Do you ever catch yourself walking by a mirror and you just have to stop to check yourself out? Maybe you straighten your shirt, brush the hair out of your eyes, or just smile back at your image? This momentary glimpse of yourself is a chance for you to adjust anything that may be out of place, note that you can do better getting ready the next time you leave the house, or verify that you do indeed look like you think you should. Looking in the mirror and being honest about what you see isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t make you vain. If you care how you present yourself, you must be willing to look in the mirror!
Now let’s take this to the musical stage. Of course we want to look in an actual mirror before performing to make sure we’re put together visually, but is there a way we can we check our sound and quality of performance in a mirror? Well, yes there is- we can record ourselves! Recording devices are our best way of capturing an aural record that can be very valuable in evaluating our playing.
Make it a goal to record yourself during practice sessions, rehearsals, lessons, and performances. Give your recording an audience by playing it for others you trust, and then do personal listening to study how you can improve for the next time. If you’re in a habit of recording daily, you’ll get another chance to fix any flaws tomorrow!
Recording yourself doesn’t need to be a big ordeal, where you bring in all this fancy equipment and hire an assistant to help you capture a commercial quality recording. Your recordings can be as simple as using your phone, laptop, or small digital recording device. Occasionally, the sound quality will be a bit distorted, so listen for the general effect, and adjust the placement of your recording device the next time. If you get in the habit of recording yourself daily, you will eventually figure out the best placement of the device and microphones. The day I got a smartphone, it was like owning a personal visual/audio compact mirror. Frequently, I record myself with my phone in my purse and listen to it on my drive home. I am certain that doing this helps me to capture the reality of what and how I played, and it points me directly to the areas that need work while it’s still fresh in my mind.
Recording yourself in practice and in performance and actually taking the time to listen to the recording is vital to every musician’s success. You wouldn’t want to be playing your heart out, only to find out that you were a quarter tone sharp the entire time and didn’t know it until you listened to the recording, would you? Or what if you were certain your last performance was horrible, you were way out of balance and thought there was no way the audience didn’t notice that you forgot to slur certain passages but then, you happened to hear the recording and the non-slurred passages actually sounded pretty smooth, and the horn was just right in the mix? Gosh, that’s reassuring! Let’s say you felt good in the performance, you thought you sounded great, and you really wish that you could have recorded it so that you could use it on your next audition application or website. All the more reason to record all the time! If you habitually record, then you will be able to build up your audio files and collect important records of your performances.
The fact of the matter is that recordings don’t lie. Recordings merely capture what happened. It is up to us to be brave enough to take an honest listen to our sonic reality and to make adjustments for next time.
“I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything.” ~John Steinbeck
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
~Philip K. Dick