How To Supercharge Your Guitar Skills With A Simple Recording Technique

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Perfect and polish your guitar songs, skills, and sound

There have been so many times where I thought I sounded amazing at a show, or practice, only to listen to a recording of the performance later and realize that I didn’t sound anything at all like I thought I did.

When you’re the guy playing the guitar, you’re typically filled with emotion – or the song itself – and sometimes what feels good may not be what other people are hearing.

This bothered me for quite some time until I had this idea – to reconstruct the crime.

I wanted to know how I really sounded. How clean and accurate my guitar playing was, and how well I was complimenting the song. The best and most obvious solution was to record myself playing as a part of my normal practice routine.

The problem is this:

While you’re playing, you can’t really listen objectively. There is a lot going on in your brain while you’re playing guitar, and you need a way to be the performer, and then step back and be the connoisseur, or teacher.

The solution?

Record yourself with a specific intent of improving your performance

The eight levels of progress you’ll traverse

Hearing yourself recorded on a song you haven’t perfected yet can be a uniquely bad but still amazingly helpful experience.

This has ended up being an great experience for me – and it’s resulted in many emotional and technical experiences, including (typically in this order):

  1. Horror (It’ll pass)
  2. Depression (It’ll turn into motivation)
  3. Motivation
  4. Steady progress (the Holy Grail!)
  5. Amazing increase in accuracy
  6. Increase in fluidity (playing the song effortlessly)
  7. Confidence (the extent might amaze you)
  8. A much better guitar player (again, you’ll be thrilled)

How to make this technique work

sound-waveSo, you might be wondering what the details are – let’s dive in.

First – you’ve got to have a goal.

Choose a song that fits what you’re trying to achieve. If you want to play covers in your band better, choose one of those. If you want to learn how to sound more like Stevie Ray Vaughan, use one of his songs. Maybe you’re working on one of your original tunes. Whatever the case is for you, pick a song.

You should have this song in a format that you can record. So if you’re using a DAW (digital audio workstation), maybe a WAV or MP3 file. I just pop MP3s right into Reaper. I put the song on track one, and open up a new track for myself.

If you don’t have a DAW, you can go old school and just play it on one device and record it on another. Just make sure the song and your guitar are mixed as best you can, with your guitar being the more prominent. Audacity is a decent option, if you need a free DAW.

Since most people have DAWs nowadays, we’ll go with that method for this article.

Record

Warm up first, play through the song a few times. We’re assuming here that you already know the song. This method doesn’t really work if you’re still learning the song – the method is for polishing and perfecting – getting to that next level.

Once you’re all warmed up to the song, try recording it.

Then comes the part that could be horrifying at first. Listen back. I like to bump my guitars volume in the mix so that it is a bit awkwardly loud. Don’t mix it like you would mix a song. Also I will pan my guitar 10-20% to the right, and the backing track 10-20% to the left.

Listening is the key

Put the guitar down.

You have to listen to your performance many times. Pick out what you don’t like – but don’t concentrate solely on that – remember to notice what you do like about your performance. Listen at least three times.

  • Listen for your timing. Where are you behind the beat, or jumping the gun?
  • Listen for bad notes. Common whoops moments – are you making them in the same places time and time again?
  • Listen for poorly fretted chords or notes – where do you need to focus on that left hand?
  • Listen to your pick attack. Where does your right hand betray you?
  • What are you doing in the song that you really like? Make sure to preserve those things – even if they were accidental!

Repeat: Go back, and do another track

This is an important step. The more times you repeat this process, the more benefit you’ll see.

Take what you learned from listening carefully, and try another take. Start a new track – mute the previous, and try again. Keep stacking tracks and repeating the process.

It’s fun to go back and listen to the last track and compare it to the most recent. You should hear a significant improvement. As a note, there will come a time (after several takes) where your performance might start to degrade. This means its time to take a break.

When it’s all said and done – you’ll start to notice that you finally feel like you’ve got the song under control. When you go to play it live, or lay down tracks in the studio, you’ll feel very ready and confident.

Side note: If you’re into really weird experiences, its kind of fun to play all the tracks at once when you’re done. It sounds terrible but it should put a smile on your face.

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Tim Monaghan

Tim has been playing guitar & bass since he was 12 years old and has been in Jazz, funk, rock & metal bands. Influences include Jeff Beck, Stanley Clarke, Doug Stegmeyer, Baden Powell, Steve Vai, and pretty much anyone else who has a unique style that expresses their individuality. One of Tim’s many hobbies is building, tweaking, and repairing basses and guitars.

There are 2 comments

  1. Avatar

    This technique has helped me SO MUCH when improving my playing. I’m usually not as focused as described above (with set goals etc.) when I record myself, but I usually end up with a good result anyway (i.e. identify a million things that need improvement).

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Like you, I thought I was pretty good. Then the exciting first recording! Boy, did I suck… in my mind at least. Now I do this trick all the time and use it to learn covers as well. Really made a difference in how I play and how I THINK about playing. My whole process is different now, but I still find myself not up to par. This is a great tool for practice.

    Reply

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