"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.