Listening to your playing from a different perspective can be a transformative experience, and that's why you should record yourself during your practice routine. It may not sound pretty the first time you do it, but just like everything else, this is a process, so stick with it, don't be so hard on yourself, and be patient.
I've put a short list together of reasons why you should practice recording yourself, and another list at the end of ways I like to practice and listen back to myself.
I hope it inspires you to take a close, constructive look at your playing, and become a better player because of it.
Part 1: Reasons to Record Yourself
Puts you in "recording mode"
"Recording mode" probably means a lot of different things to different people, but to me it's a mindset that I enter into in the studio when the magnifying glass is pointed at me.
When recording, I'm trying to achieve a "polished" sound and I consciously aim for making less mistakes. You could call it "playing it safe", and yea, I'm going for a super solid take.
When you record yourself with the intention to create a "perfect" take, your senses are heightened, and you step your playing up a notch.
If you practice recording yourself and going into this heightened state of awareness, it'll soon be reflected whenever you pick your instrument up, red light on or not. You'll feel more confident and your playing will sound that way.
You practice count-offs and coming in at the right time with the metronome
Sounds like a piece of cake, but its actually something a lot of people need to practice. For some reason or another, people's count-offs don't reflect the actual tempo they have in their head.
It could be possible that they didn't even think of a tempo before counting off the song!
It's so important to feel the groove before counting off a song, and when you do count it off, you come in at the tempo you've established. Your bandmates will love you for this :).
It trains you for session work
You get better at what you do. It's as simple as that.
The more you enter the heightened awareness of "recording mode", the better you'll get at sculpting your playing when you get to a real world studio.
You keep a digital record of each time you practice
This is pretty obvious, but it's so helpful and rewarding to track your progress. By recording yourself, you get to clearly hear where you were a couple days, a few weeks, or even a year ago. It's a great confidence boost to know that you're making progress and inspires you to practice and push yourself more!
You develop a more polished sound
This goes back to making less mistakes. By recording yourself practice, you get a chance to listen back, make changes, and re-record. You can make sure you sound exactly like you want to!
This is crucial to developing that holy grail of being an artist - developing your unique voice.
It helps with developing your artistic voice
Whenever I'm writing or practicing improvisation, I put the recorder on. When I'm writing I can listen back and make edits, and listen for phrases and licks I may want to use in my improvisation.
When improvising, you sometimes never really know what's going to come out in that moment - thats the beauty of improv, but it also is a pain when you forget what you played, and you have no way of listening back.
When recording yourself, it comes down to being able to hear everything - the good and the bad, and you get to work on and polish the bad to make it good, while saving and internalizing the good stuff so it can be used in the future.
Part 2: Ways to Practice Recording Yourself:
These are more of questions to ask yourself when practicing with the recorder on, but it gives you an idea of what you can focus on in your practice session.
How do you sound with a backing track?
Are you locking in with the band's groove? What can you do to better support the other instruments when they solo? How is your transition from soloing to backup and visaversa.
How do you sound with an audible metronome?
Listen to the notes in relation to the click. Are you playing right with the click, or are you ahead or behind it? How good are you at switching from eighth notes to triplets?
How do you sound with an inaudible metronome (with headphones on)?
This may sound silly, but playing with the metronome in headphones and recording yourself can more clearly tell you how you sound when you play with a click. How's the groove? Does it feel or sound forced?
This is important because when you actually get into the studio with a band, chances are they are going to use a click to record, and you want to have the ability to effortlessly groove with the metronome so you can focus on interacting with the other musicians in the session.
How do you sound playing solo?
Listen back to your groove. Are you swinging? Playing straight? How even are your eighth notes when you don't have a metronome to rely on.
If you're a guitarist or banjoist, how are your chord melodies? Can you clearly hear the melody line, or is it being overshadowed by chords?
How do you sound when you improvise?
Do you rush or drag? How clear are your ideas? How even are your eighth notes. Can you keep your place in the song?
How do you sound with a band?
Whenever you get a chance, record your live performances. You get direct feedback on how you sound in a live situation, which is completely different than in the comfort of your practice lair.
Come up with your own ways of recording yourself during your practice session, and tell me about it! Leave a comment!
By the way, my very new app for iPad, called "Listen & Learn: Banjo" has a versatile recording function on it where you can record yourself alone, with a backing track, and with a metronome. It's super awesome, and really fun to easily track your progress on each tune.
Sign up for my mailing list for updates on the app, as we are currently in the process of creating a banjo app for iPhone and a bluegrass guitar version of Listen & Learn for iPad.
Sunday, July 20, 2014 @8:37:24 AM
Started recording pretty much when i started playing,Stacking tracks and turning solo banjo into a more complete sound is fun.It certainly adds to your recordings music value,and yes a great way to look in the mirror.
The hard thing sometimes is hearing mistakes that others say they hear,but can't quiet describe it enough to help you hear it,but instead they tend to give generalized pointers that don't help much.I am always thankful when i finally lock onto something i have been doing unknowingly wrong,but it is a never ending process---Tom
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 @9:55:50 AM
Insightful advice, Bennet-thanks for sharing it.
Just to underscore your point" "Listen back to your groove. Are you swinging? Playing straight?"
This is also something you need to consider in a band context. If you are swinging, and the band is playing straight time, you're probably not going to do much for the overall groove. Also, there are different degrees of swing, so it's important to be able to adapt. One thing I like to do is set up a simple groove on a drum machine or sequencer, maybe, just using hi-hats or a conga pattern where I can adapt the feel by a percentage of swing, from none to almost a triplet feel.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 @8:34:28 AM
Thanks for the comment, MrManners. I totally agree, it's so nice to finally hear something I've been doing wrong, and make adjustments.
Thanks for that input, Marty! That's a great idea, and it's always more fun to play with a drum machine rather than a plain old metronome. And it gives you some good flexibility as far as time feel goes.
Actually, now that I think about it, I always learn so much from playing from a real drummer. It's a lot of fun to have a practice buddy, and I've been fortunate to have a badass jazz drummer friend to practice with on occasion. Really cool(and unexpected) stuff tends to come out.
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