Why should I participate in NYSSMA? What could I possibly learn from being judged by a total stranger? How is NYSSMA going to make me a better musician? These are the type of questions I have been hearing a lot the past couple of months from students about whether or not they should participate in NYSSMA. Many parents even question what can be gained by their child enduring a 10-minute subjective assessment after putting in hours of preparation over the past several months. One benefit is that NYSSMA provides a great environment for learning CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM and the role it plays in our life.
ACCEPTING CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
Music provides a very healthy environment for people of all ages to learn how to take constructive criticism. As a musician, it is important to learn from your mistakes. In life, we mature by learning how to take advice from our parents, teachers, mentors and employers. Every week musicians practice this discipline when performing their pieces and scales for their teachers. Each week you practice and prepare, and when it comes time for your lesson, you feel like you are eager to share with your teacher what you have learned, only for your teacher to still find aspects of your playing to improve.
“That was great, your hand position is perfect. Now let’s play it again with a little more energy”
“Good job on learning the right hand, now let’s try it with both hands”
“I like the passion; I could really hear a difference from last week. Now let’s focus on connecting those phrases to provide even more passion!”
Students -If you’re a student does this sound familiar? If so, then you will know how to react when you get your scores back from NYSSMA. You have been prepared on how to receive constructive criticism every week during your lessons. So, don’t be surprised to see remarks such as, “room for improvement.” If you treat NYSSMA the same way you would your weekly lessons, you will learn a lot from the experience. NYSSMA judges use criticism to show you ways to improve so that you are the best musician you can be.
GIVING CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
Criticism is a two way street. We have to learn how to offer good advice as well as how to accept other people’s opinions. Whenever we are on the receiving end of some one else’s critic we tend to think of it as negative criticism, but when someone asks us for our opinion we often associate it with “advice”. Advice and criticism is essentially the same thing. Through performing in juries like NYSSMA we see the benefit that others perspectives can provide for us, and eventually learn how to return the favor to our fellow musicians, and students to help them grow. There is a great need in life to provide friends and family members with positive feedback and helpful advice, a skill that musicians can develop. It might surprise you, but not every person knows how to give good advice.
I was sitting in a class this week watching, as each student gave compliments to the teacher on how great the class was and described what they had learned. Normally, this kind of behavior would have been appreciated and much encouraged by any teacher, but not this one. This was the last class, and the instructor had made it clear that each student was to give feedback that could help make the next class better for the next group of students. I watched as positive praises were rattled off down the line like clockwork. About half way through the teacher reiterated that “this is time and place to tell me what I can improve on and I will welcome any constructive criticism”. Much to my surprise, and the disappointment of the teacher, it never came, the criticism that is. It was in that moment the light bulb went off “These people are not musicians; they don’t know its ok!”
That, my friends is the point. It is ok to give feedback! Musicians are taught from a very early age the incredible life skill of constructive criticism. I took this for granted because it’s all I have ever known, I participated in many musical competitions, auditions, and performances and have received my fair share of less than satisfactory markings, all the while making me a better musician. Music provides an arena in which an individual feels safe to take risks. When I was in college, we would have to perform pieces in front of our colleagues every month. In order to receive a participation grade, we had to say one positive thing and provide one constructive criticism. If you can believe it, most people didn’t struggle with saying nice things to each other. On the contrary, they struggled with being honest about what needed to improve. Sometimes it’s much easier to not want and hurt someone’s feelings than it is to provide a positive way to help them improve. We can see the importance in listening to other people’s perspectives and taking into consideration what they hear or view could make our piece/performance better. As long as the motive is pure, having someone critique your music can help you see or hear something that you couldn’t have on your own. Music can teach us so much more than just notes on page; it truly develops secondary life skills along the way.
I saw the disappointment that day on the face of the teacher and how he felt cheated for an opportunity to grow and improve by gaining a much more diverse perspective than that of his own. If only had more of his students been musicians or taken music lessons earlier on in their life would they have known the proper context to provide a kind of positive feedback that would help improve the teacher’s practices as opposed to only creating a pile hallmark greeting card statements. Thank fully there was at least one musician in the room that day…