Listening to one’s self

Listening to one’s self

In order to hear more ‘objectively’ what my playing sounds like, I recorded a tune that I thought I played pretty well. Unfortunately, when I listened to the recording, I was disappointed. Actually, I’ve tried this a few times, almost always with the same result. It’s not the quality of the recording, it’s the playing.

A normal distribution around people who think they sound better than they expected versus those of us who think we sound worse would be expected. Does that ratio sound right to you, or do you think a majority of players lean one way or the other? It makes me wonder how much variation there is in how good people think they are versus how good they really are.

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I don’t think it’s possible to ever hear ‘objectively’. Your assessment of what you hear will always be subjective. I believe that recording oneself is every useful tool, but if you are like me, and you suggest that you are, you should be cautious of being overly critical of yourself and causing discouragement. I try to keep in mind what Gam once said about music exams, and that is that the purpose of them isn’t to see if you pass or fail but to see where your level is at that time. So always take it as a positive step. I record myself almost daily and although I do suffer that thing whereas I listen straight back and say, "That’s crap!", when I then compare it against older recordings I’m not half as crap as I used to be. And then there was that day when I was sat there listening to my media player playing all my internet downloads in random order;- I heard this fiddle tune and I thought, "Oh that’s a good tune. I don’t know what it is but I’ll learn it". When I went to see what the tune was called I was shocked to find that it was myself playing it from months before. At the time I thought it was crap but when I forgot that it was me iot sounded fine.

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I find I sound better after a couple of whiskys - I also look better and speak more languages …

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What Gobby said
There is another factor, I think, that features large in the process of listening to, or more accurately hearing, yourself, viz., the element of surprise.
When you hear someone else playing, a great deal of the enjoyment comes from things that you weren’t expecting; but this element is absent, or even reversed, when you listen to yourself. When you hear a note that wasn’t exactly what you wanted — a bit flat or sharp, or fluffed, for example — it works the opposite way, by detracting from the enjoyment.
The phenomenon, I think, explains why a recording of yourself sounds better after a period of time, when you’ve forgotten about it, and can really hear it as if it were another person.
Having said all that, I don’t think there’s a person living or dead who would be entirely happy with a recording of himself.

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I’ve been caught on a recording device a time or two. Lately when this has happened and my MOm has played it back, I am always kind of shocked becuase I can hear the rhythm nicely and even and I can tap my toes to it.
I didn’t think I sounded good enough to tap my feet to it.
listening objectively when I make the recording is always difficult, becuase recording things for me is somewhat stressful and that effects my playing.

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If you hear a recording of yourself and think "wow, that’s great" I think you’ve got a problem! Anyone who has any capacity for self-improvement will be able to hear the things at their own playing level that they would like to do better.
Of course, if you don’t know it’s yourself, and think, "yes that’s fine" before you realise, then that’s great, and just emphasises that we tend to be hyper critical when listening to ourselves, as others have already said.

If you are recording yourself for learning purposes I’d suggest recording in big chunks, play for 10, 20, 30 minutes then listen back, skipping forward and back. Playing one tune then listening back is likely to be more disappointing.

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The only times I’ve heard myself on a recording and thought "Wow, that’s great" (and it has happened) is when I’ve accidentally done something that comes out good and unexpected. That’s another reason to leave your recorder on, and as Tom suggests, in large chunks.

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It’s good to Record Yourself - Keep Recording’s and keep going back to them.
Say after a Week then a Fortnight, then a Month etc, etc …
See how you progressing,, Remember , if you don’t like it ’ Change it ‘.
It’s a Really good practice !
f4

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Above all, when listening to yourself, listen to the rhythm. (Fiddlers in particular are likely to obsess on intonation.) Other things, like intonation, ornamentation etc are important, but everything else can have faults, yet your playing can still sound good if rhythm is good. If rhythm is no good, absolutely nothing else can rescue your playing.

