Be your own teacher: How to use Audio/Video Technology in the Practice Room

Throughout my musical studies, I’ve had many professors tell me, “Record!” I’d record full practice sessions of monotonous excerpts. At the end of a long practice session, I’d record run-throughs of pieces. Every practicum and student teaching moment was regretfully reviewed and carefully examined for improvement. Every conducting session was over-analyzed to make sure I was successfully communicating musical ideas. And, every performance is saved somewhere on a CD and DVD to haunt me for the rest of my days. 

Well, it’s not that bad. At one time, it did feel that bad. Recording puts a person in a very vulnerable position, since every failure and success is documented. I’ve noticed many of my students share the same repulsion and apprehension to these useful devices. However, recording is an effective and necessary practice tool because it gives the student another way to self-evaluate and self-teach. In other words, recordings allow my students to live up to the following phrase:

Be your own teacher.

What recording device to use?

We live in a day and age where recording devices are prevalent. I remember when I first started percussion, I used a cassette recorder for all of my lessons. It was a messy storage ordeal, and a heavy device to carry around in my backpack. But now, technology is extremely accessible and portable. The key is to find a recording device you will actually use consistently in the practice room.

Audio/Visual Devices

Many people recommend semi-professional recording devices, such as a Zoom or a GoPro. I love these devices. Both are portable, easy to use, and provide high quality results. My old Zoom Q3 has such good recording quality, I’ve used it for most of my audition tapes. GoPro’s are nearly indestructible. And they’re much lighter. However, their audio quality is not so great for professional endeavors. Thus, it’s key to have a supplementary audio recorder in addition to the GoPro.

Smartphones

Almost all of my older students have a smartphone or media player. In fact, there have been many times my Samsung Galaxy phone has been a more reliable video and audio recorder than my Zoom. It’s a great device for a quick recording session. Also, a student is almost always going to have it with her/him. Be advised, there’s always that chance it’s been momentarily misplaced, confiscated, or out of battery power.

Tablets and Computers

Many schools have upgraded to using tablets and tablet computers, assigning one to each student. If you don’t have access to the above items, these school-provided devices are adequate for practice needs.

Sometimes, these aforementioned items may be out of a student’s budget. Always check with the band director to see if audio/visual equipment can be borrowed. Upon request, they may be able to loan out the equipment and/or record a practice session or lesson for you. It’s very easy to send the recordings via email or a private YouTube channel.

How to practice.

There are a variety of ways to implement recordings into the practice session. One way is to record the whole practice session. However, it’s almost guaranteed that you will not go back and listen to all of that.

A more efficient way is to evaluate your needs and record the pertinent parts of your practice session. In other words, practice what you need to without the recording device. Then record what your teacher would ask you to play in your lesson. For instance, if I were to improve my traditional snare drum grip, I’d video record an exercise and playback the video to evaluate my left hand. I’d ask and answer the following questions:

  • Is my fulcrum engaged?
  • Are my fingers in the correct places?
  • Do my stick heights match?
  • Beating Spot?
  • Shoulder alignment?

Now if I were preparing a much bigger piece, like a marimba solo, I’d suggest practicing and spot-checking certain sections. Then, I’d record the run-through of the work. I’d be sure to watch the score when listening/watching the recording. In this instance, I’d analyze the following:

  • Am I playing all the correct notes?
  • Am I following dynamics and articulations?
  • Am I phrasing like I want to?
  • Are my feet in the necessary place to reach a certain set of notes?
  • How’s my time?

Delete or Store

Most importantly, stay organized. Most of your recordings can be deleted as soon as you view and listen to them. Meaning, delete them after the practice session. A general rule is to delete any recording that you wouldn’t want to show off on your website or at an audition.  However, if you think the recording would be useful as a comparison for your improvement, store it in a file on your computer, hard drive, or cloud storage.

This is the step that prevents most of my students from continuing their recording habit. If you don’t start good organizational habits, you will be less efficient and stop using recording technology while practicing. The biggest lie you will tell yourself is, “Oh the storage is full. I’ll get to it later.” Meanwhile, you’re in the next practice session, your recording device hasn’t been emptied, and now you’re not recording your rehearsals.

Final Thought: How to talk to yourself

Once you get the gist of what you’re looking for in the recordings, it’s time to learn how to criticize and improve. When introducing recording technology, I tell my students, “Be your own teacher.” If you are the teacher listening and watching that run-through, what comments would you be making? What corrections would you offer? And, most importantly, what positive comments would you give this student? Try not to think of it as assessing yourself, but rather think of yourself as the teacher helping another student.

Over the years, I have found many students focus on the negative, beating themselves up for their failures, instead of learning from their mistakes. So, it’s important to constantly remind my students how to teach themselves. Without the recording device, I’ll often find my students imagining the worst possible scenarios. With the recording device, a student can put her/himself in the role of a teacher and make a more accurate, positive, and constructive assessment of his/her playing. Yes, the initial viewing process can be painful and cringe-worthy. But once you start implementing recording technology in your practice session, you’ll start to develop a more neutral and constructive view to improve your playing.

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