All right, welcome to another Brainjo Bite. So in part one of this two part series, I talked about the importance of recording yourself, playing, and why listening to a recording of yourself is different than listening to yourself playing as you’re doing so. And as I said there, it is easier than ever today to record ourselves, and it is a great resource we should all be taking advantage of.
But how do you do it without getting discouraged? As I mentioned in that last episode, one of the Facebook comments someone said, “I’m not ready to record myself yet.” When it’s really something we should be doing right from the very start. In fact, in the beginning, maybe the most important time to be doing it.
But in the beginning, maybe also the hardest time to listen back to it without feeling discouraged. So in this episode, I’m going to talk about strategies for how to avoid getting discouraged when you are listening to your own recordings, as well as all of the ways you can use recordings of yourself in your learning process and there are several.
Okay, so first let’s talk about the things we can do to ensure that we don’t get discouraged when we listen back to ourselves. So the first thing here is when you’re going to record yourself, tell yourself from the get go that you’re the only person who’s going to listen to it. So remember, we’re talking here about using recordings as a learning tool, rather than as something to put out into the world for others to enjoy.
Now, sure, you can always choose to do that if you want to, but that’s not the primary intention here and that alone will take the pressure off. If the idea of recording yourself is something that’s filled with angst and anxiety, you’re going to be a lot less likely to want to do it. So you want to make it feel like it’s no big deal at all.
Plus, the more you record yourself, the more ordinary that becomes, the less likely you are to feel any sense of pressure when you do so, even if you’re recording yourself with the intent to share it with others. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is when you’re listening back, imagine that you are in the role of a teacher, and the thing that you’re listening to is from your student. So you’re trying to listen with an objective ear and your job here is simply to provide the most helpful feedback possible.
Being able to listen to your playing with a discerning critical ear is a really important skill in and of itself and an essential one for continuing to develop. The feedback that we get about our own playing is only helpful if we’re able to accurately assess what we’re doing well and where we need to improve.
So imagine when you’re listening, that your job is just to get really good at listening intently to what you hear and providing good feedback. So listening for things like timing and tone and phrasing and all those details in the music that matter, and you’ll be training your ear to get better and better at listening to those details, which will translate to improved musicianship across the board.
And the second thing to do as you’re listening and imagining yourself in the role of a teacher is to listen for all of the good things that you hear. And we often have a tendency to focus much more on the next negative aspects when it comes to evaluating ourselves as I discussed in the last episode. So imagine here, you’re listening and you have a student who’s discouraged and feels like giving up.
And so not only do you want to be able to offer constructive feedback, but you also want to find what’s positive and highlight those things as well. I know that I have never listened to a recording of someone in playing music or playing the banjo, even if they were a rank beginner where I didn’t find something that I liked about it. So you should always be able to find positive things in what you hear.
So again, adopting this third person perspective when you’re listening back is not only the best way to help keep from getting discouraged, but also the best way to provide really good feedback about what you’re hearing.
All right, so those are the things to do to keep you from getting discouraged so you’ll actually record yourself. Now I’m going to talk about the ways you can use those recordings in your learning process. So the first way, and the most obvious is as a source of feedback.
As I talked about in the last episode, hearing a recording of ourselves playing is not the same as hearing ourselves as we’re playing. We are able to appreciate things we don’t hear or can’t hear when we’re actually playing, when we’re listening back to a recording. And so we can use these recordings to evaluate things, details in our tone, timing, clarity and so on that we may not appreciate when we’re playing.
The second way we can use them is as a practice tool. And one way here is just to play along with these recordings periodically. This is especially useful if you have learned a tune or song from tablature or notation, and you find it hard to remember it, we without having the tab or notation in front of you as a cue. So rather than continuing to use the tab as your cue, instead use the recording.
Again, anytime you have the opportunity to move from using your eyes, to using your ears, you should take advantage of it. So as an example, let’s say you learned a tune largely from tab, and then you don’t play it for a week or so, and you want to play it again, but you can’t quite remember how to do so. So rather than just pulling out the tab and looking at it again, a much, much better way to go about it would be to first play the recording of you playing it, assuming that you’ve made that recording and see if you can figure it out based on that alone.