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I haven’t bothered recording myself for ages, but we put out a cd earlier this year, and there was one track where every single performer said "I like the overall sound, but I know I did something wrong in one bit" and we ended up saying that if everyone liked the whole thing, except for that one little mistake they knew they’d done but nobody else could hear, then we should all shut up and say it’s fine……

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Not bad Pete, its was likely brilliant.. For Your always, Your Own Worst Critic.
Good One .
f4

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I put out youtube vids regularly enough. Not because I think I’m good (I’m not) but because I want to be able to compare now to then. I want to have an audience so that I get feedback. I find all this extremely valuable, and if I keep my attitude in the right place, very rewarding and encouraging.

You have this "Trad Tune Challenge" thing going around now (search for it on Youtube if you don’t know what it is) and someone just nominated me to do a tune. Now there’s a time I’ll be slightly hyper-critical, knowing that the main audience is a bunch of really fine trad players!

Just don’t over think it, when you record. You’re much more likely to hate hearing yourself than anyone else is likely to hate hearing you.

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I always think I sound flat and thin when I hear a recording of myself immediately after recording. But I’ve had the same experience where I hear a recording of myself unexpectedly and think it sounds pretty nifty.

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As some one said above, just recording yourself playing one tune two or three times through isn’t likely to be representative. I would guess that it takes an hour or two of playing into a mike to begin to lose the self-consciousness that blights that kind of performance.

If you’re a band player or a session player who never plays solo, you’ll miss the comfort zone of accompaniment and the lack of prompts and cues that come with ensemble playing, so a recording of a solo performance will seem jerky and thin.

Although I’m no better than average, I’m usually pleasantly surprised by my band recordings and appalled by my solo efforts. I suppose the truth lies somewhere between the two.

If I had the time and patience I’d work hard to perfect solo recordings - if I could perform well facing a mike and a recorder, I could probably cope with anything.

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With chance of being slung off here forever, I would reiterate that recording yourself is pointless. What really matters is being in the moment, in the pub’, having fun with your mates with the tunes. Let them be the arbiters.
On the other hand, in quite different musical environments, I have been recorded and overdubbed and mixed and mashed all my life. The stuff that produces can be very satisfying! But for trad music: don’t ever do it.

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Whilst I’ve listened to dub and got mashed most of mine…

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"I would reiterate that recording yourself is pointless. What really matters is being in the moment, in the pub’, having fun with your mates with the tunes. Let them be the arbiters."
A bit of truth turned inside out and back to front in inimitable yhaalhouse style!
An instrument you’ve never played before? What the heck!

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The great Paddy Cronin said he never wanted to be recorded, or listen to a recording of himself. He never liked the way he sounded on a recording. I feel the same way…. but I do like listening to Paddy Cronin.

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if you can make your playing sound good on a solo recording you can make it sound good anywhere.

The recording itself is neither here nor there, but if developing the discipline needed to do it well helps you to play better in hostile surroundings such as noisy, backer-rich bars, it’s a good thing.

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In my experience, I always sound worse than I expected immediately afterwards. Usually, a few months later I’m more forgiving. The same problems are there, yes, but I can hear past them. However, there are a few recordings of me, especially with other people, that I enjoy listening to. It usually boils down to the energy, excitement, and skill of the people I play with. It is fun to hear myself contributing to a good sound, even if it’s just because I’m lucky enough to play with talented musicians.

Besides whether I enjoy the sound of it, listening to myself is one of the most important things a musician can do. I often wonder how musicians got by without it!

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Oh boy, am I gonna take some hits for this one. The important point isn’t about recording one’s self it’s about listening to one’s self and doing it objectively. Recording is one way but only one way. Some people are rarely able to be objective and they’ll always sound good to themselves. Some will always be too hard on themselves. Doesn’t matter. They’re just points on the bell-shaped curve. The trick, and it’s not easy. is to be objective. You can’t improve if you don’t know where you are. It’s just the way our brains are wired. We don’t sound like what our "inner ears" tell us. We hear what we want to sound like, what our inner "rock star" sounds like, what hear somebody else sound like. We don’t hear errors in tone, intonation, rhythm (timing or tempo), or blown notes. Or conversely, we may beat ourselves endlessly over the least of infractions and fail to see the really good stuff we’re capable of. Objective listening is a skill that we can all learn. Not only in music, but in life, it’s a good idea to be able to step outside of ourselves. It’s hard. It’s important.

