The Most Important Practice Tool You’re Not Using

January 24, 2014by CCS

As musicians, we all want to get better.  We buy books, take lessons, spend hours practicing, subscribe to *shameless plug* and put on nerve-wracking and mistake-riddled performances much to the chagrin of our audience.  We do it all in the name of improvement, yet there is one incredibly powerful tool that is more neglected and misused than any other.  It’s a little red button.

Missing The Point

Since I was a kid I have been intrigued by recording music.  I used to hold a handheld recorder up to my television speakers to capture movie music to listen to on my Sony Walkman so I could mow the lawn to Rocky IV’s No Easy Way Out. (Life was pretty tough in suburban New Jersey.)  When I got into hip hop I would use my dual-cassette boom box to record parts from Kris Kross songs and mix them with KLF hooks.  When I first started a band, my other guitarist and I would call each other to tape parts on my answering machine so we could listen back to how our parts sounded together.  Those were some seriously crazy calls.  Later, I recorded numerous CD’s with various bands, but it was always to create a product.  It was the culmination of practicing, not the impetus for it.  Since then I have found ways to utilize practice recordings to encourage improvement, point to areas I need to get better in, and inform my end results.

Know Where You Came From

When you hike up a mountain trail it can seem like you walk for hours and get no closer to the top.  It’s not until you turn around and see how high you are that you realize how far you’ve come.  As a learner, recording yourself gives you a record of progress that is invaluable.  I am not a natural singer.  In fact, it wasn’t until I graduated college that I realized that singing was something you could actually learn to do.  When I first started taking singing lessons I recorded myself all the time just to hear how I sounded.  Those tapes are now locked away somewhere in Switzerland so don’t ask to hear them.  There were plenty of times that I thought about just sticking with guitar and leaving vocals to someone else, but every once in awhile I would go back and listen to an earlier recording to see if I had improved.  Shockingly enough, I had.  Knowing that I had made progress was a great motivator to keep moving forward.

Know Where You Are

Playing music is a purely subjective experience.  We hear ourselves through the filter of how we feel while we’re playing.  It is impossible to separate the two.  Your audience on the other hand, hears a more unfiltered version and it can be dramatically different.  The soundman at my old church used to track our worship sets for fun.  I’d rather not admit how many times he played it back for us after church and I listened in horror as I found out the solo I thought I had rocked was out of tune, or my “minor” flub was actually pretty major.  While it was discouraging at times, I was able to critique myself and improve rather than rest on a false sense of merit.  I found myself tuning my guitar more often, not taking as many chances on notes I wasn’t sure of, and overall becoming a better player.  All it took was objectively hearing my mistakes for me to take the time to correct them.

Know Where You Want To Go 

When you know where you are, it’s a lot easier to get to where you want to go.  I know I’m never going to be a contestant on American Idol.  I just don’t have that kind of voice.  Through recording and listening to myself, I have become comfortable enough with how I sound to write music that fits what I do well.  Did I once dream of wailing like Bono?  Of course, who doesn’t?  But hearing what I truly sound like and falling in love with artists who have their own unique sound allowed me to adjust my path to make the best music I can make with the raw tools I have been given.

Get Going

The bottom line is that no matter where you are on your musical journey, recording makes you better.  You hear your progress.  You assess your faults.  You fix them.  You find what you are good at.  You refine it.  You get better and unlike me, you don’t need to jury rig answering machines and boom boxes to do it.  Garage Band comes standard on Macs and if you are a PC user, you can download Audacity for free.  No fancy microphones necessary, your laptop mic can get the job done.  You’re not going to sell this or put it on YouTube.  Seriously, please don’t put it on YouTube.  It’s just for you and one day you’ll look back at your journey and just get to enjoy the view.  Happy tracking. 

Jason Houtsma has done a lot of music stuff in his life but has truly found his calling as guitar instructor for and Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, Washington.  He has a gorgeous wife, two awesome kids and is a proud Seahawks fan.   

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS's quest is to help churches and Christian ministries "do music right." CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.  

The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.

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The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.