feedback: when to listen to it, when to ignore it

Feedback can be a tricky thing. Whether it's from an audition panel, conductor, or peers, it can be difficult to make sense of potentially conflicting information. Here are six ways I try to filter helpful information from musical feedback:

  • Consider your source- For students, your applied teacher is likely best-acquainted with your playing, and can be trusted to give you the most accurate feedback regarding your performance within the context of their own sequenced instruction.
  • Throw out the highs and the lows- This is a great piece of advice I got from friend and former teacher, Chris Carrillo. Be wary of overly positive and negative remarks. Try to find the objective middle ground. This is where you should start implementing the suggestions. 
  • Notice patterns- Which comments are you getting most often? Is it your rhythm? Phrasing? If you often hear the same thing, then focus on that topic early and often!
  • Learn to recognize bad feedback- Good feedback is often, but not always, objective. Look out for comments that are not specifically targeted at musical or technical aspects of your performance. General comments can be helpful, but only if they clearly communicate how to make your performance more effective. 
  • Don't chase your tail- Comments are suggestions, not instruction. There is a danger of taking an audition panel's notes too literally. If you do this, you might find yourself adrift while trying to please less-than-useful feedback. 
  • Stay objective- Positive or negative feedback is not a reflection of you as a person. It is only one person's opinion of one performance. No more, no less. Musicians spend many hours honing their craft, and can become personally or emotionally attached to their musical abilities. Do not fall into the trap of taking constructive criticism personally. 

I hope this helps.