In preparing Tiny concert for a friend, I audio recorded myself playing guitar while singing and listened back to it immediately after. I tried to do this at least once per day and ended up with four or five sessions repeating this process with the same set of songs.
I was surprised by my noticeable progress in just a few days, and that the process felt productive, self-affirming, and contributing to a healthy relationship with music and the instrument—I actually enjoyed the feedback loop. I noted how my own preferences emerge more clearly: I'm definitely modelling my performance off of the recordings from which I learned the repertoire, but hearing myself makes my inclinations more malleable—music starts to feel more like a moldable material rather than something abstract or 'from someone else'. I thought I would feel overly critical, but it actually trained me to accept and even enjoy my own sound. For a few days I also had a nice routine going of breakfast, reading, stretching, recording, listening back—it felt like a thorough wake-up, leaving me ready to experience the day.
I frequently wondered, "Why have I never done this?". I always knew that people do this, and that I could too, but somehow never gave it a try. I've known about this for a while, since studying music professionally and having been around musicians and their culture for a while. Perhaps it's due to dogmas around perfection that made me feel too intimidated to listen to myself: in one context, music being more about execution than improvisation; in another music being professionalized to the point where sounding 'good' takes precedence over emotional expression. I haven't figured out my answer yet, but I find it useful to ask "What stopped me from doing this and what else is it preventing me from experiencing?"
There were obviously various challenges, but I felt uplifted knowing that one grows by learning to deal with situations. One long-time difficulty of mine is to play music at an unfavourable moment (such as in the morning, before my day starts, in sort of chilly temperature). I found myself working through feelings of clammy fingers and lousy tone, using what I have to construct something (the recursive process of using your own resources to validate your own resources), and building ways to deal with what's at hand. Another difficulty is various hesitations and mental disturbances (thinking too much and other things that impede your flow). I found multiple aspects of performance to help hook myself into the music when feeling distracted: pronunciation, enunciation, helping the body embody the music, voice projection, breathing, etc… It was a relief when I reminded myself that it's okay for me to be somewhat shoddy with my guitar playing because in this context the words are more important. I was able to overcome this binary around "now we're playing the song, now we're not" by constructing mini-routines like tuning the guitar before each performance, allowing myself to revise any ambiguities directly or through improvising, not worrying about how the audience perceives it, and generally opening myself up to be more fluid with music and sound.
To me, the ideals of 'gradual incremental progress' (so common in the world of technology) always seemed at odds with the non-linear nature of music, but I now feel like having arrived at some semblance of it that nurtures more than compromises the practice.
I'm excited to try this more in the future, not only as a way to 'rehearse' but as a way to 'compose'. I also see the approach as part of my broader idea about documenting moments:
For most of life it's possible to look back and observe your own progress. This is encouraging at times when you feel less positive about yourself. All it takes is making a note of where you are with words, sounds, or images.
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