This is a question that I’ve been asking myself more and more in recent weeks.Is what I’m playing actually what it sounds like in my head, and is that being translated to the listener?
It is very easy to fall into the trap of not really hearing what you see written on the page, or not hearing what you think you’re playing. It is important, therefore, to frequently stop and ask yourself are you really managing to produce those dynamic constrasts written on the page, and all of those other nuances you feel that aren’t necessarily written? Are you actually executing the music with the dramatic timing and feeling you perhaps think you’re playing?
Being able to stop and recognise these things within your own playing is a skill in itself and does take practice.
In the meantime, recording yourself regularly can really help in picking up things that you perhaps weren’t aware of in your playing. This is something that I do every couple of weeks (should probably do it more regularly actually, it’s that beneficial); it really opens up my ears to how particular phrases actually sound or even certain notes within phrases. Some notes that I thought I was playing nice and quitely in the background, it suddenly becomes apparent that they’re considerably more forward in the mix than I’d led myself to believe and would want.
Recording yourself also helps you hear how a piece as a whole is working together. Perhaps you can take more time in a specific section – climaxing phrases or endings of sections – perhaps you need to move another along more, perhaps differing approaches to tone colours or more exaggerated dynamic contrasts. It really helps open up another dimension to a piece.
You don’t have to use anything fancy to record yourself either. You don’t need some fancy-schmancy microphone and speaker set up. I do just fine with either my iPhone or iPad. OK, the sound quality is not the most fantastic, but it does a pretty good job.
That said, if you do want to go into the fine detail of your sound quality and the mic and playback on a smart phone or similar device isn’t cutting it, you can’t beat getting someone to actually listen to you play and provide you with some helpful, constructive feedback. It doesn’t have to be a fellow musician either; often time a non-musician can give you just as good feedback on what would make the music even more enjoyable for them to listen to.