We’ve all heard that the best way to get good is to listen to and emulate those we admire. (Do that too much and the world will end up with the equivalent of only one musician for each instrument, but that’s another discussion). Good advice, but only if you listen to yourself. So I’ll say it again. You must, must be an objective listener. I won’t get into the pissin’ contest around the value of self-recording. Like everybody I’ve often listened to self recordings and been stung by how bad what I thought was good and by how good something I thought stunk turned out to be. So…listen, listen, listen. Listen to the ones you want to emulate, to those playing next to you (another discussion?), and equally important to yourself.

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Like daiv says, if I listen to something right after recording it, it sounds worse than if I let it lie for a while. For me, I think it’s really just that I still have the emotional attachment to the playing, and listening to it right away makes you listen for the bad parts in a critical way. But I hear recordings of myself from months or years past, when I don’t directly remember the moment, or spots where there might have been issues, and it always sounds better to me then.

For a while, I used to do that. Just randomly record stuff on my phone, while practicing, or during a session, or whatever, and then I don’t listen to it right away. 6 months later, when I’m going through recordings and run across those ones, they sound pretty good

I don’t record much these days, other than to send a tune to someone else. But I will be doing it more, because I’m putting together sets to record an album, and I’ll want to put it all together for the other musicians… (Guess I’m going to have to face that "red light syndrome" sooner or later) ;-)

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"The important point isn’t about recording one’s self it’s about listening to one’s self and doing it objectively"
I think most of us would agree that recording oneself isn’t the point — the idea is to train yourself to listen objectively, and recording yourself is an obvious way to hear yourself objectively. It is, as you say, ross faison, very difficult to listen to what you are actually playing and not what you think you are playing. If you can use a recording to make yourself more aware, then go for it. But the listening is the main part.

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The folks I worry about aren’t the ones who don’t like to listen to recordings of their playing, dfost. It’s the ones that love themselves that can damage a session. If you hear room for improvement, you are on the right track!

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If I listen to a recording with me in it made in the pub, I usually feel OK about it. There’s other people playing, there’s the background hubbub, and you can always tell yourself that the recorded balance wasn’t ideal in any case. When you record yourself in the privacy of your home, maybe hoping to improve yourself, there are many factors in play that are a bit artificial: you’re "performing" purely for yourself, you’re not interacting with your mates, you may be enduring a certain level of anxiety about possible failure, you will certainly get wound up more and more if you feel you’ve not got it right first time. It can be painful, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t do it. But you do need the essential critical faculties to assess what’s good and what’s up. Sometimes, it could be that a critical friend could do the job better than you could. I remember my then-teenage son (a great guitar player, even then) telling me out of the blue, a good twenty years ago now, listening to my home recordings, that my harmonica tone sucked. God how that hurt, but it didn’t half get me working on my tone. And I think that Tom-BR’s comment about focusing on your rhythm is a very good one. Rhythm is the main difference between good players and mediocre strugglers.

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I went through years of not recording myself at all. Even bought a Fostex, years ago, with the best of intentions, but never used it.

Lately I started recording things on my phone, for workshop students or anyone who asked for a tune slowed down that they could learn. So I’d play it very slowly, three or four times, and then play it again, fast enough to be musical still pretty slow, back to back, about 8 or 10 times, for whoever was learning it to practice on.

I am convinced I benefitted from that process more than anyone I ever sent a recording to. The process of slowing tunes down and presenting them with attention to detail was the best thing in the world for me. I also found that some of the things that I thought sounded good when I was playing them did not sound as good listening back, and vice versa. The overall effect has been a focus on returning to simplicity and timing. As it should be.

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"The great Paddy Cronin said he never wanted to be recorded, or listen to a recording of himself. He never liked the way he sounded on a recording. I feel the same way…. but I do like listening to Paddy Cronin."

Not unlike the way a good many people dislike still photos or videos being taken of them, in ordinary everyday life. Something to do with self image - we dislike the reality of the lens or sound recorder.

