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How to Deal with Criticism

I read an article about criticism early last week.  As students of music we often have incredible opportunities to perform for and get advice from great musicians.  With any luck, your studio teacher is a great musician with a list of impressive accomplishments and experience (this is not always the case). Criticism can come from anyplace.  Put a video on youtube and watch how many, “u suck.” comments you receive.  Masterclasses and studio classes offer other opportunities to receive criticism.  Lessons every week are the first and foremost way to get advice.

How do we take that criticism? The article suggests several things:

  1. Consider the source
  2. Shut Up and listen
  3. Don’t take it personally
  4. Stay calm
  5. Ask Questions
  6. Take ownership of the mistake
  7. Change your perspective
  8. Thank the critic

While this article is not specific to music, it is very applicable.  Consider who’s criticism you give weight to.  Anyone can give valid advice.  Evaluate the advice given, then choose where to go from there.  Does it make musical sense?  Does this way sound better?  Are these people commenting on youtube worth worrying about ? (hint: no) These are questions to ask.  Being criticized is a time to shut up, take some notes and stay calm.  Understand that it’s you who’s given the performance, take ownership of your choices and ask questions about things the critic suggests.

Should we go to lessons each week terrified that we’ve screwed something up that we’ll be busted on?  No.  That’s no way to learn an instrument.  Embrace getting advice.  Make use of it.  It’s not anything personal; most times the person advising only wants to encourage your improvement.  Take advantage of it.

How do you deal with criticism?

4 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 January 15

    You state how you respond to criticism. I respond differently, depending on what and how the criticism is delivered. Sometimes, the critic isn’t interested in actually helping or being honest–in which case we are hard pressed to find any benefit.

    However, I generally

    1. Listen
    2. Stay calm
    3. Ask Questions
    4. Support your idea/belief/play/etc, but realize everyone is entitled to their opinion
    5. See if alterations may make your play/music better–not a requirement that you agree, but your audience (or some of them) may prefer one method over the other
    6. Appreciate honest criticism–it is meant, when delivered appropriately, to make you a better player/performer.

    Either way, play what you want–unless you are having to cater to some for funds or your livelyhood. To me, I play to enjoy my time–not necessarily to please others.

    Of course, that is just my opinion 🙂

  2. 2009 January 15

    Good call, Counsel. Sometimes you do get bad advice. In the end it’s up the person playing to make interpretive decisions.

    If the advice truly does help, it can be used! but sometimes that advice does jive with our own sense of musicality nor does it make the music better. If that’s the case, leave the advice alone and don’t change anything.

    Thanks for the comment,

  3. 2011 July 3
    Freddy permalink

    Hi Chris,

    I’m a newcomer, so first of all, thank you for creating this site — lots of interesting topics, variety and depth. And, clearly, a labor of love.

    With regard to criticism, how to receive it is one thing, how to give it another. I can’t take credit for the following, and I don’t know the source, but it’s especially helpful in ANY teacher/student relationship.

    Begin with a Compliment. Follow it with your Critique. Conclude with a Compliment.
    (And I DON’T mean being nicey-nice).
    If a teacher doesn’t respect the student, he doesn’t deserve the student.

    In addition, if someone’s making a mistake, try to couch your advice with a positive. Instead of saying “DON’T do such-and-such,” flip it to “DO such-and-such.”


  4. 2013 March 3
    Chas permalink

    First, you may throw rotten tomatoes at me for this: whe I did “study” Classical briefly half lifetime ago, I now play electric. (“JUDAS!!!”).

    I made my first recording of an original composition (and I use the term loosely) and posted it on the forum sponsored by Ableton, the recording software I used. I asked for advice on mixing in order to create the depth and space I wanted, but all I remember is getting flamed for how monotonous the music was, how flat the drum track is, blah blah blah. I just realized, writing this, that nobody criticized my guitar playing…(!)

    Anyway, I reacted as I tended to — defensively. I replied to each of the multitude of critics (and everyone IS a critic) mercilessly dicing each one to pieces verbally. I’m sure at least one of them is still underneath his bed in the fetal position sucking his thumb, and it’s been 2+ years. I also yanked the clip.

    However, something interesting happened. On my next recording, I jazzed up the music, created an awesome drum track, added some piano and achieved a richer mix.. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s quite an improvement. I’ve also begun studying composition and theory and really approach practicing much more seriously and, I hope, humbly.

    Point being that, unconsciously, and perhaps in spite of myself, the painful criticism, which I would have given anything to NOT receive and fought back with a vengeance, was a very direct agent of my growth and improvement.

    Downside is now I’m overcautious and haven’t recorded since. But I think that will pass once I have a composition I think is worthy.

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