Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recording Yourself

Listening to recordings of yourself making music is probably the single most effective thing you can do to improve your playing. 

The key aspect of mindfulness is experiencing things as they are - not as we want them to be, as we're afraid they might be, as we feel/hope others might be experiencing them, or any of a myriad other distortions our untrained minds can inject into the experience. When we are actually in the process of playing music, there's so much going on in our minds, especially for amateurs, that's it's quite difficult to hear the music as it is.

Listening to a recording is a totally different experience. All the mental/emotional gymnastics have faded and we're left with just the sound of the music as we made it. There's no middle man/teacher trying to explain what it is we're doing, we can hear it ourselves. There's no need to reduce the experience to verbal language, as we can simply hear and react to the music non-verbally as an audience might.

I record all the performances of my group and give CDs to all the players. I and the amateurs of the group have all benefited wonderfully from this. I don't need to tell them what I hear they need to do to improve as they hear it themselves, and the same goes for me. 

As a single example, listening to recordings tipped me off to my sometimes more speaking than singing bits and pieces of lyrics instead of singing every syllable of the song. This probably goes back 40 years to my first trying to learn songs by speaking the words in rhythm while strumming the guitar as a preliminary to actually singing the song. Until I started doing all the recording here a few years ago, I was completely unaware of this and would have been dubious of anyone telling me it was the case. Hearing it in the recordings, though, cut right to the root of the problem and has given me much better traction improving as a singer.

Just as cultivating mindfulness of our behaviors in retrospect can lead to more clearly perceiving them in real time, listening to recordings of our playing can help us more accurately hear ourselves in real time and make improvements on the fly, just as high level players do. I used to be astounded by the real time listening skills of band directors, thinking I could never do that as for me it would be a sensory overload. While I'm nowhere near that level, I can now hear better in real time how my group is playing and make adjustments accordingly.

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