Recording yourself can be a great way to review your practice sessions and performances and identify problems (and successes!) so that you can either adjust or build upon your approach for next time. There are (at least) two primary benefits of recording yourself: (1) you are able to hear what you are producing musically without having to worry too much about technique; and (2), at least with video recording, you are able to see where you need improvement in terms of technique or in terms of those places where you are playing with too much tension in either or both hands (or elsewhere). Playing musically requires solid technique, and solid, effortless technique requires a relaxed (or tense-free) approach with economy of movement. Recording helps you isolate those factors so you can take them to the practice room for revision—or overhaul, as the case may sometimes be.
How to go about recording yourself, however, can be a difficult enough procedure without the added (and perfectly normal) performance anxieties of playing in front of a recorder or video camera (that little red flashing light can set off that performance anxiety almost as much as getting up on stage!). This guide will give you some straightforward tips on how best to begin from the technical point of view.
There are different cameras you can use, which will give varying results in terms of quality. Nevertheless, whether you use a videocamera, a webcam, your smartphone or tablet, or a DSLR with a professional cine lens, more important will be how you shoot your video. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
As with any photography, video requires special attention to light. In general, you will most often need more light than you think. Your camera’s lens, even those with the widest apertures, or openings, can’t see in the dark all that well—not without adding “noise” (or, grain) to the picture. This is especially true if you use a camera that has a small sensor—your webcam, smartphone/tablet, and even certain dedicated video cameras have very small sensors (what is called an “full-frame” DSLR have large sensors and can see in darker atmospheres much better). Thus it’s really important to utilize light to illuminate the subject—that’d be you.
If you don’t have bright lights that will point at you like photographers use in their studios—not to worry, here’s a tip. Try and take your video next to an open window during the day. We can discuss techniques for pleasing lighting setups further later, but for now, you want to avoid placing your body where you have the light directly behind you, unless you’re going for that silhouette look (which won’t let you see what your hands are doing all that well). Instead, place yourself either with the light directly in front of you or position your body with the light hitting you from the side and turn yourself slightly toward the light. If the light is directly in front of you, beware that this can make you look so bright to your camera’s lens that your camera will have a difficult time making out details in the frame (for photographers out there, this is often referred to as “blowing out” or “burning” the “highlights”—essentially, overexposing the picture). In such situations you either need to lower the aperture (the “f-stop” number—which works backwards, by the way: the higher the number the lower the aperture) or lower your ISO on your camera.
If you’re unable to shoot video during the day or you don’t have a place to shoot with a window nearby, one solution is to pick up one or two clamp work lights—they can be had for cheap at most hardware stores and can usually handle pretty bright bulbs. These can run hot so you can’t leave them on for too long at a time, but they’re a budget-friendly alternative to expensive lighting setups—especially when our goal is recording for practical purposes.
Those of you familiar with photography will know that photographers use a simple rule for how to place the subject in the frame called “the rule of thirds.” Basically it dictates that the primary subject should be placed in the top, or bottom, or left, or right third of the frame. For our purposes, however, what is more important is being able to see both hands and your guitar in the frame. Thus you want to place your camera (or yourself) in such a way that you can see all of what you’re doing in the frame.
There are three different options for audio recording: with microphones, usually connected to a USB interface that plugs directly into your computer; with a standalone recorder, which either has microphones built-in or can utilize external microphones; or with the built-in microphone(s) on your camera.
(a) Camera audio
First off, while mics in cameras are getting a bit better with advancing technology, they’re still not of the highest of quality. They often add a lot more noise than is desirable to the original sound (or the “analog to digital