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Critique of a professional performance

15 January, 2016 - 09:13
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Even in this exercise, the goal is not to provide criticism so much as create improvement, so the purpose in listening to the "good" performance will be to find a lesson that can be applied to improve the critic's musicianship.

Inquiry Steps

  1. Ask - Identify a musical activity (such as playing an instrument, singing, improvising, composing, or arranging) that you would like to be able to do better. The question for this inquiry is "What specifically do "good" musicians do that I am not yet doing?
  2. Investigate - Choose a specific example of what you want to improve, such as a piece that you are learning to play, or a song you have written. Then choose a recording or live performance of a piece in the same genre or style (it can be the same piece) by a professional, or very competent amateur, musician. Listen very carefully, taking notes on the things that that musician does that you do not do. If you are not sure, make a recording of your work and listen to both, one immediately after the other, listening as carefully as possible. You do not have to make a long or complete list of the differences. You should choose only ONE specific thing that you do not do now that you believe you are capable of doing. (For example, "His dynamic changes are much bigger than mine" or "Her lyrics are not as wordy as mine.") DO NOT choose something that may be beyond your current capability, such as playing extremely high notes. Be realistic; the point of this exercise is to use your critique to find things that you CAN improve right now.
  3. Create - Go back to your own instrument or composition and do the work necessary to make the specific changes that you heard. If possible, make before-and-after recordings so that you can know for certain whether you have made the change you wanted.
  4. Discuss and Reflect - Can you apply what you have learned to other pieces? Were there other aspects of the professional performance that you can emulate right now? You may want to work on those (one at a time). Would listening to a different performer give you even more ideas? If possible, demonstrate your new skill to your music teacher, director, band mates, or an interested friend or family member. If you feel comfortable taking critique, you may also ask others what specifically they hear in the professional's work that they do not hear in yours.