About recording yourself

As a central part of the project, I continuously recorded shorter practice sessions during my work with Paul von Klenau’s piano concerto. I made sure that I also recorded the very early stages of the process, such as this clip, which is the first time, that I practise a section in the second movement.

I then reviewed the videos and wrote down my reflections. A number of the videos were subsequently released on YouTube with my comments superimposed.

I had two hopes by doing this 1: I would try to get a better understanding of what actually happened during my practice sessions and 2: With the reflections that came along, I hoped to improve my practice. Insights from those two steps, I would subsequently convey in a way, so that others could use them for inspiration and discussion.

The example above is typical of an iterative (repetitive) process that often occurs in practice-based studies. It makes sense when the investigating subject is part of the field of study, as is the case with many forms of learning – in my case, of course, it is self-learning. By repeating a process many times, you can take a series of small steps in one direction that subsequently (or simultaneously) can be recognized.

I expected my practice to take place as normal and that the interesting potential for development of the project would be the subsequent reflections. But to my surprise, something unexpected happened: I already realized in the very early stages of my project, that my practice changed when I turned on the camera: I became more sensorically focused, I became more aware of details and I began to feel tired much earlier than usual. It seemed as if the thoughts and reflections that emerged when I looked at my practice afterwards began to appear, already while I was practising. In other words, when the camera was on, I was much more aware of perceiving myself from the outside – as an evaluating observer – and therefore my immediate understanding and evaluation of my practice strategies was of a much higher quality than usual. By doing so, I could avoid the tendency to just practise “as I went along”, but instead to be much more aware of the goal of my practice here and now, and change strategy exactly when needed.

But here came another surprise. A very interesting phenomenon was that these changes of strategy occur far more often than I had thought and that they are crucial to the quality of my practice. And most importantly, that they are often initiated before I consciously start them. In fact, many of them first came to my awareness in the subsequent review of the videos. (See About strategy changes).

It is clear that when I break off a sub-process – often in response to some resistance – I subsequently change strategy much faster than I have been able to consider consciously. (See About free will). Many of these strategy changes have to do with artistic choices, such as corrections of sound, phrasing and articulation, in order to achieve a stronger communication of the piece. It seems that my motor and sensory systems “interfere” behind my immediate consciousness in order to determine the direction of my practice. (See About action representation and motor cognition). At the same time, there is often a clear back and forth between conscious planning and unconscious reactions to resistance.

The commented videos I’ve put out on YouTube have thus become a catalogue of how I’m actually working in my practice as well as a documentation of what a reflexive method can do to one’s own practice. My hope is that the videos, just by their mere presence in combination with this e-book, could encourage other musicians to initiate a similar process. Not only for their own sake, but also so that we can start exchanging experiences and achieve more knowledge about how we and our students can work in order to achieve the best results (See About knowledge sharing)

There is no doubt about that it has been invaluable for me to go through this developmental process so it’s quite strange, why it should take so many years before I seriously began to optimize my practice in a deliberate way. Probably because it’s a little uncomfortable to encounter your own mistakes and flaws, and it’s much easier just to enter the natural flow, which has emerged over many years of practice and has already produced good results. Our practice can be automated to such an extent that we do not feel when our process changes – we tend to drift along passively.

To be immersed in your practice can be a nice and relaxed feeling- to experience a processual flow that we do not interfere with. We are inside ourselves. However, this condition is not necessarily for the good as my experience with this project shows. When we do not recognize our processes critically and evaluate them continuously or afterwards, we risk falling into habits that are not necessarily optimal. We can deliberately force our attention “outside” our process so we are not just passive bystanders, but become conscious about monitoring ourselves. (See About (self) imitation)

This shift in attention was greatly facilitated by the camera, and my experience is to have achieved a much sharper practice process: I am more aware of the direction of my work, I am more aware of aborting strategies if they do not work optimally and I am more aware of the overall connections of my practice. And at the same time, the unconscious strategy changes occur more frequently and with higher quality.

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