How having a recording setup can improve your playing
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
So this is a practice technique that was show to me a few years ago. It is very straightforward but it probably wouldn't have occured to me to try.
When we practice our instrument it's natural for us to form some kind of perception of our playing ability. In this world, perception is often more important than reality. The way we perceive our playing and how others perceive our playing can often be very different things. When we play, there can be all kinds of factors that biases or obscures our perception of how we sound. It could be you're overly critical, it could be you're not really listening to yourself, or the most common problem is dilusion. What you are playing sounds and feels great, you're having a lot of fun and you really believe you are nailing that part. Have you tried recording yourself playing that same thing and listening back to it. Try it. You might be shocked.
It could well be you are actually playing that part perfectly all along, but chances are, beginner or experienced player alike, you are not. When your guitar or bass is recorded and listened back to in isolation, you are going to hear every single nuance. Every mistake, poorly played note or slight miss-timing will stick out like a sore thumb.
I have to warn you that facing this reality can come as a major blow to your confidence in your ability, but dont worry! this is a good thing! it shows you what you are not good at, and where you need to improve. It allows you to listen carefully and with no bias to judge your own playing. You can even zoom in on the waveform and observe where the notes aren't on the beat, or hitting exactly where they should be. Now granted we don't want to sound to machine like, we always want a human feel therefore absolute perfection is probably unatainable and unecessary, but we do want consistency. We want the riff or line to sound more or less exactly the same every time we play it, and we want to get it to the point where we can't get that wrong. That is the mindset that true professionals have had to take in order to achieve their excellence. Can you imagine thinking you are amazing, and then coming into a studio to record for your band or even your first gig as a session player, only to find your playing is mediocre or not to the standard expected of you? I've definately been there myself. Things always worked out of course but I wish I had been more prepared. You could end up being dissapointed in yourself and would be a very hard way of learning this lesson. But it doesn't need to be that way at all.
I am definately no expert on recording so I can't talk you through the details of how you need to equip yourself but you can buy affordable and reliable recording gear very easily with some research. Get yourself a audio interface, and some recording software. Some of these like Logic and Pro-tools are very expensive but there are plenty of basic ones that you can get for free. They are quite limiting if you wanted to properly produce music but for these purposes they are perfectly adequate. You can plug your bass or guitar straight in and literally hit record.
Set up the click to the tempo of the song you are playing and just experiment. Play what you feel you are comfortable with and see how it sounds when you listen back. Is it consistent? are there any timing issues? does it have the right feel? critique yourself a little bit, think how you can improve then re-record and try to implement those improvements. Keep trying over and over again and really concentrate and I promise this will majorly improve your playing. You must be able to critique yourself though, this is very important. It is a skill that will come with experience so don't worry too much.
So give this a go! it doesn't have to be all the time, or even regularly, but if you are stuck on things to do, or you don't know where to go in terms of improving your playing, I would definately recomend this as an excercise to revisit from time to time.
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