There’s a well-worn philosophical riddle that asks, “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear, does it make a sound?” You can evaluate the event itself—there’s a dead tree on the ground—but without anyone to hear it fall, studying the noise that it made is impossible.

Privately practicing the guitar is similar—even though you’re around to hear the sound of your own practice, playing prevents you from listening to yourself, and can often lead you to accept imperfections that you would otherwise want to eliminate. Luckily, there’s an easy and inexpensive solution: record your practice sessions.

Don’t break the bank. When looking for the right device to capture your practice sessions, feel free to save your money for recording your first album—hi-fi audio isn’t the ultimate goal. You can use your smartphone, a handheld digital recorder, or even an old-school cassette setup. Elaborate home-studio setups also do the trick, but typically require more setup time than you’ll want to spend to record a simple practice session.


Roll tape! Before you click Record, choose your material carefully. Wading through an hour of your own noodling isn’t nearly as enlightening as a focused, inspired performance of a few songs. Try making a set list, and then practice each piece of music until you think you’re ready for a complete take.

Once the tape is rolling, try to make it through each song without stopping to re-record. It’s ultimately up to you whether anybody else ever hears your recording, so every take is worth keeping even if it includes an occasional flub. Most of all, don’t get discouraged if you develop a sudden case of the sweats—many musicians get “red light fever” when the reels start spinning. Think of it as preparation for your next studio date, performance, or lesson.

Evaluate your performance. The most important part of recording yourself is taking the time to listen back. Press Play, paying particular attention to the things you don’t notice as much when you’re busy practicing. Are your notes crisp and clear, without unwanted noise between chord changes? Are you playing at the desired tempo with a steady rhythm? If there are things that you’d like to change, make a note to work out the bugs in your next practice session. And if everything sounds great, you’ll know you’re ready to tackle something else!