Usually the first thing I do after a student performs something in a lesson is ask a question:
“What did you think of that?”
Often I get one of these two responses:
- “I thought it was good.”
- “I thought it was terrible.”
Usually the truth is somewhere in between, so I’ll ask more detailed questions, like:
“What were you happy with?”
“What still needs work?”
Once both of these questions are answered, a clearer picture of what to do next can emerge. Too often, there is a tendency to focus on only one of them. When feeling particularly good, it can be easy to ignore details or small mistakes because of how much is going well. When feeling bad, it’s too easy to throw your hands in the air with an attitude of “I suck!” and walk away. Neither of these approaches is ideal.
It’s too easy to think that because something went well for you that you’re through with it. Here’s what I want you to do: Once you’ve practiced something so that you believe it to be ready for performance- record the performance. If you have a smartphone, video record it. Wait until the next day to watch and listen to the recording. When listening and watching the next day, ask yourself this question:
Would I buy that recording?
If your honest answer is yes, then it’s time to move on to another piece of music. If not, then you have to answer one more question:
Once you’re honest with yourself about what is lacking in that performance, whether it is technical, musical, or both- you now have a plan for what to practice.
But remember to recognize what was good about your performance as well. If, when asked why you wouldn’t buy the recording, your answer is “Everything!”-that’s not productive.
The caricature of the cocky trumpet player is one with which I’m sure we are all well acquainted. We may even know some people that come close to that awful stereotype. There do seem to be some players that think that whatever comes out of their bells is amazing by definition. It seems obvious why having this kind of attitude is a bad idea. It makes a player difficult to work with, unpleasant to be around, and generally a bad colleague.
There is a good part of that caricature. It’s the confidence. Having confidence is a good thing. Cockiness is just confidence taken too far.
On the other side of the spectrum are the players that don’t think they do anything well. They have an easy time recognizing what others do well, but can’t recognize that they have any strengths. These people are also bad colleagues, because, although they might appear to be easier to work with by constantly deferring to others, their constant putting down of themselves makes them difficult to work with and generally mopey people to be around.
Humility is a good thing. The idea of “I’m terrible and everyone else is great” is humility taken too far.
Both in the practice room and in working with others, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is vital. In the practice room it will keep you focused and getting better. In your professional career, it will make you someone people want to be around, as you will be confident in your abilities, while recognizing the strengths of others around you.