Let me start by saying that listening to yourself play is one of the most painful, awful experiences in life.
It’s the worst. Whenever I listen to myself play I realize that the stuff I thought I had sounding really good needs a lot more time and a lot more effort to get close to where I believed it was. So at this point I have to ask myself, “do I want to believe that I sound really good or do I actually want to sound really good?”
I actually want to sound good!
Deep down I know that this is true. I want to be the best player possible and this requires me to be completely and totally honest with myself. This can be very emasculating and does impact the ego in the short term. But in the long term I know that this will make me a better musician and person in general. I don’t want to accept the mediocre, and hopefully you don’t either.
Record and listen to yourself play every single week!
You have to get over the fact that you don’t sound like you want or like you imagine in your head. With self criticism comes self improvement. By facing the cold hard facts of listening to yourself play every week, you will notice things you do that you wish you didn’t, you’ll notice that problem with your intonation that you never heard before, you’ll notice that annoying lip slur that you do every time you play a certain passage. You’ll want to cry, you’ll want to throw things, and your ego will get taken down a notch.
Friday is my day for this masochistic habit. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t enjoy that looming feeling but every Friday I turn on my recorder and tape myself playing everything I worked on that week.
The Silver Lining
Let’s look at the bright side of this dark and stormy post that probably has you completely and totally depressed at this point.
On top of figuring out what you don’t like about your playing, you will discover some things that you do like. This is just as important as the other side. There will be things you hate and things that you like. Do more of things you think sound good!
This process will make your practice time more effective. If you are truly honest with yourself, you can’t help but grow from this process. It focuses your practice on your weaknesses and you won’t spend all of your time playing the things you are already good at just to pat yourself on the back. You will strengthen your weaknesses and come out a better player.
Putting yourself in check is a great path to humility. While it doesn’t feel good, realizing that you’re not the greatest thing that’s ever happened to jazz is a good thing. I’m not telling you that you won’t be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to jazz. On the contrary, I hope someday you are! I’ll buy all your albums and be your biggest fan. But as musicians, we are all growing constantly and humility is a huge part of that. Plus, I want to hang out with and play with humble people as most others do. The best musicians in the world are also some of the most humble and that should tell you something.
The key to this strategy: DO IT!
This won’t work if you don’t do it so get that recorder out every single week and prepare for punishment, it might just be the reason that I end up buying all of your albums and be in the front row of your next concert.