Image of the Zoom model H2n recorder“There is nothing more fatal for our musical sense, than to allow ourselves – by the hour – to hear musical sounds without really listening to them”
-Tobias Matthay (The Musician’s Way, p. 16)

Imagine that you’re watching an artist paint in her studio: She spreads color on canvas, backs up to appraise her work, and then returns to her easel.

Sometimes she brushes briefly and assesses quickly; other times she paints at length before pausing to reflect.

Correspondingly, when we musicians practice, we proceed through cycles of execution, evaluation, and revision. But there’s a big difference between our medium and that of visual artists because music exists in time, not space.

After we play or sing a phrase, it’s gone, except for our memory of it. So, as we practice a passage, if we accurately perceive our execution and if our memory is keen, we can size up our work and respond fittingly.

But, of course, we’re human, and our perceptions and memories are fallible. If a challenging phrase taxes our capacities, we might not hear every aspect of our sound. Our timing or intonation could drift, let’s say, and we might not catch it.

Self-recording and Self-perception
Self-recording in practice provides us with the means to compensate for glitches in our self-perception and memory. It enables us to capture the music we create, and then, like painters, stand back and gauge our execution from any angle.

In Chapter 1 of The Musician’s Way, I describe the main benefits of self-recording. In this post, I consider specific audio recorders and how we can use them (I’ll touch on video recording in other posts).

Self-recording Gear
Among the portable digital recorders on the market, for self-recording in practice, I’m partial to the units manufactured by Zoom – the model H2n is pictured above.

These devices are relatively pocket-sized, come with excellent built-in mics (far better than the mics on phones), and allow for easy data storage and handling. You can read about their features and compare prices via the links below.

Links to recorders and reviews on Amazon:

  • Zoom H4n PRO. Outstanding sound quality & features – a musician favorite!
  • Zoom H2n. Great for self-study recording.
  • Tascam DR-22WL. A less-expensive option for self-study recording.
  • Zoom H6. 6-track recorder with 24 bit, 96K capability.

Using a Recorder
Such recorders can enhance our musicianship in countless ways. In solo or ensemble practice, we can record a passage and then immediately listen back: if our execution was on target, we might repeat the passage to reinforce excellence; if quality was lacking, we’d solve problems right then.

Similarly, in preparation for a concert, we might record and evaluate a practice performance; ensemble members might even share such recordings via an online workspace.

Self-recording, therefore, has become integral to almost every high-level musician’s creative process. In my own practice, I always have a recorder at my side. As an educator, I guide my students to record portions of their practice sessions and lessons.

Related posts 
Assessing Your Practice Habits
Beautiful Repetition
A Different Kind of Slow Practice
Optimizing Practice Time

© 2009 Gerald Klickstein
Updated 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015

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