Benefits of recording
For me, recording yourself is one of those steps that levels up a beginner incredibly fast, and beyond invaluable for anyone looking to improve their skills. Let me explain how vital, and how easy this is.
Recording is like looking into the mirror for your ears, it's a pure reflection of your playing. So much potential growth happens simply from self evaluation when you put down the sticks for just a minute and assess how you are progressing. If you're always practicing solo without a teacher, and seem to be getting stuck on certain ideas, tempo issues, or just unsure if what you're playing is what you're intending, I implore you to start recording yourself regularly. This really goes for any level as well, IT IS my go to method when I'm having trouble on something.
The days of expensive studios for demoing is long gone, simply use your phone, it's always on you and works great for basic recordings (and probably more). I distinctly remember in 2002 using a 4 track tape recorder to record my band's demo, my bandmate at the time had the classic Tascam recorder and we painstakingly got 6 songs done...whew! It was an unbelievable headache tracking the drums, not to mention my timing was all over the place. Remember, once something is on tape, you aren't really editing unless you got a pair of scissors.
Zoom ahead less than decade later and all of a sudden everyone owns a quality recorder in their pocket. It's no longer, who owns a recorder, but rather who has enough free space on their phone for this take. Try it the next time you practice by yourself or rehearse with your band, just with the voice recorder on your phone. Then take a moment the next day and listen to the whole thing, be honest and critical, because you beyond anyone else have the most to gain. Use an outside perspective mindset, think as if you were in the audience watching your own band...that'll make you think!
Hopefully by now you are convinced how much personal and band development happens from recording and listening back. Lets talk some specific examples of it's benefits.
An exercise that I really like to use when teaching is to give a random combination of grooves to play in a specific order, such as 4 bars of bass drum pattern one, then 4 bars of pattern two, and finally 4 bars of a third pattern. When they finish, I simply ask how they felt about it. The vast majority of the time they bring up certain parts they felt they stumbled on, rocky transitions, or confusion with counting, things along those lines. I always grin and say AWESOME! In which case they give a confused look back, like, but I just messed up a bunch! My response is always the same, "but you understand what you need to work on"...that is everything.
The point of doing this exercise is to make sure whoever I'm teaching is paying attention to their playing, this takes work just like everything else. Sometimes the student just looks perplexed when they finish, but that's why I'm there, to give that outside viewpoint and guidance. Just last week I was working with a student and set up a 4 measure exercise for him. For whatever reason, he kept adding on an extra bar making each phrase 5 measures (consistently). When I first told him, he honestly had no idea, but through counting the measures out loud together, it became clear. This would have been a prime time to whip out the phone and push record if he was practicing solo.
You can see just from this one example how you can extrapolate all the possibilities in which recording can lend to personal improvement. A few additional focus points that come to mind include, keeping steady tempos, smooth transitions between sections, counting measures, working on fills, and overall making sure the rhythm grooves...as they say, it don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing!
Just as recording yourself is great for self improvement, the exact same is true for bands/ensembles. Everything mentioned above can be applied to groups, but there's more instruments and people now, so the benefits really start to add up.
Listening back to a song your band just played is a great feeling, it's like hearing yourself on the radio from back in the day. Enjoy it, but also ask tough questions. Is the bass louder than everyone else in the band (personal experience), does that first verse feel like it goes on and on forever (personal experience), is that guitar solo exciting enough to last half the song (personal experience), does the entire song slow down incrementally to almost a halt near the end (personal experience), and are the guitars even tuned?! (yep, personal experience). Even just one of these breakthroughs is already worth pushing record.
Beyond the more clear benefits mentioned above, something truly uniquely valuable in recording band practices is with song development. Personally, this is super fundamental in my own band. We regularly jam during rehearsals without any concrete goals, but more than not, seeds to new songs begin to form right in front of us. Something as simple as a guitar riff, bass line, or drum beat can trigger endless ideas. Capturing those moments is huge because they can be gone within a blink of an eye.
Taking it another step, once we have a rough draft rolling for a song, the immediate next move is to record it on someone's phone. Can I just state again, how amazing it is to have this capability, it's like surveying 100 people and asking who owns a home studio with everyone raising their hand. This first draft is great for working on arrangements (order of sections), developing vocal melodies, thinking up extra instrumental parts, and overall flow of the song. We basically do this over and over until we're happy with where it's at. No matter what stage, the song is documented, and always there for reference. I highly recommend for anyone playing with other musicians, to make this a habit.
Audio recording is perfectly fine for the majority the time, but having a visual can serve as a clear double check, across all skill levels. Without much more effort, you unlock a whole new perspective.
Beginners might not pick up a bad habit from just listening, but watching it could shed some major light. Intermediates working on more complex beats might not understand why specific parts don't flow well, but watching their hands might clear up some confusion. And pros developing new ideas or learning very specific beats can fine tune them by critically watching themselves.
One quick example that immediately comes to mind of how video easily outweighs audio is the time one of my students wanted to learn the "American Girl" by Tom Petty drum beat. It's a very straight ahead and repetitive beat, but a little tricky at first to get the bass drum hits to sit right inside the groove. I realized the trick is to keep the right hand incredibly steady on the hi-hats, then everything else will fall in place. As he kept working on it, I'd zone in on his right hand and let him know whenever it started skipping. It was a key breakthrough, and something he can keep checking in through video.
- closing thought -
Mindfulness is the key to performing music, it is truly hard to switch your brain to examination mode in the middle of playing drums. So much physical coordination and focus are happening in real time, that even the smallest thought divergence can cause the whole train to derail. I often tell my students the ultimate goal is to try and get into almost a meditative state when you're playing. Just like you need limb independence to execute a beat, mind independence is equally essential. Think about professional athletes and how often you hear them say something like, execution is largely a mental game
To conclude, having saved recordings of your playing either solo or with a group is something you'll have for the rest of your life. I cherish every single track I have, even from those days of terrible sounding 4 track recordings. It makes me cringe a little, but mostly smile because I truly enjoyed those early development days and it always takes me back. Occasionally I listen to old band demos just for kicks and the nostalgia is overwhelming. It certainly helps to know where you came from to push to where you want to go.