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Recording as a Practice Aid

January 1, 2012

Happy new year, everyone!

You all probably have something in your house that records. My computer records. So does my phone and my recording device. We also have three video cameras (some outdated and not completely functional, I’ll admit) in my home. Right there, that’s six ways to get a recording. The bottom line is that it’s easy to get recordings of yourself, and if you don’t know how to work the machine, then spend the five minutes that it will take to figure out, since that small investment will be prove invaluable for your playing.

Now if you’ve ever recorded yourself (or had someone record you) you probably hated it. You zoomed in on every one of your mistakes and hesitations, and you almost undoubtedly made more than you usually do, right? Well as painful as that might be, you can use this unfortunate effect to your advantage.

I’ll give you an example from my own practicing. This morning I was practicing a rather large (eight or nine minutes – good length but not really long) piece that I’ve been studying for about a month and a half now. In less than a month I’ll be playing a recital where this piece ends the first half of the program, so I’ve got to make sure that it’s in good shape. Now over the month and a half that I’ve studied this piece, I’ve created a perception of how the piece should sound. I more or less know what I want in every section, and I’ve been working to make sure that what really comes out of my harp is also what’s playing in my head. The issue is that sometimes having this preconceived notion of the piece will get in the way of it actually sounding like you want – you almost subconciously pardon mistakes or differences in the real life version. Well this morning when I began recording myself, I realized that the beginning was substantially more buzzy than I had realized, and on top of that, I was playing at about half the speed I imagined I was. Yikes! That’s not right. Well, the recording device helped me catch that, and now I’ve cleaned up the buzzes too. Because the recording device allowed me to pinpoint specific parts of my playing to work on, I felt as though I was very productive.

Another is aspect of practicing with a recording device is that you become comfortable playing the specific piece you’re recording while being recorded. If you work hard and concentrate on fixing the issues like what I outlined above (also mistakes and hesitations) then you’ll learn to play through your piece with minimal mistakes while simultaneously being under pressure to do so. Practicing this ahead of time will save a lot of time and energy when it’s actually time to make your audition tape, as you won’t have to spend a while learning to make it through your piece without messing up or doing anything you don’t intend.

The only issue with this practice technique is that it can take a while to listen to your recordings. I recommend recording only very small portions of music in order to minimize the time gaps between your playing. You might also consider taking notes – this will also let you track your progress.

Give it a try and see if it helps! It might be a drag to get out the equipment, set it up, and then actually make the recording, but once everything’s going, you’ll be glad you did it, I promise.

Happy practicing!

Remember to leave a comment if you’d like – and remember that you can write a response without signing up!


2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2012 8:00 am

    Great blog! I’ve been lurking here for a while and it’s great to finally find another harpist blogging about playing the harp! I’m not playing at a professional level though (though I really hope to get there one day…).

    Recording is a great tool, also motivationally. I like to record pieces when I’ve just started learning them and then again when I’m sort of ‘finished’ (you’re never truly finished with a piece of course). Sometimes it’s hard to see the progress yourself – difficult passages remain difficult — and then, when comparing, you can hear that you really did make some progress. At least, that’s how it sometimes works for me :).

    At the moment, I’ve got a couple of recordings on my blog (on my old blog, I had more, but I haven’t really had the time to do them recently, it’s hard enough to practise regularly!). Perhaps this also ties in with the discussion you had with Saul on the Harp Column forums, regarding privacy & posting details of your competition preparation. I wish it were possible to do that – because it really encourages other people.
    I’ve had the privilege of hearing my teacher practise her competition pieces. Just a few months ago, they sounded, well, pretty well (better than I could even dream of playing) but not like ‘winning pieces’. And now, she won that competition. Apparently it’s really possible to improve 1000%! But of course, there are privacy concerns and as you are getting more and more well known, I agree that posting personal recordings (perhaps with mistakes etc.) probably isn’t a good idea. Fortunately, it will be a long time, if ever, before I get into the same position so I feel comfortable posting recordings (not videos).

    Please keep on writing! It’s nice to get a glimpse in the life / practise habits of a professional harpist!

  2. January 15, 2012 6:18 pm

    Saul’s comments about my posting seemed to be more personal preference on his part (though I’m still not sure why he was convinced that this blog was a diary of sorts), but there are most definitely issues with regards to privacy. If I were to ever blog about my own specific projects (and I will not, unless I were blogging directly from the event itself), I would only comment on general progress and issues. I certainly would not post videos of my progress, though these (or audio recordings) can be helpful to oneself, as you’ve said.

    I’m glad you enjoy my blog! :D


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