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Teacher giving constructive criticism to guitar student.
September 14, 2022

How to deconstruct constructive criticism

What did that punter mean when they said the show was good but the guitar was too loud? How do you listen and deconstruct constructive criticism and use that to improve? Criticism is the act of giving your opinion or judgment about the good or bad qualities of something or someone.

Remember that criticism and music are subjective

Firstly, there is no hard and fast rule on what “good” music is. Music is entirely subjective and this means one person’s notion of great music can be entirely different from the person standing next to them. It’s often hard to take criticism because the music that you give to the world is ultimately a sonic expression of yourself. Often it is the rawest and most vulnerable parts of yourself that create your best work. Not everyone will agree it is your best work. This is based on what they grew up listening to, who their friends listen to, which artists were the most popular during their lifespan, and likely many more reasons.

So, in light of this – attempt to not take any criticism personally. Note that we use the word “attempt” because this is in all likelihood not entirely possible in every situation. We have all had our parents tell us to stop with that racket when we were practicing in our rooms as teens. It’s hard to not take criticism personally because it feels like a critique of you as a person. But, if you want to grow and learn as a musician, you need to strive to separate these.

Ask people who understand music to give you criticism

We all have those friends and family members who love to give us critiques at all moments of the day. It comes from a caring place, but it’s not always helpful. What is helpful is getting critiques from professionals in the industry who understand the fundamentals of music. The opinions of audience members are still important, but can only go so far as their expertise.

When you have music lessons, ask your teachers for critiques. Ask your fellow musicians for their opinions. The more granular you get, the more nuance you can create in your playing. Having other musicians around you who are better than you is crucial to improving. If you are the best player in the room, you have no one to aspire to. Make sure to surround yourself with people who have more expertise and knowledge to pass along. The path to improvement is to be the little fish in the big pond.

There’s no need to take on board everyone’s critiques

Whether people have valid points about your music or not, not everyone’s critiques need to be implemented. You need to take into account what kind of player you are trying to be. If you have a professional musician offering you constructive critiques on your sound, stop for a moment and think about what they sound like.

They can only teach you what they know. Do you like their sound? Do you want to sound similar to them? Or, are you going for a completely different sound? Don’t just blindly follow expert advice without first thinking about the overall impact on your playing and whether that is something you want.

Your biggest critic is yourself

No one knows you better than you. And simultaneously, no one is harder on you than yourself. Be kind to yourself. You play music because you love it. Take it seriously, but remember why you started. Be open to the idea that you can be better and know that it’s okay to have room for improvement. Figure out the ideal way for you to receive criticism. Is it with gentle encouraging words? Perhaps you require negative reinforcement to drive you to practice more.

You need to know yourself enough to know how you can improve efficiently and effectively. Think back to a time when you experienced a spike of improvement or growth in your playing. What came before that? Did someone compliment you on your playing? Maybe you had a really intense music lesson with lots of actionable and practical tasks that resonated? Perhaps your band member told you that you need to practice a specific part of the song more.

Identify and lean into the method that suits and serves you the most.

Want to know more? Read What Did They Really Mean? Learning How To Take Criticism and Improve Your Art.

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