Seems like a weird question, doesn’t it? But the reality of your playing is completely different from your perception of it, I can almost guarantee that… well, it is if you are realistic about what you play and what you see/hear when you watch yourself back. Those with overtly sized egos might not see it.
Why am I asking this? Well, since I went back into gigging just over 3 years ago, I’ve started to see and hear myself play in the cold light of day a lot more. Back in my day, when I were a lad etc. etc. it was extremely rare for a local cover band to be recorded in any way and have that recording even listenable. These days, as everyone has an HD camera in the pocket that can take high sound pressure levels, you are probably going to be recorded every time you pick your guitar up. For a good couple of years I steadfast ignored any recording that came up, purely because I didn’t need to see it as we are just a Dad band and we don’t care about our image, we don’t play the songs that everyone expects, we just play what we play to the best of our ability. It wasn’t until someone recorded us last year during a laid-back Sunday afternoon gig and I thought I played well at, I thought “I’m going to have a watch of that” mainly because I didn’t know I was being filmed until quite a while afterwards.
That’s the most important thing. I didn’t know I was being filmed. Because, you know, at the time I suffered from red light terror and all that. What did I discover? Well, I think my vibrato is crap, my phrasing is off and I am the most heinous lick thief that’s ever lived.
What I’ve done to try to expand on my playing is record myself… which in itself has presented itself with a whole new problem – a proper case of “Red Light Syndrome”. I’ve found out that when I know I’m being recorded, whether it be out in the wild or at home, I clam up. Completely. I revert back to tried and tested safe stuff, my timing goes out the window and all the bad bits within my playing become all the more obvious. The only way to do this is to keep doing it, over and over, and then share it with people.
This is the big one for me… sharing it with people. I’m a confident player, I know that I’m not crap, but I also know I’m not great. So, when I shared something (usually carefully picked, the best take of many) into the open playing field it’s in the knowledge that the people who have me in their news feed will see it. Now, in this regard, it’s a real dice with death for me... My social media ramblings fall into the feeds of some seriously good players, probably because I have what is perceived to be a cool job, so I am connected to them professionally. Fortunately, they overlook my stream of everyday grumpiness and bullshit in order to maintain the relationship. I cannot begin to explain the terror I feel when I post a video of something I’m working on and I get a notification of “Brent Mason commented on your video” or “Andy Wood reacted to your video”. My stomach falls about 6” and I can barely look. But I have to. Fortunately, it’s complementary, but you know, I think as a general rule they are playing nice. I’m not a pro player, but because of the job, I have to be quite good in order to pull it off – or at least give the impression of being quite good.
I eventually found myself in a position of doing either of two things. Continue to share stuff, or not. For a long time, I went with the latter. I shared nothing, but continued to record myself… As is my usual way, I eventually got bored with that and stopped doing it. And then, about a week ago, I was talking to a mate about playing something or another and I recorded it and sent it to him. He recorded something and sent it back, and we went back and forth like that for several hours. I learned more about my playing in that couple of hours than I had in a long time before because it was one on one sharing, there was no-where to hide. It was recorded and sent instantly before I’d even had the chance to watch it back myself… so, I was seeing it the same time he was. I was actually offering myself up in my most raw format for critique. I can’t begin to tell you what a different that made – I found that in doing this I lost the red-light issue as well, and I felt more comfortable and was properly able to see where I was going wrong.
The following day I shared one of the videos on to our group in Facebook that showed the issues I was working on the most, but also, the one that I felt was the least crap… because, you know, I still have an ego and I’m not ready to have it openly demolished! I posted it with the title “What are you working on right now?” and put in the description what I felt my playing needed the most work and asked for advice. For the first time it was an open share looking to get better rather than showing off. I got a great response and a couple of ideas on how to improve. I’ve since gone back and rerecorded it and noticed a difference… the main issue I have is time feel – I tend to grab phrases if I am not 100% confident on them, and my natural bent note vibrato… well, unfortunately, it really does suck - there is no flow or subtly to it. But I’ve learned a couple of techniques now that have improved it, I have a long way to go but at least I can see a way out of the woods. I am going to record that solo every week in order to keep track of my progress, and once I feel I’ve nailed it, I might share the results!
Here is one of the videos from that lazy Sunday, that shows my lick thievery to it's maximum extent.
Here is the video I shared into the tone group that shows my (bent note) vibrato that needs work.