Being Your Own Worst Critic

by Megan Wright

Like all things in life, self-criticism is all about balance.

Criticism can be a great tool, when it’s constructive.

Mr. Dunham showed me a quote from the prose poem “Desiderata” in one of my lessons.

“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”

The problem with being overly critical of oneself is the tendency to get stuck in a rut and miss the big picture of a piece. Don’t get me wrong, paying attention to detail is vital in performance preparation, but issues arise when one becomes fixated and devastated over the smallest errors. Progress in preparing a piece crawls. The overarching theme, the point of the piece, can easily be forgotten as focus shifts.

The key is balance between obsessing with self-criticism and glossing over huge mistakes. The ability to hear flaws in your playing, and to efficiently address them without too much drama, is the key element of improving ability. If you don’t recognize what to fix, how can you ever get better?

Recording yourself is one of the most effective and efficient methods of judging your playing. Recordings don’t lie. By recording, you can pinpoint where specific issues are located and keep a clearer track record of progress. Sometimes, I’ll record a run through of a piece and isolate my listening to a measure or a section. My friend and fellow studio mate Yvonne Smith suggested to me the idea of creating a numerical rating system in various categories for my recording/listening sessions (exs.: intonation, rhythm, musicality, dynamics, etc.). This way, you can find things in your playing that need a bit more attention and also the things that you did well. Over time, after addressing these observances in your practice, the number ratings should steadily increase in your run-throughs and listening sessions.

Don’t beat yourself up. Anyone else can do that for you. Be smart about your musical progress. Balance is key: listen for what can be improved, but also find at least one positive thing you like about what you heard. There will be something. What’s the point of pursuing a performance career if you don’t appreciate anything you produce?

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