Record Yourself: When "In the Moment" Doesn’t Cut It

Picture this scenario: you’ve spent months and months preparing your upcoming recital and feel great about how you're playing. Performance day comes and you feel that everything goes well. Eagerly anticipating your recordings from the event, you can’t wait to hear how it sounded from the audience’s perspective. You start listening to your recordings and much to your surprise, it doesn’t quite sound as good as the performance perhaps felt.

Almost every musician has experienced something similar to this at some point in their careers. It’s impossible for us to be in two places at once; therefore, we can’t always be sure if what we are hearing on stage is the same as what the audience hears. For some, the solution is to get an outside ear to diagnose any potential issues from where the audience will be seated. However, I believe it can also be as beneficial to self-diagnose through recording yourself as well. Listed below are a few ways in which I believe recording yourself may prove to be beneficial for your overall saxophone playing!

- Recording yourself will help define how you sound -

The most personal aspect to being a musician is the ability to create a unique sound that you can call your own. Everybody has different tastes when it comes to sound, and there is not necessarily a “correct” sound to imitate. We simply prefer certain artists and their sounds to others, a purely subjective personal preference. As I mentioned above, it can be difficult to gauge exactly how we really sound when we’re playing in the moment. One of the only ways to really critique and mold our sound is by listening to recordings of ourselves, whether it be a performance or a simply a daily practice session. Recording yourself while practicing can be intimidating: the idea of be able to listen to potential errors over and over again doesn’t seem appealing in the slightest; however, the benefits can be enormous. Once you’ve recorded yourself, compare how you sound to other artists you like and see if you’re achieving what you want. Often times, you will be surprised at how different you sound compared to what you thought. With a portable recording device, you have the ability to hear what you sound like from any seat in the audience. Having the microphone up close will most likely sound different than if it’s in the very back of the hall.

- Recording yourself will make you the teacher -

When we listen to other musicians, our brain naturally critiques and decides what we like and dislike about the musician’s playing. However, in the moment of our performances, we are unaware that we’re making many of the same mistakes others do. It is for this reason that recording yourself not only provides a bit of humility but also the opportunity to become the teacher and self diagnose the problems you’re having as well. This way you are even more mentally engaged in the process of learning a piece of music.

When you have worked up a piece of music to the point where you can play through it, a good exercise is to record a run-through of it every day. This will allow you to review the recording later in the day, make notes, and address those notes at the beginning of your practice session the next day. Over time, you will begin to see that list of notes shrink. This not only helps with what you’re working on at that time, but also makes you an overall better problem solver and critical listener.

- Recording yourself will keep your mind clear during the performance -

A common issue with performers is crippling self-doubt during a performance. Constantly worrying about playing that upcoming tricky passage correctly does no one any good. These thoughts only serve a negative purpose during the middle of a performance, so you always want to strive for a clear mind when performing so that you can focus on being expressive and free with your playing.

Recording yourself in mock performances will aid in your ability to clear your mind when the big performance comes. Because you’ve taken the time to record yourself, you now have had multiple run-throughs to critique and adjust the way you’re playing so that when the time comes, you can worry less about technique and allow your musicality to take over!

- Recording yourself will improve efficiency in both practice sessions and lessons -

While there are multiple benefits to recording yourself, it can also be a harsh wake up call when evaluating how efficient you are being with your practice and lesson time. A good exercise is to record your practice session for a day, then listen back and add up how much of your time was wasted during that session. Often you will find that if you were more efficient, you could shorten practice sessions and get the same amount done. Recording your practice sessions as well as lessons can also be beneficial if you want to create a catalog of all these recordings. This will allow you to re-visit them throughout the week in case you missed something in the moment.

In the constant quest to improve both technically and musically, recording yourself is a great way to self-analyze your playing and help speed up the music-learning process. It will not only help your overall playing ability, but will also give you the opportunity to become a better problem solver!

- Below are some recommended recording devices -

  • Zoom H4n

  • Tascam DR-05

  • Roland R-05

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© 2020 Mirasol Quartet.  All rights reserved. 
Photos by Brianne Butterworth/Sebastian Serrano Ayala.  Artwork by Pat Maines.
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