music listener with headphones giving thumbs-down gesture“The road to improvement is paved with evaluations.”
The Musician’s Way,
p. 296

Whatever our level of artistic development, we’re always aiming to grow.

And one of the primary ways that we advance is through critiques because other viewpoints alert us to our blind spots.

So, the more adept we become at handling criticism, the better our creative work is likely to be.

Here’s a 3-step process I employ that empowers me and my students to derive maximum benefit from criticism.

Three Steps to Benefit from Criticism

1. Seek Out Critiques

With any creative project that I undertake, I assume that I could be missing something in my concept or execution.

For those reason, I ask colleagues to evaluate my writing, my playing, and my ideas.

I not only solicit feedback from those close to me but also from people that I don’t know well, thereby accessing unfamiliar perspectives.

2. Listen Objectively

When a critique runs contrary to our expectations, it can be difficult for us to hear criticism accurately. And if the people from whom we request advice sense that we won’t welcome their thoughts, they’ll be less likely to speak honestly.

To open myself to critiques and encourage frankness from those I consult, I treat criticism as impersonal information. I defer judgment and take in the criticism with a detached attitude.

I also use active listening strategies:

  • I paraphrase to ensure that I’ve heard correctly
  • I show enthusiasm for alternate opinions instead of taking a defensive stance
  • I invite views that are beyond my experience

“Defer judgment and take in the criticism with a detached attitude.”

3. Respond Constructively

I deem sincere criticism to be a gift, so I thank those who evaluate my work irrespective of whether the criticism I receive is tactful or proves productive.The Musician's Way book cover

Also, if I don’t understand someone’s outlook, I ask for clarification using an upbeat emotional tone so that my questioning won’t carry a whiff of counter-criticism.

Even if an assessment runs contrary to my sensibilities, I appreciate it and invite additional feedback because I know that considering opposing views can lead me to unexpected discoveries.

I then apply what I learn, and, in doing so, produce better work than I would have otherwise.

Detailed guidelines for handling criticism can be found in The Musician’s Way under “Interacting in Rehearsal” (p. 117-121) and “Appreciating Criticism” (p. 296-299).

Related posts
Collaborative Criticism
Embracing the unknown

Self-evaluation: The key to artful practice
The self-motivated musician

© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
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