As musicians, we face a lot of critique.
Friends, judges, parents, everyone says this and that.
The sinking disappointment when someone plainly says your music isn’t good enough isn’t too far away.
We risk lots when we open up to critique.
My heart’s been shattered too many times to count, but that’s beside the point.
I’m going to talk about how you can critique without hurting anyone in the long run.
How We Hurt People: Hearts and Expectations
You might scoff at ‘hurt feelings’ and you might believe that ‘serious’ musicians won’t stop at anything, but you’re hurting hearts.
We have to understand that everyone has different goal. Not every student is going to play at Carnegie Hall (and not everyone wants to do so), but every student will grow in different ways, and we are here to help.
You want to maintain a certain level of friendship with your students so it’s enjoyable for the both of you.
With friendship you get trust— and trust is crucial.
I like to critique with a great technique that I call the Sandwich Technique.
(Um, no food involved.)
I start off by talking about what I enjoy about the music and what I particularly like, and even certain things that seem to stand out for me.
All the positive bits.
This is what I think the music needs to improve on and what I dislike about the playing.
The negative and ‘needs-improvement’ comments.
Keep in mind that music is quite subjective.
We might not understand why Rebecca Black’s Friday and Justin Bieber’s Baby have the same musical themes (yet both hit the top charts), but we can still argue that–
they’re catchy tunes.
- When we start off with “I think…” or “I believe…” or even “In my opinion…”, we’re softening the comment because it leaves room for uncertainty and other interpretations.
- We’re also emphasizing the fact that these are opinions, not necessarily what’s ‘right’ according to the ‘standards’, if any exist.
The Other Bread
I end the critique with a quick summary of what I like (“Great job on…” / “Keep on doing…”) and a comment on what needs improvement (“Keep working on…” / “Don’t forget to…”).
Lastly, a grilled cheese sandwich is engaging and exciting.
- They understand what I’m saying.
- This is a big mistake that we all make. We get so caught up in our own heads that we ignore whether everyone else agrees, but I stop the flow once in a while to ask “Do you understand what I’m saying?” or “Does this make sense?” and even get the student to explain it back to me.
- You might be surprised at the “No” sometimes.
- I convince them.
- I believe that what I’m telling them is the best for that situation, so I convince them to think the same way.
- I tell them why I think this way, in easy words.
- Sometimes, I demonstrate the playing in two extremes to contrast the differences. (The good vs the really bad; for example, posture.)
- I watch my tone.
- I make sure that my tone of voice gets my message across properly, that it works with my message.
- Up to 90% of your message is communicated through your tone of voice.
Now I invite you to share a couple tips: what techniques do you use to critique?
Also: feel free to share this with a friend who might find this helpful.
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