"Listening to recordings of myself makes me want to lock myself in a practice room for a thousand years"
"Every time I think I sound good, I'll just listen to a recording of myself and will feel bad about myself again"
"Recording myself makes practicing so depressing!"
Do any of these common phrases sound familiar? If they do, you are the furthest thing from alone. I have these thoughts often when I practice, and I hear a LOT of other musicians constantly saying similar things. Somehow, in our culture, we have engrained a very negative attitude towards recording yourself playing. I believe it stems from submitting recorded auditions to various competitions and summer festivals. These recordings must be inherently perfect, especially since you technically have an unlimited amount of tries in the given time frame to record your best take. I am not at all speaking poorly on our high standards musically when entering prestigious solo competitions and summer festival audition processes; I am glad we have such high expectations because it sets a precedence of talent level for the generations to follow and allows us to maintain an extremely high level of respect for music which is very important. However, when we remove the art of recording ourselves from a competitive standpoint and begin to incorporate it into our daily practice, these extremely high standards and pressure of being perfect in every recording follow us into the practice room. Recording yourself for a competition and recording yourself as a practice tool are two extremely different things. When you are recording yourself competitively, you are striving for as close to perfection as you can achieve. When you are recording yourself practicing, you are recording to listen to things you can improve on that lie deeper than technical perfection. You are looking for instabilities in your tone throughout the course of a phrase, out-of-tune intervals, inconsistent vibrato speed in your long tone practice (unless intentional), etc. You are listening not to tear yourself down and consume yourself with everything you are doing wrong, rather, you are listening to hear things you would not simply by playing your instrument in a practice room. There is a threshold to which we as musicians can help ourselves improve without ever taking a step back to truly listen to what we sound like without worrying about actually playing our instruments in the process. We can only allow ourselves to hear so much while we are actually playing, and we too often rely on the advice of others to dictate what we should be practicing to improve our sounds, techniques, etc.
I have noticed that many people will outright refuse to record themselves because they fear their egos are already fragile enough, and if they hear themselves play they will become more discouraged. If we can consciously separate our "recording modes" between competitive recording and practice recording, we may stand to have a healthier outlook on hearing ourselves play on a more regular basis. No more recording anxiety! If you are truly very fearful of hearing yourself play, first have a friend listen to it and write 3-5 things that they loved about it. Read those before listening yourself, and try to keep the positive in mind. Listening to yourself can absolutely be counted in your practice time as well. After you feel that you have practiced a passage to the extent of which you can without actually hearing yourself play it, do a run through of this passage and record it. Take a break. Sit down with your headphones in and a notepad and your music in hand, and pretend to be your own professor. Write down what you think you should do differently, what you liked and didn't like about it, but ultimately be sure to keep it positive and encouraging. A positive mentality in the practice room is absolutely essential, because whatever you practice WILL translate to how you perform onstage. My beloved professor, Dr. Conor Nelson, emphasizes this often. He refers to it as "positive practice", and I think it is a strategy all musicians should adopt.
Questions? Comments? I would love to hear from you.
I have been studying a lot of performers I look up to recently. Analyzing their movements. Trying to figure out what makes them so enthralling to watch and what makes each of their performances so engaging. I have come to the conclusion that the one thing that sets a talented artist apart from a remarkable one is the emotion that they bring personal experience and emotion into the music. In my opinion, anyone who has an extensive background in musical training can learn to be a great musician technically, but it takes a higher level of musical enlightenment to connect the objective repertoire to your own emotions, and then proceed to be able to convey these emotions to your audience.
How do we reach this level of musical enlightenment? Is it a teachable thing, or must it come naturally? This question I haven't come up with a solid answer to yet, because I think that it varies depending on the kind of person you are. For me, I have never really had trouble conveying my emotions musically, but I struggle to be able to control them when I play. Often, my music gets far too intense for the appropriate style of piece I am performing, and I am constantly told to hold back and not give so much away at the beginning. I am an emotional, extroverted person, so music is in a way my medium of emotional release. For an introverted person, it may be more difficult to convey your emotions, which is not by any means a bad thing. If you are this type of person, it may be helpful to develop a story ahead of time that you want to communicate to your audience through the piece you're playing. Listen to a recording of your piece, and close your eyes and try to picture a living memory that the music reminds you of. Hold onto that memory, and every time you pull out that piece to practice, take a few moments beforehand to center yourself and get into the moment. Practicing with intention and an image in mind will translate into your performance. If you are extroverted like me, you may want to experiment with the same type of thing: listening to the piece and developing a clear memory or image to tie to the piece you're playing, but prolong it. Mark where the climactic point in the music occurs, and make sure your imagery doesn't peak before then. Practice holding back, and gradually building up in intensity towards that point. Of course, this tactic will not work for every piece you play, and you must continue to be sensitive and respectful of the musical style. However, it can provide a structure for a practice method you use in the back of your mind for every type of music you play, whether its a solo piece, chamber piece or even a large ensemble piece. Often, I find myself drifting into an image during a piece I'm playing with a large ensemble, and I try to pick up on the imagery that the other musicians performing with me are producing as well.
I have found that the most moving and inspirational pieces of music I have ever heard are ones composed for a specific person or have a specific story tied to them. Music based on personal experience never fails to move me, and I also believe that musicians that draw from personal experience and translate it into their music often have the most emotionally moving performances as well. If you take a step back and think about it, pursuing music as a career without having a burning passion for it is like continuing to date someone you don't necessarily like because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Artists and musicians of all forms are some of the most emotional people I have ever met, in the best way possible. To create art means to dig deep within the darkest parts of your soul, and make yourself vulnerable for the sake of the music. Every time we perform, compose, create, write, we are exposing our weaknesses and publishing them for the world to see. We are giving part of our soul to the work we are creating, and sharing our emotions with whoever cares to listen, read, watch... Producing music without passion and without emotion can be the kiss of death to an artist, because the raw origins of artistic creation were based around releasing and sharing emotional hardships. I believe that if you possess the ability to emotionally move your audience, that in itself is musical success.