If you watched America’s Got Talent this week you saw the amazing (and I don’t use the word lightly) Mandy Harvey. She is deaf and wowed the audience with her vocals and uke playing. I truly have no idea of how she does it, because as my teacher often reminds me, my best tool in the box isn’t in the music or my practicing or my bow. It’s my ears. I spend lots of time with my left hand, my right hand, looking at music, marking up music, but not enough time actually listening to my music. When your eyes are focused on the music and your brain and muscle memory are working to play the notes, you don’t have much brain space left for listening. I’ve read that up to 60% of your brain is used for vision. Throw in another 20-30% for your brain helping your left and right hands, at least 5% for your brain wandering thinking about what you have to do tomorrow and you’ll find you don’t have much brain space left for listening. Yet how can you improve your sound if you aren’t listening to yourself play? You aren’t going to like the answer, but one way is to record your playing. When you first record, you will close your eyes and groan and vow to take piano lessons instead. But you need to get past that. It helps to have an excellent recording device, one that will reflect your true sound. (I know, ugh, but isn’t that what you want to hear?) I use an H2 Handy Recorder by Zoom. I’m sure there are many others out there. I suggest recording a short phrase. When you listen, determine what you like about your sound and what doesn’t sound the way you want it to sound. This is the key. Maybe your intonation was off. Pinpoint the note(s) and make the correction. Maybe you were hitting the last note of the phrase with a bang when you needed to taper the sound. If you listen carefully, you will hear your sound and you will be able to try different things to change the sound to what YOU like. And if you can’t determine “how” to get the sound you want, at least you will know what it is you do want to hear. I think that is a huge step.