Listening Vs. Hearing - Record Your Practice

I always tell my students that listening is different from hearing. Have you ever been in a store where the music was too loud, but you didn’t actually notice until it stopped? This is an example of hearing, but not listening. Listening is something that you actively do. It’s much harder to listen than it is to just hear. And when you have the added struggle of reading notes, rhythms, articulation markings, and a host of other things, it really becomes nearly impossible to actively listen to what you’re playing.

In this modern world we can pull out our iPhones or iPods (and yes even iPads, sadly) and take a picture or video at any given time. This technology has exploded so fast that it’s impossible to use it to its full potential. There are just too many options! In the musical world, I think one of the best things this technology has given us is the ability to record or video ourselves practicing during every practice session if we choose to.

When you listen to a recording of your practice:

  • You can hear what you actually sound like, without the hindrance of having to read music at the same time.
  • You will notice several things that you could change to make your piece sound better. When you go back to play the piece again, you will actually be listening to yourself more closely, because you know what to look for now.
  • Your listening skills will grow very quickly.

A few things to consider:

  • You can use an iPod or iPhone to record, but it will distort the sound. Use the best mic that you own, or consider purchasing one. I use this Yeti Stereo Microphone, and I highly recommend it. It’s amazingly good value, and half the price it was just a couple of years ago when I bought it. A good mic is an invaluable resource for any musician.
  • Test the location of your recording device. When I record on my grand piano, the mic is positioned over the strings, pretty much right in the middle. When recording on an upright, you’ll probably want to open the lid.
  • Use headphones when listening to the playback. It defeats the purpose of recording if you can’t hear the little nuances in the sound.
  • Sometimes it works well to record one day at the end of your practice session, and then listen the next day, right at the beginning of your session. This gives your brain enough time to forget the experience of actually recording it (which can be stressful), and focus on listening.
  • Don’t give yourself too much to listen to, or else you won’t feel like doing it. I never record more than ten minutes in one session (I usually don’t even do that much), because I don’t want that to be the main focus of my practice. You may want to start by only recording 2-5 minutes in a session.
  • Follow along with the music score while you’re listening, and write things down in your score that you want to change. Are you having trouble following the melody line? Write “follow the melody.” Did you notice that you’re not really playing those staccatos in measure 16? Write “STACCATO!” in your score. It’s pretty likely you’ll remember them the next time you play!

I hope this post has made you want to try recording some of your practice. Let me know if you have any questions. Happy listening!