If you don’t record your practicing you are missing out a great tool for improvement. I record everything. Scales and all. When I am actually playing piano I think I have selective hearing. I only hear whatever specific thing I’m working on. And I do not hear other issues that need attention.
Let’s say I am working on learning a melody for a jazz standard. When I am done, I think I have done a good job and now I know the melody. But if I listen back I’ll notice a lot of issues that I was not even paying attention to. Maybe I was mildly annoyed at the time but forgave myself since I was focused on the melody. But even after I knew the melody, maybe my dynamics went out the window. Maybe my time was terrible. Maybe I missed a few chords. Maybe my eighth notes were uneven or too staccato. Having noticed these things I write them all down and read them over before my next practice session. I also make a few notes of what I want to work on next.
When you are in a “flow” state, your guard is down and you are focused in on one thing. This is the real you playing. But you’ll miss it if you don’t record yourself. Remember, the goal isn’t to just think you play well, it is to actually play well.
On another note, do you berate yourself when you are practicing? “That was a wrong note you idiot!” “You’ll never be any good at this rate!” Things like that? I certainly have done that. But if you record yourself, you may find (as I did) that you don’t do that so much. You know you will have a chance to do that later when you listen to your recording. Plus, when you do, you’ll have some emotional distance from your mistakes and you won’t be so hard on yourself.
My process is this: Each morning, I listen to my recording of yesterday’s practice while filling in yesterday’s practice sheet (my practice sheet is outlined below). I may skip over some things as I listen but I really try to listen to what I was working on. What tangents I got off on. Some were good. Some maybe were wasteful. I make notes on what I did well, and what I may want to revisit today. I put yesterday’s date on it and how long I practiced. It’s right there on my recording. Then I grab a new practice sheet and put today’s date on it. I re-write a few things I definitely want to cover today, and I leave it largely blank. I lay today’s sheet on the piano, press record and practice. Often times I will listen to it that night with headphones before I go to sleep just to listen. Then the next morning I get up and fill in the sheet.
My practice sheet is pretty simple. I have blanks for the date and how long I practiced. I have a blank for what I listened to before I practiced. I don’t really count this as practice time…. But it is very important to listen to great players and singers. Your headings may be different than mine. But some of mine are groove, dynamics, time, transcription I’m working on, etc…. Then I have 3 spots for titles of tunes I’m working on. Then I have a space for notes at the bottom. Leave plenty of room for that. I print a new sheet every day. They stack up and sometimes I refer back to see my progress or if I have lost sight of my goals. My headings change from time to time and I always put my biggest weakness first so I work on that first.
I’m finding the sheet and the note-taking helps me keep everything in mind better. Even if I’m working on learning a melody, my balance is better, I miss fewer chords, my time is good. Just having read over yesterday’s sheet! Just by recording myself and making notes, I play better than I would have otherwise. And I have the tape to prove it. I suggest you record your practicing and just try and forget you are recording. Give it a listen and make some notes. I bet you’ll find it a great tool to improve and improve much faster than you would otherwise.
Obviously, we don't know everything. But we do tend to think differently. Here are some of my thoughts on piano and maybe some on life. I play piano for Tracy Lawrence, produce new artists, write and practice piano.