A recurring theme in my teaching is the concept of "leverage points".
Leverage points are actions that give you a big bang for your buck, a high return for the amount of energy you put into them, and there is usually a major reason why they work:
Most people don't do them.
I'll cover more leverage points in the coming weeks, today, I want to share how a really simple tool that you already possess can make you a much better musician almost immediately.
If you are reading this post, you are doing so on a computer or a smartphone, either of which likely has a built in microphone and camera. In an ideal world we'd have studio quality sound and HD video but let's bootstrap it and get started with what we have.
You're thinking "Record myself? I sound/look awful on tape, and I hate listening to it, this is stupid and it probably won't help at all"
Everyone thinks this.
That's why it's a leverage point.
When you pay for coaching or lessons, what you're really paying for is a body of knowledge attached to an objective set of ears/eyes. The sound you hear in your head when you sing, and the way you think you look when you conduct, and the way you think you sound while you're playing is not the way your audience perceives you. This is why a coach is so invaluable, they can see what you can't, and provide guidance in correctly glaring errors and improving performance.
The problem is that, for most artists, you have 1-2 hours a week of objective observing happening, and you aren't even in control of it!
Have you ever had a relative or a friend hear their own answering machine message, or a random video of themselves and say "I don't sound like that!"
You know that they really do sound like that.
So do you, when you listen to a recording of yourself.
I know it's painful, I know it's hard, I know you cringe and want to convince yourself it's not that useful to do anyway.
And that's why no one does it.
And that's why if you do, you'll have a huge advantage in your field and grow far quicker than you would otherwise.
Recordings allow you to freeze time, analyze deeply, listen objectively, and really hone in on your strengths and weaknesses. If you have a coach, you can look for the concepts you work on in lessons "Is my vowel shape correct? Am I breathing properly? How's my posture? Was that left-hand cue as clear as I thought it was? How's my eye contact? Am I really that breathy on my top notes? Why is my left hand half a second behind my right hand when playing chords?"
This sort of self-analysis is the key to sustained growth in music. Over time you will learn to get better at doing it without a recording, but if you want to shave a few years off the path, invest a few minutes a week in reviewing videos of yourself. This time pays off in so many ways, and as much as it will continue to hurt (I've been doing it for a decade and it doesn't get any easier) it will give you a huge advantage in music.
Now that doesn't mean you need to make these videos public, no one needs to see them except for you. However, one day you may have a really good performance and just happen to have captured it so you can put it out in the world, through your website, youtube page, resumé, or some other channel. Now when a big audition comes along, you can look back and boost your confidence by comparing how you used to perform to how you're doing now, and remind yourself of your most common errors. And you may get lucky and have a great recording you can use for promotion and applications for years to come.
Check out www.youtube.com/user/ChristopherGKeene for several dozen videos of my conducting from many angles and many years and many different choirs. I can list 100 errors in each video (even the 2 minute ones) and watching every one has made me such a better conductor. I know that watching them after the concerts has also made each member of my choirs a better musician.
Facing objective feedback isn't easy, but if you have the bravery to take on the task, you can leverage your effort and accelerate your growth as a musician.