One of the most important principles of learning is that our memories are strengthened most when we have to spend some kind of effort to retrieve them. So for example, imagine that I give you a list of words to memorize, and I’m going to ask you to recite them back from memory in a week.
Now, would it be more effective for you to just take out that list each day and look at the words, or would it be better for you to each day first try to recite as many of those words as you can from memory and then look at your list?
And the answer is the second way, we know is way more effective by a long shot. And it’s because you’re exerting effort trying to remember those words each time. And every time you do that successfully, you strengthen that memory further.
So the same is true of music that you’ve learned. If you just pull out the tab or notation to “refresh your memory,” you won’t be strengthening that memory at all. Whereas if you listen to your recording you’ve made and then you try to play it, not only are you having to retrieve part of that memory, but you’re having to do so by connecting what you hear to the movements of your hands, rather than what you see. And so you’re both strengthening the memory of the tune and how to play it. And you’re strengthening those all important connections in the brain between the sounds of your instrument and the movements needed to produce those sounds.
Also as your repertoire grows and the number of things you learn grows, it’s easy to forget that you know a particular tune or a song, and so recording each new tune that you’ve learned is a great way of keeping track of what you know.
Another great use for these recordings as a practice tool, which I’ve talked about before is for visualization. So in this case, you listen to the recording of yourself playing, and then visualize yourself in first person playing along as you’re listening. Visualization is an incredibly useful technique, scientifically validated, and this is a great way to get started doing it, as when you listen to a recording of yourself playing, you almost can’t help, but visualize yourself playing as you do so. And again, visualization is one of the best ways to start developing those sound to motor connections in the brain that I just talked about.
Remember that unlike a classical musician, who’s trying to learn to sight read or build connections between visual symbols and movements of their limbs, our goal is to build connections in the brain, between the sounds in our mind and the movements of our limb that’s independent of written notation of any form. If you don’t create those, then you’ll be forever dependent on written notation of some form, which will just make playing music much harder in general.
So listening back to your recordings and visualizing as you do so is a great way to start building these networks right from the very start. And I’d recommend that everyone, especially if you’re in the beginning to intermediate stages, record every tune that you learn and then play it back regularly and visualize playing it as you do so. And this is a great thing that you can do anywhere. You can do it in the car, washing the dishes, taking a walk, whatever. It’s such an easy and effective way to start developing your ear.
And the third way to use these is to monitor your progress over time. And this is really more for your own enjoyment and appreciation of the learning process itself. It’s human nature for us, I think, to underestimate the amount of progress that we’ve made. And that’s partly because we’re always looking at the gap between where we are and where we want to be. And rarely do we stop to look backwards at the gap between where we are now and where we came from or where we were.
And also it’s because of the fact that our progress is incremental, which makes it very hard for us to appreciate in ourselves in the first person experience, just like you can’t experience yourself getting taller or older because it’s gradual and incremental. Even though others certainly can, you don’t ever really get to fully appreciate the fruits of your labor in learning like an outsider would. Unless you do recordings because a recording freezes you at a particular point in time and allows you to escape this limitation of your first person perspective. And so you get to enjoy this process of development in a different way.
Also, I think tracking yourself over time helps you to keep the right frame of mind or mindset about learning music. Remember that differences in skill level are not a reflection of talent. They are simply a reflection of where someone is on the learning timeline.
So a five year old isn’t better at communicating than a two year old because he or she is more talented, but rather because they are further along on the learning timeline. And how far along anyone is on that timeline is largely a reflection of the amount of time they’ve spent practicing and the effectiveness of their practice methods, or the quality and the quantity of their practice. So recording yourself at various moments in time to help you see this timeline of progression really helps to reinforce that concept. You’re only here, capturing a moment in time and embedded in this is the idea that you are constantly evolving.
Just like it’s so great to be able to look back and see your child’s first drawings or listen to their first words, it’s great to be able to look back and listen to your earlier attempts at playing music.
All right, so hopefully I’ve convinced you to not resist recording yourself and you have some idea of the most helpful ways that you can utilize those recordings once you have them. Once again, if you enjoy these episodes, then you’ll likely enjoy the book, The Laws of Brainjo, which you can find at Amazon and at all other major online outlets. Thanks so much for listening, and I will see you in the next Brainjo Bite.
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