Using Recordings as a Practice Tool: The Compassionate Critique

Do you cringe when you hear a recording of yourself – yet somehow you need to get used to it? Try these insights to discover new ways to listen to yourself and improve your self-coaching.

(4-minute read time)

Photo by Matt Ragland on  Unsplash

Have you watched a baby or toddler lately? You probably noticed that when an infant is learning to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, play…we rate and applaud both their effort and achievement equally. We know there is a sequence in which the development will probably occur, and we embrace that.

Is that how you view your vocal development?

Can we reclaim that applause and patience in our “grown up” music learning? Can we trust the process that occurs when effort is applied in small steps over time with a lot of repetition? Obviously, I think we can!

And this is a terrific training ground in which to begin … the transformation of our self-criticism as we review recordings of ourselves.

Whether you have recorded yourself during practice, a lesson, a rehearsal, a workshop or a performance, the choices you make when you listen and watch it back will determine whether you cheer yourself onwards or sabotage your momentum.

Top Tip

Dial up your inner constructive self-coach and dial down your nasty inner critic.

This is the time for specific and sequential truth-telling.




Each time you practice, perform and record yourself, you are like the infant we described earlier trying one more time to get from rolling over to the belly, returned to rolling onto the back. Recording yourself is your next attempt at doing your thing. Stretch a little further. Celebrate it – this is the work!

  1. Decide whether you will record only audio or include video as well. Personally, I like to include video when I am wanting to observe my stagecraft, any unconscious physical habits, or whether my perceived amazing dancing is actually a total distraction. (I once discovered that my hand was beating out of time against my leg and I had no idea…utter madness)
  2. Next – always do a sound check. Record a few phrases and then listen back to see whether the accompaniment is too loud or soft and if you can hear your vocal clearly.
  3. Consider including introductory remarks to practice speaking about the material you are singing. E.g., song title, composers, recording artists, year of release, why you are drawn to it, context to prepare the listener. This sort of “banter” doesn’t come naturally and needs practice too.



Now record your full song/s.

Rehearse your mindful singing habits and try to avoid dwelling on any self-consciousness you feel because of the recording in progress.



Before you play back the track – give thanks for what was possible and give yourself a hearty round of applause.

Now, take out your pen and paper and complete these statements using items from the Terminology Matters section:

  1. I was happy with…
  2. I still need help with…
  3. I was surprised by…
  4. Next time I would do……differently.
  5. Next time I will repeat…



If you only have a video track, I urge you to first listen to it without watching the screen.

Grab your notebook and the playback device and speakers/headphones and be ready to listen to it 3 times in a row without taking a break. Choose your mindset– neither too harsh nor too lenient.

  1. Hearing #1 – no stopping…only look for things you like. Make a list. Compare with your Step Two Immediate Reflection list.
  2. Hearing #2 – list areas you’d like to improve that you were previously unaware of.
  3. Hearing #3 – write down the next 3 micro-goals you think are going to be helpful for this song or your general technique. Compare with your Step Two Immediate Reflection list.



This activity is to be used only if you had a goal involving stagecraft or physicality.

It has two steps and might test your patience…but it’s worth it!

  1. Your first viewing should be WITHOUT sound.
    a. What do you like about your body language and facial expression?
    b. What ONE thing would you like to try differently?
  2.  Now turn the sound on for your final review.
    a. Note anything else you missed from the REFLECT and LISTEN review steps.
    b. Convert this into specific micro-goals.



The first time you complete this activity it will probably take longer than it will take in future. You will get used to it and have benchmarks to draw from as you repeat the process.

This final step of pivoting everything you gained from the critiquing into your next round of activities will cement the good work you’ve done.
In your notebook, complete these statements:

  1. The vocal or performance growth I noticed today is…
  2. In tomorrow’s practice, I am going to…
  3. My next recording session will be on…



That’s it! Allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised. You have skills and you know how to use them!!!

We are unfortunately more practiced at being hard on ourselves – sometimes under the guise of humility. Sure – we don’t want to trade that for narcissistic and misguided delusions of grandeur. But the benefits of honest appraisal and specific evaluation will generate the sort of growth and confidence you are looking for.

I wish you patience, perseverance and delight as you try out this practice tool. As always, I would genuinely love to hear how it worked for you and any other feedback you’d like to share with me.

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Brim, Rodney (2019). Brain Hacking for Speeding Up your Jazz Improv Success on the The Musicality Podcast. Episode 159: 18 March 2019

Goodhart, Gregg (2019). How to Learn Like a Genius on The Musicality Podcast. Episode 213: 27 November 2019

Harnum, J. ( 2014). The Practice of Practice. Sol Ut Press.

Westney, W. (2006). The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self. Amadeus Press, New Jersey

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