Let us imagine a scenario together, shall we? You are sitting in your area’s seminar and one of your peers just rocked a performance of one of the toughest concertos written for your instrument. Upon the conclusion of their piece, everyone graciously applauds, and your professor asks to go around the room and have everyone give feedback to the person who just performed.
If you are like me, you start to panic, worried about what to say to your colleague. I am the kind of person that typically frets over how I interact with people. I never want to say anything that will offend or upset someone else. As my mom always taught me, “You never know what another person has going on in their day so always be mindful of what you do or say.” This fretting often appears whenever I am asked to give feedback. Questions of “What do I say?”, “How do I phrase my words?”, “Is what I am about to say going to be useful?” begin swirling through my mind.
However, with experience, I have gotten better at giving feedback that is constructive and insightful. This has been achieved through finding a format of providing feedback, being constructive, and being concise.
Here are a few things that I keep in mind when giving feedback to my peers:
Probably the most important aspect of giving feedback: BE RESPECTFUL. Your colleague has worked hard to get to that performance regardless of whether it was them performing in seminar or whether they just gave a degree recital. Your feedback should build them up, not tear them down.
Performing is such a vulnerable thing to do. It is your responsibility to honor and respect that. The golden rule of “treat others the way you want to be treated” is quite applicable when giving feedback to peers.
I often keep the golden rule in mind when I am framing my feedback in my mind. I frequently ask myself, “If I just performed, what would I want to hear?” This helps me to narrow in on what to say/how to respectfully get my point across.
Additionally, the feedback you give will be better received and will be more likely to be incorporated into your peer's playing if it is given respectfully. I know in my own past experiences I have been much more receptive to feedback that came from a place of active respect rather than passivity. Another thing to keep in mind is that the point of your feedback needs to benefit the performer. Giving feedback to your peer is not a time for you to elaborate upon your vast knowledge of any specific piece.
Have you ever asked for someone’s input only to get generic responses such as, “You sounded great!” or “That piece was cool!” While these kinds of compliments can be nice to hear as quick, initial feedback, they are useless if you are looking to make meaningful improvements to your playing.
When giving feedback, it is important to be constructive and give advice that your peer can easily apply to their playing. I accomplish this by trying to focus on one aspect of the performance, often one that I personally struggle with, and pass along tips and suggestions that I have received and have helped me improve in that area.
To be honest, this is an area I often struggle in. I must consistently remind myself that less is more. I typically start off strong and concise only to pile on more details as I keep talking. However, feedback that is to the point will go much further than a long-winded explanation.
Remaining concise will also help your point from getting buried and your peers losing track of your feedback. If you keep piling on unnecessary detail, it is possible that your peer’s mind will begin to wander elsewhere.
Balance Critiques with Praise
Whenever I give feedback to anyone, I try to balance what I am saying with praise. I am naturally a positive person so I will start off my feedback by letting someone know what I enjoyed from their performance or what I thought that they did well. By starting off with praise you can free up your time (if your time happens to be limited) to focus on and how to further improve your peer’s performance.
Reflection is such an important tool in all areas of music. Asking your colleague how they feel about their performance will not only give you insight and direction for feedback, but it also gets them to think critically about their own performance. Who knows, maybe one of the weak spots that they identified from their performance is something that you did not notice right away and is something that you could assist them with.
When asking your peer to reflect, encourage them to think from the perspective of an audience member. This nudge will help them to think beyond the little details that we all tend to focus on after a less than stellar performance.
Above all else, we as musicians need to help each other in whatever way appropriate so we can continue to grow and be the best musicians we can be. As with everything in music, giving feedback takes practice. I hope that the tips in this article prove to be beneficial to you as we help each other continue to grow and blossom in music!