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Or is recording yourself more like looking in a mirror occasionally. It doesn’t have to be vanity, it can be helpful to know about the dirty face etc.

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Thanks very much for the comments. There is some wise advice and insightful observation here that improves my understanding.

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"The trick, and it’s not easy. is to be objective"…
Philosophical nit picking I know but:- It is IMPOSIBLE to be objective! The recorded sound is objective. How you hear it is essentially and therefore ALWAYS subjective.

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Spot on. The recorded sound is always "objective". The recorder, after all, can’t make any judgements….unless artificial intelligence has really, really advanced. Every recording we hear first must pass through our internal "filter". So it is, whether it’s a recording of me in my closet or someone like Harry Bradley (specific name not important). The same is true for playing live. I would suggest that by "objective" I mean without regard to the source of the recording, that one’s own playing is looked upon with the same level of criticism that would be offered to any other recording of any other player. In other words, without self deception. The recording is what it is, no matter who’s doing the playing and must be looked at in that way. That’s what’s hard. Subjectively, I’m not always fond of the way I play my bass(and I’ve been doing it for almost 5 decades). Objectively, I’m damn good. Subjectively, I hear wonderful, heart-filled tones come from my flute. Objectively…I got a long way to go before the world would take notice. But, by being objective (by my definition) and learning from it I no longer embarrass myself. All objectivity means in this context is to not be any kinder or any harsher on ourselves than we might be on anyone else. Gobby, I don’t think we’re saying anything different here.

Who knows, maybe one should only listen to one’s own recordings in the company of a brutally honest companion. That way if the tune "sucks out loud" and they say so…. you can get a new companion! Just a little humor here. May your fondest wishes come true in the new year!

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Yes Ross, we do agree… and the difference between objective and subjective can drive a person potty. Like I said, I was being philosophically nit picky (after years of it driving me nuts at Uni, where it became clear to me that the object of the subject is to be as as objective as you subjectively can about the object).

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Yeah, that’s about it Jason. You must have a good memory to have picked out that flick.

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This comment is addressed to fiddlers.

The problem with playing the fiddle and listening to your playing "live", without going to the trouble of recording it, is that the sound you hear is not what your listeners hear. The sound directed up into your left ear from the fiddle only a few inches away contains a lot of "noise" (in the technical sense) which you can hear loud and clear but which does not get through to the listener. The "noise" is mostly stuff like bow hiss and other high frequency scratchy sound from the strings; this high frequency stuff attenuates quickly and so does not project more than a very few feet at the most.

So, when I’m practicing and want to get some idea of what I sound like to a listener a few feet away I put a wad of cotton wool into my left ear (not the right) to filter out the high frequency noise, while my right ear, which is pointed away from the source of the noise hears mostly only the sound that gets to the listener.

The cotton wool trick is also useful in sessions (and orchestral/band playing) when you’ve got a noisy whatever sitting next or near you and you can’t hear yourself properly for the blast. The probability of hearing damage over a period of time is a real issue in this situation. Also, a fiddle under your left ear is quite capable of pushing out 90dB or more into that ear.

Instruments like the banjo are in a different category for its sound is directed away from the player, who is therefore protected to a certain extent from the instrument’s decibel levels.

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Trevor makes an excellent point about the mechanical noises that a violin or other member of the stringed instrument family can make… and so you have some choices to make about how to mic it. The closer the mic, the greater the ratio of these mechanical sounds to the actual fundamental tone (and you’ll probably have more audible harmonics on the fundamental tone, too I would guess, no?)

This discussion on recording stringed instruments is a good one.

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr99/articles/recstrings.htm

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Thanks Jason, that’s a very useful and informative link.

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Also agree in regards to a flute. Some second octave notes, with and without accompaniment (in and out of tune), will shut my ear or give me a buzz. And, some of the sound I "hear" is the vibration coming through the resonating bones in the skull. Hard to be realistic or fair of how I sound. Of course, if I have the microphone too close, or the wrong type of microphone, the high frequencies will cause distortion.