How do you know if you sound good when you play?  Most musicians are so busy focusing on playing that they find it difficult to listen to themselves as they play.  Instead, they rely on feeling good about the runthrough.

I’ve had countless students who have said to me during a lesson, “It felt good that time when I played.”  I’ve never had a student tell me, “It sounded good that time.”

The surprising thing to many of these students is that they can actually sound the best when they feel the worst.  While they’re struggling to get something right, their concentration and focus can be so intense that this intensity comes through in their sound.  This change in their sound sometimes improves their performance.

I’ve had this experience myself, during performances.  There have been times when I’ve left the stage feeling that I had to work just a little too hard to play that night.  Yet, after these difficult gigs, people have told me how good I sounded.

Then, there’s the experience of being an audience member.  I’ve occasionally found myself watching a performer who is really into their music.  I can tell they are loving what they’re doing, and that they feel good about it.  (As I write this, what comes to mind is the overly earnest singer-songwriter–repeating the refrain of a brand new song again and again.)   But, the listeners in the audience may be bored and are simply waiting for the song to end.

It’s become obvious to me that there is no way to be an objective listener  as you create music.

To know how you actually sound, you need to record yourself–especially in the practice room.  Don’t trust that feeling good while you play translates to sounding good too.  After all, how you feel while you play can be influenced by many factors, some having nothing at all to do with the music.

With a recording, you can listen back and be objective.  While you listen, it’s like you are in the audience and someone else is playing.  You’ll be able to accurately evaluate how you sound.

Here are a few of the many benefits of recording yourself:

1.  You will hear how you actually sound, not how you think you sound.

2.  You will pinpoint the areas that need more work.

3.  You’ll know if you’re putting enough emphasis on tone coloration and variation in dynamics, or if you need even greater contrast.

4.  You can decide if the music you’re working on is ready to be performed in public or if it still needs more work.

If you aren’t recording yourself, you cannot know how you sound.   Luckily, it’s never been easier to record yourself.  There are many digital recorders, inexpensive microphones, and software applications that make the process simple.

In future posts, I’ll discuss more about the benefits of recording yourself and the availability of many recording tools that should be a part of your practice room.

In the meantime, remember this:

It’s not enough to feel good when you play.  You need to feel good AND sound good–so your audience can feel good when they listen to you!!