5 Ways Self Recording Will Improve Your Guitar Playing
"I just keep recording. You never know what you'll come up with."
— YoungBoy Never Broke Again (Kentrell DeSean Gaulden)
[Note from Max]
Did you know you can often fix errors and malpractices in your playing by simply hearing to what you are playing? I mean actually listening, and no, you are not really listening while you are playing the instrument, since you are focused primarily on what you are playing, and listening is relegated to a second place. I've heard some people say that while playing you are actually hearing what you "want to hear".
Today I bring you a guest post by Scott Ronald, who will give you 5 good reasons why you should include self-recording into your regular guitar practice.
Off you go, Scott!
If you’re new to playing the guitar it may seem like recording should be a million miles away from your level. However, whether you’ve been playing for 10 weeks or 10 years, self-recording is one of the most powerful ways to improve all facets of your guitar playing.
Affordable guitar audio interfaces such as the iRig2 have made recording yourself at home easier and cheaper than ever - all you need is a semi-decent computer and $70 and you’ll have everything you need to create high quality recordings of your playing.
In this article we’re going to look at why you should start recording your playing at an early stage, and how best to use recording as a tool for your musical development.
1. Use Recording to Inform Your Practise Regime
Even if you’re an advanced guitarist with decades of experience, it’s difficult to objectively hear how you sound while you’re playing.
Not only are you distracted by concentrating on the music, but you will also be hearing how the passage should sound instead of how it actually does.
By recording your isolated guitar to a click track you can listen back objectively and critically to identify areas of your playing that need improvement. When listening back ask yourself:
Are you locked in time with the click?
Are your bends pitched correctly?
Does every note ring out clearly?
Is your picking hand in time with your fretting hand?
At first you’ll likely be a little surprised at just how different it sounds being played back compared to how you thought you played it.
Don’t let this discourage you, by regularly recording yourself playing you’ll always be finding ways to improve, and will therefore develop at a much faster rate than someone who doesn’t get the objective feedback that recording can provide.
2. Use it To Improve Your “Ear”
By “ear” we don’t mean the physical appendage but rather the ability to match pitch and recreate music you’ve heard or imagined on the guitar.
You often hear stories about Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan not being able to read music or know any music theory, however they were able to do what they did because they had extremely good ears.
For new guitarists, ear training is very difficult as it requires you to understand where each note lies on your instrument. Learning to do this at a high level takes years and should therefore be part of your learning routine from the very beginning, as it is the one of the most important skills you can develop.
With a good ear you’ll be able to pick up guitar parts in a fraction of the time and you’ll make far fewer mistakes in your playing. Best of all, you’ll be able to improvise more melodically and write better music.
Self recording creates the perfect environment to train your ear. One of my favourite methods to help my students build their musical creativity as well as their guitar playing is getting them to record simple rhythm guitar parts - just a couple of chords or a basic riff - and then imagine melody lines on top.
Write these melody lines away from the guitar, recording them vocally. Then work out how to play them on the guitar afterwards.
By doing this in a recording environment you can slow down and repeat the melody as many times as you need. You can also reference your guitar playing against the vocal line to identify any errors.
Doing this regularly from very early on will develop your ear more quickly and help you link what you hear in your head to what you can play with your hands. If you’re able to train your ear, every part of guitar playing will become much easier.
3. Use it To Improve Timing & Phrasing
As you develop as a player, your timing and phrasing will become some of the most important tools in your musical arsenal. Whether you want to play in bands, become a singer songwriter or just play along to your favourite songs at home, having a good sense of time is usually what separates a mediocre player from a good one.
Recording yourself is a great way to improve your sense of time. My favourite two practise techniques are slowing down tempos and learning to multitrack.
Recording tracks in much slower tempos along to a click may sound easy, but it is something a lot of musicians struggle with. While you may be able to comfortably play a passage at full speed, significantly slowing it down forces you to feel the space between beats and better understand how the passage lines up to the pulse. It will give you a much better understanding of how rhythm works within a piece of music and this will improve your overall musicality.
Multitracking is another great way to improve your timing, as you’ll learn to play in sync with yourself.
Record a short riff along to a click track and then record another track of exactly the same riff on top of it. Pan each track hard left and hard right so you can differentiate the two guitars and listen back.
At first you might find the guitars aren’t quite in time with one another - listen closely to where they deviate from each other and from the click track. Once you’ve identified where you’re deviating, record both tracks again. Rinse and repeat until the guitars sync up closely with one another.
Not only does this teach you to keep time with another instrument, but it also makes you examine the rhythm you’re playing much more closely.
4. Experiment with Tone & Timbre
Tone is a hugely important part of guitar playing. The most iconic pieces of guitar music are well known not just for the way they’re played, but for the way the guitar sounds.
Digital recording and amp modelling software has improved so much in the past couple of decades that any player can access convincing sounding and affordable amp sims.
While 15 years ago, players were limited to using the equipment they physically had access to, today guitarists have access to hundreds and thousands of pieces of simulated equipment.
If you want to play with a 60s Fender Deluxe or a Marshall JCM800, digital amp simulation will give you a tone very close to the real thing.
Not only does exposure to all these new tones and sounds inspire you find your own sound, but new sounds can inspire new musical ideas, meaning you’ll want to learn music across lots of different genres and styles.
Having a broad musical palette improves all aspects of your playing, from your creative ideas to your technique and ear.
5. Recording Forces You to Play Better
When you’re jamming with friends or playing along to songs, it doesn’t matter if you fluff the odd note or passage.
However, wanting to make a good recording means you need to nail every part of a song. This leads to an important change in attitude from needing to play a piece of music fairly well, to needing to be able to play it perfectly.
Recording forces you to re-examine what you thought you could play and solidify the skills and techniques you’ve learned so that they are completely ingrained.
For beginner guitarists this is especially important, as it can be tempting to push forward and learn new techniques without having mastered the basics first. Building your technique on shaky foundations will catch up with you later down the line, making advanced techniques more difficult and even resulting in injury and long term tendon damage.
By consistently recording all the new songs and techniques you learn, you’ll ensure that you can play them to a high standard before moving on. In the process, you'll build a fantastic foundation for your technique as you progress.
About the Author
Scott Ronald has been a professional musician for over 7 years. He has toured extensively in Europe and the UK as well as doing session work at some of London’s most prestigious studios.
He is also the editor of www.guitargearheadz.com a comparison and review site helping guitarists make informed purchases of guitars and audio equipment.