Music requires self-analysis, but often it becomes either a too rosy or too pessimistic outlook on our progress. One of my students has this talent for being honest with herself – without beating herself up. She is young, and by rights shouldn’t be this mature, but she is.
So how do the rest of us learn to analyze our current state of practice and growth without being cruel?
Begin with the end in mind
What is the end product? How do you want it to sound?
Unless you know how you want your current piece of music to sound, you will never get anywhere. Listen to several recordings during your study, and decide which articulations, phrasing, etc., you wish to include in your interpretation.
We have a tremendous resource with modern technology, and while it is a double-edged sword, it is also a powerful tool for growth.
Ask yourself “What do I like/not like about the different recordings?”
Use tools to separate from the emotion
Recording your practice, whether it’s video or just audio, is huge. Just remember that no recording device will capture every single nuance in your playing – but it will give you important information.
You may be surprised to find that what you think you did well, and what you think you did poorly may not be as good/bad as you think.
Hearing yourself play, without your instrument under your ear, separates you from the emotion. These devices are brutally honest, but it is just information that needs to be processed.
Accurately document your practice
Write down everything. Write down everything. Write down everything.
Yes, I said it three times.
For many students, who just push on through, not paying attention to what they are doing, this is hardbecause all they (and all of us, since we’re being honest) really want to do is play.
Keep a practice journal in conjunction with your practice plan – it is always worth the time.
Imagine you’re critiquing someone else
Have a hard time not being overly rosy or critical? Role play a little and pretend you are critiquing a student or friend who is preparing for a big solo, or competition. You would want to be honest with them, but not brutally so.
What would you say? If it were me, I would start by telling them where they were great, then follow where they needed work. After discussing it, listening to their take, I would offer concrete suggestions on what to do next.
It is important to acknowledge where you are doing well – the progress you have made. If you don’t do that, the criticism winds up feeling like you got run over by a big rig full of cow manure.
My student, the one pictured above, inspired this because she is so open about her shortcomings, but is never afraid to “toot her own horn” – I admire this quality, and think we can all learn from her example.
She does a few things consistently:
- Practices regularly
- Uses a tuner to verify pitch/intonation
- Uses a metronome
- Listens carefully to what she is doing
- Takes criticism and applies it to her practice
- Takes the time to clean up sections that are challenging
Apply these ideas, and you’ll be on your way to analyzing your work without beating yourself up.