Practice Tips: Record Yourself

I tried a bit of archery recently. The best part of learning to shoot projectiles is that you get instant feedback on how well your doing. If you’re getting it wrong, you know about it straight away and you know how far off you are.

It’s much trickier to do that when you’re learning an instrument. It’s difficult to play and listen objectively at the same time. If you regularly record yourself and listen back you’ll have a much clearer idea of what you can work on to improve how you sound.

Ideally, you’d tape your entire practice session and listen to it back. But that’s not really practical. I usually record myself playing a couple of times through the tune I’m working on at the end of a session and make a few notes on what I need to be practising.

Since you’re only listening to it yourself, it doesn’t have to be great quality. A cheap desk mic and Audacity will do the job fine.

Things to listen out for:

Tempo – Does it sound rushed? This is one thing I’m always getting wrong. I tend to rush ahead of the tune and speed up as I go along.

Bum notes – Are you getting the same part/chord change wrong over and over? Focus on that bit by itself. Slow it down completely and practice it in isolation.

Dynamics – I.e. loud and quiet bits. Does it sound the same all the way through? Varying the intensity of your playing can make things more interesting. For example, if you’re playing the same line twice you could play it loud the first time and softly the second (creating a type of echo effect). You can also slow the tempo at certain parts to add more interest.

Emphasising notes – Can you hear the melody? If you’re playing a piece that includes melody and accompaniment it’s important that the melody notes stand out against the backing.

View Comments

12 Comments

  1. todd September 9th, 2009 6:38 pm

    excellent advice Al,

    thanks for sharing,

    todd

  2. Fiona September 9th, 2009 8:26 pm

    I do this all the time and find it sooooo helpful! It’s also a really good way to improve your singing, if you sing with your uke.

  3. Armelle September 9th, 2009 8:33 pm

    Thanks for the advice, Al.
    I’ve used Audacity every now and then after reading about it in your ukulele 101 e-book.
    What I find is that sometimes you end up being worse at playing a tune after you’ve played it too many times trying to correct bum notes or other problems. It’s then best to leave it for a few days (weeks) before trying again. This is true when you are a beginner who has to correct all the points you mentioned in your post ;)

  4. Jomes September 9th, 2009 8:51 pm

    Metronomes are good to keep that tempo in check, then after a while, you shouldn’t even need one!

  5. cardboardfrog September 9th, 2009 8:54 pm

    recording yourself can be really helpful, but i find the best thing is just putting the uke down and giving it a break then coming back to it later and it all seems much easier

  6. J-Hob September 9th, 2009 11:32 pm

    Brilliant advice! I do this a lot and I can certainly credit it with helping me improve a lot. You can also use it as a metric for improvement and much like your archery you can improve bit by bit based on feedback from your last attempt.

  7. Ukulele Perspective September 9th, 2009 11:42 pm

    Good advice. Audacity works for Windows. I wonder how many ukulele players have Macs and use GarageBand? It seems easier to use. I wondered if you ever record multiple parts and what advice you have for such experience. I’ve seen the tabs/chords on the Web for Pachebel’s Canon parts but that’s a long piece. Or maybe you’d write some cool rendition of a two part ukulele piece?

  8. Narciso Lobo September 10th, 2009 7:31 am

    Great stuff.

  9. Nick Bardy-Chivor September 10th, 2009 12:10 pm

    I do this using my Ibooks built in camera and mic…the sound quality isn’t great…it was a real eye opener…I think I will invest in a better mic…It definatley helps…

  10. J-Hob September 10th, 2009 12:18 pm

    I use a little mic that clips on the bottom of my ipod most of time, works great

  11. JCMcGee September 11th, 2009 11:09 am

    Rushing is my big problem…rush rush rush through a song….Slooooowwwww down is good advice.

    “i find the best thing is just putting the uke down and giving it a break then coming back to it later and it all seems much easier”

    mmmh, practicing without practicing….very Zen!

  12. Woodshed September 13th, 2009 9:25 am

    todd: You’re welcome.

    Fiona: I think my singing is way beyond help.

    Armelle and cbf: I always get too obsessed to leave a new tune for too long. But I do often find I can play a tune better in the morning than I could the night before.

    Jomes: It’s good advice. I just wish I could take it more often.

    J-Hob: Cheers!

    Ukulele Perspective: Thanks for the idea. I’ve done a couple of duets in the past. It might be time for another.

    Seeso: Thanks.

    Nick: A decent mic is a good investment. It doesn’t have to be super fancy.

    Jimmy: I wish I could take that advice. I put my speeding up down to excitability.

Got something to say?