Are you looking for a way to kick up your practice game? At times practice can feel stagnant and progress futile. But if you start recording yourself regularly, your practice will be forever changed.
Over the years I have had many teachers tell me to record myself and listen back, but it took a while for me to truly learn the value of this habit. When my band went into a professional studio with a real producer for the first time, I quickly realized the need for change.
As soon as I began laying down tracks, I realized my tendency to rush, push, and be unreliable rhythmically. This was painfully obvious. Our producer told me to start recording myself every day – and that’s what I did!
Here’s why I believe recording is the best tool to improve your practice. You can record your vocals as a singer or rapper, or your instrument playing.
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1. Your Music Playing Is Easier To Analyze
It’s difficult to truly know what you sound like while you’re playing. You’ve got so many things on your mind while playing, how are you supposed to analyze how it sounds?
This is the most obvious and immediate result of recording your practice. If you start recording yourself – even on an iPhone – you’ll be able to immediately listen to yourself and analyze accordingly.
When I started recording myself, I would put a metronome on nice and loud, and just played. Immediately after finishing my exercise, song, or solo, I would listen back. Right away I could hear where I deviated from the click, where I was rushing and where I dragged. Then, I would make note of this in my practice journal, and run it again.
2. You Can Compare Your Playing To Musicians You Are Trying To Emulate
Are you learning a song? Trying to play more like John Mayer? If you record yourself playing you can quickly and easily compare your playing to whomever you’re trying to emulate.
Here are a couple of different ways you can use recording to emulate a particular musician’s style:
Import A Backing Track
If you’re lucky enough to have even a small recording setup, you can find backing tracks on YouTube or specific backing track websites and import them into your DAW. If you’re looking for a cheap-or-free way to do this, get Audacity or Reaper and use your onboard Microphone.
Now you can play along and then directly compare your playing to whoever you’re trying to emulate! For example, when I learned “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, I imported a bass-less backing track and the original recording into my DAW, and shaded it until it sounded close!
Use EQ To Play Along With A Band
This works for some instruments more than others and requires a bit of audio knowledge, but if you import a song into your DAW, you can work with the EQ to carve out an instrument, and record yourself playing with the band.
I’ve done this mostly with bass; take out everything below 200 hz and just play along with the band. Then I can hear how the band sounds with a great bass player and with a mediocre bass player (me).
3. Your Vocal Tendencies Will Jump Out At You
Over time, your musical tendencies will begin to jump out at you. At first you probably won’t notice your habits or at least won’t realize that they are habits – not just mistakes.
For example, when I started recording myself, I quickly realized that I was constantly pushing, playing slightly on top of the beat.
That was my first big tendency. Then, I started to fix that by laying back on the beat. However, I then realized that I was consistently late getting to beat one. Something I’m still working on today!
Over time you will notice tendencies on a more and more minute scale. Right down to different ways of playing subdivisions and swing and the tiniest deviations. All of this is made possible by constantly recording and re-recording yourself.
4. You Develop A More Critical Ear
A huge unintentional bonus of recording as a practice tool is the critical ear that develops from constantly evaluating your playing. Having a critical ear helps you record professionally in the studio, and helps you play live with different musicians.
Being able to hear someone else’s tendency to rush or drag or play on top allows you to play with them – not fight against them on stage. You’ll also be able to notice the nuances that make great players great. Eventually, your critical ear will help you develop those same nuances and build your skill set.
When you’re in the studio, having a great ear will help you get great takes. Being able to tell quickly if something is in tune and in the pocket will expedite the process and make sure you end up with a great sounding recording.
5. Develop Recording Skills
Lastly, developing recording skills is an increasingly important thing to do for musicians these days.
I started out recording myself with voice memos on my iPhone. I then bought a small, two-channel interface and messed around in GarageBand. Now, I have a full-blown home studio with acoustic treatment, studio monitors, a nice computer, a 16-channel interface, and a wide array of mics. What can I say, it’s a slippery slope!
But seriously, my ability to record and mix demos, live recordings, and rehearsals has proved invaluable to the band's progress, and I even make money doing it for other artists. I am quite sure that improving engineering skills will continue to be useful throughout my career – even if they’re harmful to my wallet in the short term!
It’s Easy To Start Now!
Nearly everyone has a way of recording their practice. If you have a Mac, you have GarageBand. If you have a PC, you can get Audacity or Reaper. If all you have is an iPhone you have Voice Memos – and you can even use iRig to record your instrument directly onto your phone.
If you start, I guarantee you’ll soon be addicted to the progress you make. So what are you waiting for? Get at it!