Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Sound Like What????

One of the best learning tools you can use as a musician is to record yourself.  You would be surprised the things you can learn from this experience!  First of all, it is almost like a LIVE performance.  All of a sudden, your fingers become weak and get a mind of their own.  Or your brain decides to take a vacation.  Your bow starts to shake.  You can't even remember how a song goes anymore.  If you've ever tried to record yourself, you know exactly what I'm talking about!

What can you expect to learn from recording yourself?  For starters, it really helps to hear your rhythm.  You may be concentrating so hard that you don't realize that you are slowing down or speeding up in certain areas of a song.  If you are recording yourself playing lead, try playing accompaniment behind your own recording to see how steady your rhythm actually is!

You will also hear how clear your notes are.  Do you consistantly hit clean and clear notes?  If you are playing an instrument without frets (fiddle, wind instrument, voice, etc.), are you playing in tune?  Do you consistantly miss a certain pitch?  Do you slide up to all your notes, or do you hit them right on target?  Are you fretting cleanly?  These are things that you can listen for closely in a recording of yourself.

Do you play with feeling?  When you listen to your own performance, does it move you emotionally?  (And I don't mean in a bad way, either!!!)  After practicing and practicing technical passages, I remember one of my teachers saying to me, "Well, you played all the notes."  Hopefully, you are doing more than just playing all the notes.  One of your goals should be playing in such a way as to make you and/or your audience FEEL what you are playing.  Are you able to make your playing sound easy?  Or does it sound like it is as hard as it really is for you?

Another big advantage of recording yourself is so that you can hear the progress you are making.  If you don't like what you hear, keep the recording anyway.  Try the same song several months later after you have practiced it more so that you can hear the difference.  It can be very satisfying and rewarding to hear the improvement you have made.  You hear yourself every day, so it is difficult for you to hear steady improvement in your own playing.  As a teacher, I hear you every week, so it is easier for me to hear the difference!

Now, what can you expect NOT to hear with traditional recording?  Your tone quality.  For the most part, unless you have some high tech equipment along with knowledge and skill, your own recordings won't be of a quality that will allow you to really hear your tone quality.  Even professional recordings don't always reflect the actual tone quality that you will hear in a live performance.  That's because there are so many ways to alter the tone quality of a recording.

What can you do to help make your recording sound more pleasing/professional?  For starters, the better the microphone you use, the better the recording will be.  In general, a built in microphone is not going to give you quality sound -- so any recording device that uses a built-in microphone is not going to give you fantastic sound.  That's perfectly fine, too, as long as you know what to expect!  Secondly, the room you are in will affect the sound.  Are you in a live room?  The harder the surfaces and more hard surfaces there are in a room, the more live the sound will be.  For instance, most bathrooms are very live, and I've known many a musician that has liked to practice in the bathroom because it sounds so pleasing.  (For a professional recording, this is actually not something you want, but that's another story...)

What are you using to make your recording?  A cassette player?  Then don't expect much in the tone quality department.  Are you computer saavy?  Then try downloading a free recording program like Audacity.  You can actually make multi-track recordings with this software!

Do you have a digital camera that has a video feature?  Try recording yourself with that!  Once again, don't expect too much in the tone quality department.  One of my digital cameras makes me sound like I have a lisp.  If you've heard me "in person" and then on some of my YouTube videos, you'll know what I mean...

What do I use to record?  I use Cakewalk (a recording program on my computer) for the soundclips on the website.  I also use an AKG C1000S condenser microphone.  For these soundclips, I don't alter the sound in any way because I want people to be able to compare the difference in tone quality.

I recently purchased a very nice digital video recorder.  It has an option for me to plug in my own microphone, so now I can get quality video AND quality audio.  Do you need this?  Probably not.  Is it fun?  Absolutely!

So go ahead!  Record yourself and listen carefully.  You'll be surprised what you can learn!


Rick said...

I know exactly what you mean about video taping yourself and getting nervous happens to me everytime and I think you have seen it on my videos ha ha

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness!!! I've been practicing in my mostly empty dining room. It has a very high ceiling that makes for great acoustics for practice but not for recording. I didnt know this til I read your blog! So, as an experiment, I (dont laugh now!) shut myself in my closet to try recording surrounded by nice soft surfaces. What a difference!! Still just using my cell phone, the tone is MUCH closer to what my fiddle actually sounds like. (Dave hasnt caught me doing this yet...I can just see his face! LOL)