How do I stop obsessing over sound quality? : LUSENET : To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us : One Thread

(snipped from e-mail sent to James)

Let's put it this way: when I do use your techniques I find them very useful. One of the drawbacks is that I cannot resist fooling around with mike placement endlessly trying to improve sound quality. (i.e.: the bass is too tubby, the tenor too muffled, the treble to strident, etc., etc., ad infinitum. . .), which drives me to distraction and wastes tons of time. I can't seem to forget about all that stuff and just use the tape as an analytical tool! Of course I realize the answer to this problem is merely to keep doing it until the urge to make "finished" recordings begins to wears off. . .

In addition to that, as you may have witnessed on my posts, I've reevaluated my piano playing and sought out a teacher, and for the time being I'm spending a lot of time of very fundamental things, which has cut back greatly on actual repertoire work. . .

Maybe even these experiences are potential food for your group!

(end snippet)

Well, has anyone else had problems with wasting time on the seemingly irresistable temptation to fool around endlessly with the mike and recorder to the detriment of real study?


-- George Gilliland (, August 01, 2000


I too had this problem and got over it by getting some decent recording equipment. After you have enough gear (including piano) to compete with the good recordings that you can buy it is pretty easy to just rare back and work on the music. Further I find it MUCH more useful. If you have substandard recording gear then you are pretty much guessing on things like pedal, dynamics and even voicing. Now I can actually be critical on what is heard by the listeners.

A similar experience is reported in "Indivisible by Four", the autobiographical treatment of the Guarneri Quartet by their first Violin.

I can't believe that anyone can get anything out of cheap recording gear because when I had 200.00 (each) mics and a 100.00 preamp I was in pain. Contrary to movie think nearly nothing worthwhile is cheap.

Regards, Dick Norton

-- Dick Norton (, August 01, 2000.

Don't want to minimize the importance of having equipment of at least decent quality, but may I psychologize for a moment? Is it possible that getting involved with the audio is easier than plugging away at the musical work?

Long ago, I knew a pianist who learned a bit of the piano technician's craft. We studied at the same music school. He'd go into a practice room and begin practicing; but after a little while, he'd stop. He'd be working on the action regulation. "Gotta get it right; can't practice the way it is." This became an excuse not to practice. The amount of time he actually practiced got shorter and shorter until finally he wasn't practicing at all.

Obviously I don't know your situation! I just offer this for what it's worth.

-- James Boyk (, August 02, 2000.

James, indeed you've touched a nerve. ;-) Your 50 years of playing have turned you into a sage.

I suppose it's very much the same principle as trying to practice on the beat-up, out-of-tune pianos at the conservatory. At first it gave me great pain, but I've since learned to harden my heart and thump away, doing my best to focus on things that I -can- control, like rhythm, continuity, phrasing, etc. Interestingly, this has resulted in less obsessing over my piano at home as well. And also less interest in piano technology, with which I had been developing a similar obsession!

Maybe I need to harden my heart a little with the tape deck too. . .

One thing remarkable thing I've noticed though is that these seemingly awful pianos that sound so horrendous when playing them myself, don't sound nearly so horrible when someone else is playing them, and I'm listening from the hallway.They're still beat-up and out of tune, but because someone else is the perpetrator, it doesn't seem nearly so painful to listen to.

Anyway, thanks for the wake-up call. Will haul out the TCD5 and the Bayer 260 and give it another whirl.


-- George Gilliland (, August 02, 2000.

Glad to hear you'll be trying again. Goodness, if you've got TC-D5 and the Beyer M260, you should have No problems with sound quality! Just put the mike a few feet off the curve of the piano, looking down at the dampers for middle C or the octave higher, and be sure to have a shock mount (otherwise you certainly will get a tubby sound from floor-conducted vibrations) and then forget it.

But do please let us know how it goes with each of the exercises you try from the book!

-- James Boyk (, August 02, 2000.

Regarding my 50 years and any wisdom I may have acquired, you know that enough thyme turns you into a sage.

-- James Boyk (, August 02, 2000.

So--did you manage to ignore the technical issues and use the techniques for their musical values?

-- James Boyk (, October 09, 2000.

Yes, James, that is hardly an issue anymore. I no longer expect the tape to sound like the piano really does in my room. Recently I've been using the tape recorder mostly to gauge my rhythmic continuity, but it's also been useful to gauge the fullness of my sound. The formality of the taping process is still something I'm trying to get used to. Of course that's part of it's value. I'd eventually like to get back to doing recitals at least a couple times a year, and what could be more formal than a recital?

Regarding your other techniques, I have to see if I can dig up the book. It seems I've misplaced it since moving back to New York. I know I have it somewhere. I remember packing it.


-- George Gilliland (, October 09, 2000.

Glad you've overcome the problem. "Dancing" to the tape playback is indeed a great way to evaluate rhythmic continuity. (It's the only way that works, I find. It's too easy to fool ourselves with any other method.)

Hope you find your copy of the book. I look forward to hearing your comments on the other techniques.

I wish there were an easy way to share high-quality recordings among the group of us. I really can't stand mp3, and anything much better is burdensome to up- and download.

-- James Boyk (, October 10, 2000.

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