[1.III.13] Videotaping and Recording Your Own Playing

One of the best ways to improve musical playing and to practice for recitals is to videotape or record it and watch/listen to it. You will be surprised at how good and how bad the different parts of your playing are. They are often very different from what you imagine yourself to be doing: good touch? rhythm? tempo accurate and constant? What motions are breaking up the rhythm? Do you clearly bring out the melodic lines? Is one hand too loud/soft? Are the arm/hands/fingers in their optimum positions? Are you using the whole body -- i.e., is the body in synch with the hands or are they fighting each other? All these and much more become immediately obvious. The same music sounds quite different when you are playing it or listening to its recording. You hear much more when listening to a recording than when playing it. Video taping is the best way to prepare for recitals and can sometimes eliminate nervousness because you have a clearer picture of your performance.

Initially, most pianists made only audio recordings, thinking that the musical output was the most important; in addition, the older camcorders could not adequately record music. Audio recording has the disadvantage that proper recording of the piano sound is more difficult than most people realize and such attempts often result in failure and abandonment of the effort. Camcorders have become so affordable and versatile that videotaping is now unquestionably the better method. Although the resulting sound may not be CD quality (don't believe the claims of digital video camera manufacturers), you do not need such quality to achieve all the useful pedagogical objectives. Make sure to select a camcorder with the option of turning the automatic gain control off in audio; otherwise, the pianissimo passages will be amplified and distorted. Many sales persons in camcorder dealers are unfamiliar with this feature because it is usually an option in the software settings. You will also need a fairly sturdy tripod; a light one might shake if you really pound away at the piano. Only concert pianists need more advanced audio recording systems; for the best and cost effective results, seek out a recording studio. You may need high quality audio recording for various uses; the audio recording technology is changing so rapidly that it is best to surf the internet for the latest equipment and methods and will not be further discussed here.

Start by making a one-to-one map between what you think you are playing and the actual output (video or audio). That way, you can modify your general playing tendencies so that the output will come out right. For example, if you are playing faster than you think in easy sections and slower in difficult sections, you can make the proper adjustments. Are the pauses long enough? Are the endings convincing?

The recording session will reveal how you react in an actual performance, for example, if you make a mistake or have a blackout. Do you react negatively to mistakes and become discouraged, or can you recover and concentrate on the music? During a performance, you tend to get blackouts, etc., at unexpected places where you generally had no trouble during practice. Recording sessions can flush out most of these problem spots. Pieces are not "finished" unless you can record them satisfactorily. Videotaping is a good simulation of playing in recitals. Thus, if you can play satisfactorily during videotaping, you should have little trouble playing that piece in a recital. Once you start taping, you may want to send the tapes to other people!

What are the disadvantages? The main disadvantage is that it will take a lot of time, because you must watch and listen to the recordings. You might be able to save some time by listening while you are doing some other chore. The recording session itself takes little extra time because that counts as part of practice time. However, every time you correct a section, you must re-record and listen again. Thus there is no escaping the fact that watching/listening to yourself is going to be a time consuming operation. However, it is something that every piano student must do. One problem with camcorders is that they all have motors that make noise which is picked up by the built-in mike. If you find this to be a problem, find a model with either an attachable mike of good quality, or a mike input and buy a separate quality mike, such as a boundary or PZM mike.