from evaluating to conceiving, you should practice making this switch. This is where recording yourself can be extremely helpful.

Once you hit record, you can quickly offload all of your evaluation needs and concerns to the recording device. Just practice being in the moment, trusting yourself. Turn off your inner critic. After all, everything is being captured on the recording – you can listen back to your performance later and nitpick to your heart’s content.

You can easily do this in Modacity – open up your playlist and press start. The record button should be right there.

This way you can practice like you’re actually performing. Not only this but spending more time conceiving rather than evaluating should start to come naturally. And you’ll find that with practice, it’ll become easier to do so – and a joy as well.

4. Keep track of your progress

Because you’re with yourself daily, sometimes it’s hard to know whether or not you’re getting any better. This is where recording can come into play. Progress is black and white when you have a clear before and after.

You can record pieces at any stage. However, for the purpose of tracking progress, it’s often helpful to record pieces you’re working on that you can already play through completely. Each time you practice it, record yourself. Then after a few weeks, go back and listen to an older recording. You may be surprised at how much you’ve progressed!

Recording yourself may not be fun, but…

Do your best to push past this. It’s natural. Most of us are probably afraid to listen to ourselves.

Just remind the voice within that it’s better you hear yourself first, warts and all, than your audience.

Marc Gelfo

Marc Gelfo

Marc has been practicing music for 30+ years. After applying cognitive science & computer science to French horn, Marc became an internationally touring symphony musician. His experience includes teaching and performing with thousands of musicians around the world, including the San Francisco Symphony.