Why recording yourself makes practice MUCH more effective

Did you know that there’s one simple tool which can massively speed up your musical progress?

But, although it’s easily available to everyone, most musicians simply don’t make use of it.

We’re talking about recording yourself, of course. Watch the video (or read on) to discover the many different ways you can use it to improve your playing.

Hopefully, you’ll be motivated to dive in, get recording yourself regularly and, frankly, give yourself an almost unfair advantage over other musicians.

Recording yourself is so simple to do

But most musicians still don’t do it.

And those that do usually don’t do it often enough,

Just to be clear, in this article we’re talking about recording complete performances – whether that’s at a gig or you just doing a run through at home on your own in practice.

There are equally large benefits to be got from recording specific short sections that you’re focusing on improving. But that’s a topic for another day.

Recording yourself helps you in three ways. It will:

  • Help you stay in the moment,
  • Reveal to you new details in your playing that you wouldn’t have noticed before
  • Allow you to train under pressure

Let’s go through them in turn.

Stay in the moment

Recording yourself allows you to be fully in the moment while you’re playing. And yet you’re still able to get feedback on how you did later.

This means that you don’t have to choose between being in the moment or learning from your performance.

You can have both.

Also, even if you’re totally set on being in the moment and that’s the only thing you’re trying to do, you’ll probably find you’re tempted to judge how things are going anyway.

But if you know you’ve got your recording happening in the background then it makes it much easier for you to commit to being fully in the moment.

This is particularly important when you’re recording yourself doing a run through at home and you need to fight the urge to just pick up on any mistakes or things you notice as they happen.

Discover extra nuances in your playing

Recording yourself is also great for picking up details and aspects of your playing that you wouldn’t otherwise notice.

You can listen back to a passage you’ve just played a number of different times and focus on a different thing each time you listen back.

So, in a few different passes, you might look at how your rhythm is the first time, then what tone you’re getting, and then the accuracy of the notes. This means you can get a whole lot more information out of one play through.

Also, your brain simply doesn’t have the bandwidth available to do all the work of playing your instrument correctly, while at the same time listening intently to what’s coming out.

So your judgment in the moment is going to be really flawed.

Here’s how your brain can get things wrong

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.

Back when I was at university, I played a gig with a small jazz band, we played two sets in the evening. The first set was fine, but it felt a little bit uninspired.

It was like we were just warming up.

Then the second set was really great.

We loved it. And the whole band afterwards agreed that this was one of the best sets we’d ever played.

But when we went back and listened to the recording afterwards, we found that the first set was actually really good.

It was nice and restrained. Relaxed, without anyone overplaying.

And the second set – that we’d all thought was so perfect – was massively overblown. We all got carried away. We were grandstanding. It was just nothing like as good as the first set.

So, our judgment in the moment turned out to be the complete opposite of what the recordings told us later.

Use recording to train under pressure

Recording yourself also helps you get used to playing under pressure.

Lots of us will recognise that feeling where, as soon as that red recording light comes on, the pressure we feel goes up a notch.

Now, the more that you practice playing under pressure, the better you get at it. It’s definitely something you can train – so use recording yourself as a tool to pile on the pressure.

And there are two big aspects to this.

The first is dealing with the physical symptoms: that racing heart, those shaking arms, all that sort of stuff. And as it turns out, that the more you get used to playing in that state, the better you’re able to cope with it.

And then there’s realizing that actually the consequences of getting things wrong are not as bad as you think.

So this is a really good experience to have – and to have repeatedly. Put yourself in a pressure situation, maybe feel disappointed with what with what you’ve done at the time. But then afterwards, you find out it’s not actually as bad as you first thought.

And as you start to recognise that this is how things work, you’ll naturally start to put less pressure on yourself in the future.

And when you do feel pressure, it won’t seem like quite as big a deal.

And for bonus points, you can take this to the next level by committing to someone that you’re going to post the recording once it’s done. Maybe on Facebook, maybe on YouTube.

Where is not important. Just the commitment that it’s going to be public.

And when you do that you’ll find that, when you go to record, you’ll have ramped the pressure up another notch.

No excuses

So how do you actually put this into practice?

Well, there’s no big secret: just do it.

And I know that you may be thinking this makes a lot of sense. But then you’ll immediately come up with excuses like:

“But it’s not really right for ME.”

Or maybe you’ll think “Now’s not the right time. I’ll do it later.”

Now, I’ve been there myself. I’ve made a lot of those excuses in the past.

And they sound perfectly reasonable when you think about them at first. But if you look a little bit closer, then you’ll soon find that they simply don’t stack up.

There are a few that I hear most frequently that simply don’t cut it.

Maybe you’re a bit nervous about recording yourself because you’re worried about the harsh truths about your playing it will reveal.

Well, maybe it will. But the only way that you’re actually going to address those harsh truths is to record yourself, find out what they are, and then you can fix them.

Otherwise, you’re just ignoring the problem.

And then you might say you don’t have time to fit this in alongside all your other practice.

But here’s the deal:

When you record yourself, you’re giving yourself a way to improve much faster

So, if you want to make quick progress you really need to bite the bullet and find time to do it.

And then you’ll reap the benefits.

Finally, you might say that you haven’t got the right equipment to record yourself properly.

These days, I’m afraid that’s a terrible excuse.

It’s really easy to get your hands on a phone to record video, or something to record audio.

Anything will do.

Remember that the purpose is not to produce an amazing sounding recording. It’s just to get something that you can work with.

Just enough detail so that you can learn something from it.

And remember that when you play and listen to yourself at the same time, your judgment of how you’re playing is really flawed. Even a very low-quality recording can allow you to do a lot better than that.

So, if you’ve been letting any of those excuses stop you then don’t listen to them anymore.

Get out there, make a habit of recording yourself and you’ll find that it will massively improve your playing.

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