The mysterious first take

When I’m working on a self-produced recording project, as I am this week, I tend to try and suppress my pessimistic perfectionism. If time and resources were unlimited, I think I could probably do at least 342 takes of every section of music. Instead, I follow the advice of my old mentors the Takacs Quartet: I record one take, listen to it, take detailed notes in my score, practise changes for a minute or two, and then make two more complete takes without stopping or listening to them. That’s all I’m allowed.

When I record this way, I’m always panicked that I don’t have a take I can use, and I go home from each session feeling discouraged.

Then I listen to all the takes, and it astonishes me how often I end up choosing the first take, the one I almost always deem inadequate at the time of playing. So often it’s the cleanest and the most interesting. This leads me to wonder whether our perceptions of what is good are skewed when we’re actually playing. Or (the pessimist creeps in) do our standards just get lower and lower the more we listen?

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