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.