Why we make recordings

For the past 10 years or so in my own personal teaching, I’ve always given my students the opportunity to record their pieces.  We do this one lesson at a time, one piece at a time.  It’s become an event that the students look forward to.  If a piece is polished, they slap a sticker on the page and pull out their USB memory drive.  At Velocity, our Kawai digital pianos record and save directly as a MP3.  The students know automatically to connect their drive under the keys.  At my home studio, I have my Roland connected to my mac with a USB-MIDI cable, and we use Garage Band to record, and iTunes to convert to MP3.  After the student records a piece, the entire process takes less than a minute to save and transfer to the students USB memory drive.  At the end of the school year, we have a nice compilation of pieces to put on a CD for the student to take home.

But why record?  Why bother?  (even if it only 1 minute taken out of the lesson?)  Every minute of lesson time is valuable time that is needed to polish and work on pieces and musical concepts.  Every minute of lesson time is time that is being paid for.  So why do this?

Here’s why:

  • Recording bridges the gap from lesson to recital.  What makes recitals intimidating?  The one shot mentality.  You have only one shot to be on stage and get your piece right.  How do we practice for recitals?  We practice to perform.  Those mistakes that students are eager to let slip by during a lesson or at home become huge elephants in the room when they are recording.  When a student is recording, they will often do 5-10 takes of their piece, concentrating at a level that they haven’t expressed in their lesson.  Often, when frustrated that they can’t get it right, they take the piece home to practice for another week and bring the piece back more polished than before.  They want to get it recorded on the first try.  They often tell me how their hands sweat and they are nervous during recording.  This is so similar to performing, that it gives students a chance to practice what a recital feels like.
  • Timeline of progress.  There’s nothing like pulling out an old MP3 file from last year and showing the students their progress.  Remember when?  It’s a wonderful pat on the back to all of their hard work.  It’s also a wonderful way for us as parents to file away in a secure spot, just as we carefully folded their first birthday outfit, or filed their first grade handwriting papers.
  • Sharing.  Instead of keeping the files on my computer, I now ask that my students all have portable USB memory sticks.  That way they can take home their pieces every week and e-mail the recording to grandma overseas.  Or their best friend who just moved across the country.  Or just put it on their MP3 player to show their friends at school.
  • Analyzation of technique.  More often than not, it is difficult for us (any of us!) to hear what is going on while we are caught up in playing a piece.  We are reading the music, we are feeling our fingers moving, we are concentrating.  I can point out a half note that was not held long enough.  “What do you mean?” responds the student “I always hold that note long enough!”  With the recording, there is one simple way to find out.  We move the mouse pointer to the beginning of the piece and listen.  And watch.  We watch as the notes are show as MIDI data lines on the program.  All of a sudden that too short half note become more apparent than ever.
  •  Joy.  There’s noting more rewarding, as a teacher, than seeing a look on a student’s face when they have put all of the pieces together, and hold the recording in their hand.

Here are some recordings that my students have been working on this week.  We hope to showcase weekly student progress on this blog throughout the school year!

The first performance is by my own son, Julian. He’s 6. We are still on the rough draft of his recording. There are some rhythm errors, some timing issues. However, he couldn’t wait to get through the recording so that he could send it to his grandma in Oregon. And I personally love the small bobbles in this recording. I think this recording will always remind me of his 6 year old self–wiggling on the piano bench, feet twitching and kicking the stool, yet incredibly sensitive beyond his years. I’m playing the accompaniment part with him, he’s playing the melody.

The next two recordings are by Luke, a 9th grader. Luke has been working on motivational pieces (we alternate between classical pieces and pieces such as these) that he can play for his church.

And a final recording by L., a little 4th grader, who is working a lot this year on polishing her pieces without worrying about them too much!  Here’s a recording of a piece that she just loves.  She got it on the first try!

Just a few samplings of the wonderful recording that has gone on in my teaching this week.  It’s why we do what we do!