The purpose of self-critique is NOT to be hard on yourself; it is to discover and correct problems even before anyone else is aware of them. Those who are good at self-critique therefore tend to advance and become competent more quickly than those who are not.
It is possible to become so good at self-critique that you can play something and critique your performance accurately at the same time, but like all other skills, this requires practice. It is best to start by recording yourself, then critiquing the recording. That way, you can concentrate on giving your best performance, and then concentrate on creating a useful critique.
- Ask - Choose a piece that you have been practicing and that you are uncertain how to improve. Your question for this inquiry is "How can I improve the way I play this piece?"
- Investigate - For your investigation, find a way to record yourself playing this piece. Make sure you record a good performance; this may take several tries. If you try too many times and frustration is making you play poorly, try again on another day when you are playing (or singing) unusually well. Then, with the music in front of you, listen very carefully to the recording a number of times, making notes on the music when you hear something that does not sound good or correct to you. If you are not sure what to listen for, look at this checklist for ideas. Choose ONE problem (for example, "the rhythm in measure 3" or "tone quality on low notes") that you think you know how to fix.
- Create - Practice the piece over a period of several days, focusing particularly on the element to be fixed. Try to remember anything you have heard from music teachers or other musicians about fixing that particular kind of problem. If it is possible and useful, tell your music teacher, director, or band mates that you are trying to fix this particular problem, and ask for suggestions. When you feel that progress has been made, make another "good" recording of the piece.
- Discuss and Reflect- Listen to both recordings, one after the other. Are you satisfied with your progress? Are there other steps you might take to improve the problem? Are there other things that you would now like to try to "fix"? Do you notice things when you listen to the recording that you did not notice when you were playing? Are there problems that you do not know how to fix, or things (for example, rhythms) that you are not certain are correct? If possible, share both the "before" and "after" recordings with your music teacher, director, band mates, or a friend or relative who is interested in your musical progress. Do they agree with you? Can they point out things that you have not noticed? Can they make useful suggestions for fixing difficult problems? The answers to these questions will help you decide the next steps to take.