One of the best ways to improve when you are practising is to record yourself.
And these days it’s really easy to do – we all have a recording tool in our pocket.
I know some of you are reluctant to actually commit to recording yourself. It’s very revealing. I mean honestly how many of us like to listen to our own voices recorded let alone our saxophone playing.
However, recording yourself is really the best way to be objective about your playing. In a way it’s like having a tutor in the practice room with you. Listening back to your playing is the best way to spot inconsistencies in your technique and tone, even the way you are approaching a phrase musically.
How to get started
If you have a smartphone or tablet then you have everything you need to start recording yourself. Most devices come bundled with a dictation or note taking app. There are also loads available for free or low cost from the App Store or Google Play.
You can use the built in mic on the device or if you’re feeling fancy (and want a little more control) use the headset that you use for making phone calls. It has a mic built in.
For an extra boost in your practice, try using SaxTracks for iOS devices which also gives you the ability to record along to backing tracks directly in the app. It makes storing and sharing your recordings really easy too.
Of course if you have a home recording setup you will have much more control over the sound quality and what sort of recordings you can do. Check out our article on home studios in this issue for more info.
What to record
Don’t be precious about what you record. Record whatever you are working on. Include recording as part of your practice session, whether it’s a scale, an exercise or a solo.
Remember that recording an etude, study or a particular piece is a great way to fine-tune your performance. It’s part of the progression of learning a tune, even in the early stages.
Things to look for
When you review your recordings you have a chance to check out every aspect of your playing. Listen for inconsistencies in your fingers. Are you moving smoothly between notes?
Check out your phrases to make sure you’re playing all the way through. Listen to the quality of your tone. Is it consistent all the way over your range?
How about the overall flow of the piece? Do you feel like you are capturing the essence of the tune and conveying the emotion?
If you’re working on something that is a technical challenge, record yourself playing with a metronome. Are you in time all the way through? This is a great way to identify phrases where you are falling behind, or pushing the beat. Often these are things you can only really notice when you listen back.
For a “reality check” have your tuner out as you listen back. Check the tuning on your high notes as you review the recording. This works great with slow pieces and can show up inconsistencies you miss when just playing.
Super charge your Improv
Don’t forget that recording is a brilliant way to quickly improve your improvising skills too. Whether you are working on improvising over a chord sequence or a whole tune, record your playing and listen back. Make a note of things that sound great and things you don’t want to do again. It’s easy to be objective when you listen. It can be a very positive experience, helping you to identify things you really like in your playing. Hear stuff you don’t like? Just remember to avoid them next time.
Tracking your progress
If you make recording a regular part of your practice routine it can be an excellent way to see how you are progressing over time. Be organised with each recording by labelling and dating them. Keep them together in a folder on your device. You’ll be surprised to listen back in a few months time and see how you’ve progressed.
The finished product
Don’t forget that one of the great joys of recording yourself is ending up with a product you are really proud of. Set yourself a challenge of eventually getting a great recording of the piece / etude / transcription that you’re working on. And, be proud of what you have achieved when you get there. Why not share it with your friends, post it on your blog or share it on Facebook. You’ll be an inspiration to other saxophone learners!
Download this: Recording Your Practice Checklist