Listening to Ourselves


You’ve played a gig that was a blast. You left feeling terrific - you had killed the music, kept the band bouncing and played outstanding solos.

Three days later, someone posts the video on YouTube, and you’re mortified.  "Is that how I really sound?" You ask, and, warding off cardiac arrest, spend the rest of the day contemplating taking your uncle up on his long-standing offer to join his insurance company.

Hold off, my friend. Breathe. Stay in the moment. Channel your inner Deepak Chopra.

This is a critical moment of musical growth.

One of the most challenging things we have to do as musicians is to listen to our own recordings. But it’s essential, as self-critique is perhaps the most important thing we can do to improve. 

To make the process more palatable, here are three things to keep in mind:

1. Embrace Your Mistakes

So maybe you did drop some beats, rush here and there, or even screw up the form. While “Failure” may be too extreme a word, we need to learn to embrace our mistakes. Not only is it the only way we’re going to improve, failure is an indicator that we’re showing up, putting it out there as best we can.

We may not have succeeded in the way we wanted, but we put our best effort out there, stepping up to say what we had to say. It may not have come across as well as we would have liked, but the more we fail, the closer we are to succeeding.  After painful close monitoring of our playing, we immediately grow. We haven't had to practice for an extra 15 hours – we’ve improved merely by listening for the 5-10 minutes of the tune and noting the things to try not to do in the future.

2. Try Not To Focus So Much On Your Own Playing

Jazz is ensemble music. In the end, our role is to serve the group. It’s not just about us. Shift your focus to the overall sound of the group, or the soloist whom you’re supporting.

During playbacks on a recent recording where Adam Rogers was the guitarist, I noticed that while we were all in the control room, Adam was strolling the hallway, listening intently to the playback, but not closely monitoring in front of the mixing console with the rest of us. I asked him about this, and he explained that when listening to playbacks this way, he was better able to assess the entire ensemble, as opposed to narrowly focusing just on how he sounds. Something we can all learn from indeed.

3. It’s About the Journey

We’ve all heard this so much over the years that it’s almost become a platitude that goes in one ear and out the other. But, let’s try and remember that as with anything, one of the most beautiful things about being a musician is the process of learning itself.

To learn more about how to improve your groove, contact Lorin Cohen for NYC bass lessons or Skype bass lessons.