Dare to Record Your Violin Practice: Tips for Empowered Recording

October 28, 2021, 3:49 PM · We all know it: Musicians who record themselves in practice have the fastest ears. Recording allows us to become our own real-time coach. Smartphones and tablets have made it easy, in theory at least. There’s only one problem: we all hate it. The hurdle is psychological. We simply can’t stomach it. Being faced with our limitations (despite our best efforts) can be shocking and scary. Recording doesn’t just humble us, it makes us supremely vulnerable. If we dive into recording without a system, it can drain us of our empowerment, our willpower, and our optimism.

recording equipment

But it doesn’t have to be like that. We can develop a process that does just the opposite, one that promotes confidence and builds fearlessness (or rather, feel the fear and do it anyway). Apps on phones and tablets can help. Done right, our progress can, in fact, be empowering.

Here are my six tips for empowered recording and some app recommendation to help you build daring:

1. Oreo Recordings

Every time you record a phrase, do it at least twice. Record, listen back, record again - like an Oreo cookie, sandwich the listening in the middle.. The second version will always be better than the first, and over time you will believe in the payoff of recording - and yourself. If you only record once, then fix a few things and move on, you will hear only your first (a.k.a worst) takes, and you will dread recording. Nothing is more motivating than a win, and Oreo recordings allow you to hear your own progress.

2. Record Little Bits

Record yourself in small chunks, or phrases, as you are first learning a piece. Don’t wait until you are ready for a complete run through - at that stage too many flaws have been embedded and you are sure to feel the sting of disappointment. The best time to record yourself is during the "acquisition stage," when you are learning a piece.

Recording yourself early, in little bits, promotes learning correctly. Also, you are doing it at a non-threatening time in the learning cycle, when you still have lots of time. Early practice is highly analytical, where recording can be the most effective. As we move towards a performance date we need to build confidence and get into our intuitive phase.

3. Variety

Record different aspects of your practice and mix video and audio recording. Variety is the spice of life, and it will help you stay light in your work. One day, record a bit of technique, another day part of a piece.

Video recording allows you to see what is happening. Audio recording allows you to perceive informative wave forms (I thought I was making a crescendo?) and lets you remove the visual aspect from the listening activity. Both are good in different ways, and variety yields more interesting results. I find that predictability is the enemy of discovery.

4. Microphones & Speakers

Recording on your phone is just fine, but let’s face it, phones do not capture the beauty of your sound. In order to keep your mojo, make sure - at least every once in a while - to record yourself on better equipment. Listen back through speakers or headphones.

5. Record Yourself Every Day That You Practice

Sigh, I know. But think of all the things we do every day even though we often would rather not: answering emails, cleaning, maybe even practicing itself. Skipping days makes habit-building so much harder. Consistency, not volume, is the key. You can pick one eight bar phrase and be done with your "daily recording obligation." Exercising your recording muscles daily and they will strengthen.

6. Know When to Stop

Recording right before a concert can send some of us into a psychological tailspin. You have to find what’s right for you, but I often stop recording about a week before the concert or audition. Find out what is right for you through trial and error. Protect your pre-performance zone by getting out of the analytical mode well ahead of the performance.

Recommendations for Apps

Here are some app recommendations, if you decide to take the plunge into regular recording and want to level up from the standard camera and voice memo apps. Click on the name for the app link on IOS, and where possible I've also provided the link for Android:

So, record - if you dare!

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Replies

October 29, 2021 at 02:54 AM · I'm so glad I frequent this website again. Here's yet another article just this week with advice that I'd be a worse player not to follow. Self-recording everyday it is!

October 29, 2021 at 03:40 PM · I admit that I rarely record myself and that listening to myself that way is shocking. It is mostly my tone--or rather my tone "translated" by the room and the microphone--that bothers me, not so much intonation or other problems. Also this: When I try to record myself I get nervous and play much worse than usual--I hear it without even listening to the recording. Somehow I have more stage fright from a recording device than from a human audience.

I used to have a recording of myself playing in a church together with the organist (one of Bach's violin/"clavier" sonatas) and it sounded pretty good, tone, intonation, everything if I say so myself. At any rate so much better than my bedroom auto recordings.

It was taken decades ago on a tape machine with a good microphone in a good hall with a decent number of listeners in it. I think a lot of the frustration with self recording stems from the miserable tone of a violin recorded in an unsuitable room.

October 29, 2021 at 06:33 PM · Fortunately I don't have to worry about how my tone sounds on the recording because my teacher is seriously on my case about my tone all the time (which I mean in a good way). So in my self-recordings I can worry about more banal stuff like intonation, rhythmic imperfections, weird shifts, notes that don't sound at all, and the like.

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