At some point, we have all asked for feedback. Sometimes we ask explicitly, dragging people from the halls into our practice room to hear an excerpt, and sometimes it is the implicit request we make every time we show up for a lesson. This post is purely about that - asking for feedback.
A couple of weeks ago, I read this article in the Chronicle for Higher Education. It is not about music, but many of the points resonated in my immediately-pre-audition mind. When we ask someone to critique our playing, what do we really want?
In case you didn't actually read the article, I'll summarize - Allison points out that we need to be specific in what we want from our listeners. To translate her categories to music, we can ask for one of five types of feedback:
- “Lay it on me. What do you really think?" (honest observations)
- "Can you understand what I'm trying to do?" (clarity of musical intent)
- "Did I miss anything technically?" (rhythm, pitch, articulation, etc.)
- "My teacher says I need to play mock auditions." (process-oriented, no feedback wanted)
- "Just say I'm awesome." (validation)
If you do indeed want feedback - you have asked for categories 1, 2, or 3 - the next step is interpreting what you receive. At this point in my thinking, I returned to the array of internet wisdom and found this post.
Despite the catastrophic mentality of some of us, all critiques are not this:
Feedback - "Your double-tonguing in Marriage of Figaro is too short."
- "Whatevs, my double-tonguing is even and clear and wonderful."
- "It might be a little more pecky than some like, but I think it's appropriate."
- "The listener was just mentioning that it's a point of contention to some committees. I'll stick to my guns."
- "Maybe my articulation is stronger than I thought. I'll tone it down a little."
- "Okay, thanks! I'm going to make this the smoothest, legato double-tonguing on the planet. It will sound like glass."
- "WOW, I SUCK."
Again, perhaps the most helpful interpretation of feedback lies somewhere between the extremes. As someone who tends toward the unclear feedback requests and catastrophic level 10 interpretations, I am making it my personal mission to shift my perspective.
So here it is - if you see me practicing at any point this spring, come on in and listen. I'll be specific and do my best not to enrage the beast.