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Criticism

April 2, 2018

As a trumpet teacher, part of my job is giving criticism.  The relationships I have with my students are ones built on mutual trust, so my criticism is usually taken for its intended purpose- to help students improve.  After a student has played something, my first question is usually, “So, how did that go?”  The reason I ask this is so that I can see if the student and I are on the same page before we continue.  If the student says, “pretty good,” and I agree, I will let them know as we discuss how to get from ‘pretty good’ to ‘great.’  If I disagree, I will say something like, “Actually, I thought that did not go well.”  Or, “Hmmm…I thought that didn’t sound good at all.”  After that, I will explain why I thought what I thought, and ask why the student thought it was “pretty good.”  Then we work towards making it better.

Because we have good personal relationships, it is easy to have these kinds of conversations without hurt feelings.  If I think that your performance of Brandt #2 was not very good, that has nothing to do with you as a person.  It has to do with your preparation and performance of that etude.  If you’re working with someone you trust and can put your feelings aside, honest criticism will be a tremendous benefit.

Criticism can be very helpful in growth.  If you are offered an honest assessment of how you are doing, and how it could be better, this can eliminate a lot of wasted time.

There are two big problems I’d like to discuss today.  First up- Unwanted Criticism.  This can happen in a number of ways.  The easiest way is to post anything online…about anything.  Someone will quickly let you know what you should have done, and how much better you should have done it.  Another favorite of mine is the older student.  As an undergrad, there were always “experts” around to let me know what I “should” be doing. These are often the people to tell you how much better everything used to be.  Let me be very clear here- classmates and colleagues can be a great source of information for growth.  I encourage my students to play for each other to get good feedback.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  This is the person who, although is in the same place that you are, is somehow an “expert” on everything, and is happy to let you know it.

I deal with all unwanted criticism the same way- The Smile and Nod.  Here’s what you do:

  • Manufacture your best smile
  • Aim it at the Unwanted Critic
  • Give a small nod in their general direction
  • Walk away

The second big problem- Malicious Criticism.  This might be easier to find, as, if you’re reading this, you have internet access.  There are people that seem intent on hurting other people with their criticism.  The difficult part: it can work.  If you’ve invested a lot in a particular project just to have someone come along and viciously attack it, getting your feelings hurt is not unreasonable.  So- how do you deal with malicious criticism?  I have two suggestions.

  1. Ignore it.  If someone is going out of their way to hurt you, showing them that hurt only feeds them.
  2. If you just can’t let it go, try this- write them a thank you note.  Be as nice as you can in thanking them for taking the time to give such a thoughtful critique of your work.

There are people out there that seem to think that the only way to look good is to try and make others look bad.

So- where can you go for criticism you can trust?  Good question.  Experts.  Look for people that actually know what they’re talking about.  There is more information now, that is easily available, than ever before.  Not all of that information is equal.  It’s worth doing the little bit of extra work to make sure the information you’re getting is from a source that is reputable.

 

 

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7 comments

  1. I used to play in a community band where the trumpet section was absolutely toxic. A few of the trumpet players seemed to think that it was necessary to give lessons to the rest of us during rehearsal. My solution? I learned to play trombone and moved myself to the trombone section.


  2. Another great post, Joey. Ironically, just this afternoon I had a lesson – the first in several years. I encouraged – even demanded – the teacher be very critical of my playing as I am preparing for a NABBA Championship performance this coming weekend. His straight-forward, yet well-meaning comments and criticisms were extremely helpful!

    Thanks for your continued posts – much appreciated. James


  3. Want some honest criticism? Make an audio recording of yourself. When I play, my mind plays tricks on me. I sometimes hear myself playing what I intend to play, not what I actually do play. More often than not, when I listen to a recording of myself, I am very disappointed. If I sound good in a recording, then that’s a move in the right direction.


  4. Joey, thanks for another wonderful article! My favorite part of this, is your objectivity. It’s easy to get lost in a world of comments when you’re trying to focus on playing. Being prepared to handle different types of criticism when they inevitably arise, is a huge key to success as a player. Being able to take good criticism, while deflecting the bad, goes a long way toward maintaining a certain level of sanity.


  5. This is a great blog! I find lot of value in this post. I have struggled with criticism and reading this gives great ideas! Thank you!


  6. Great thoughts! I hope you are doing well.


  7. Living in new york you get criticized and unwanted advice by everyone. Your post is right on the mark. Engaging the critic is a waste of time and creative energy.



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