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Many players might argue that they learned well on their own, but I think it is equally arguable that your learning is supercharged by having a someone help you along the way. This person can be a teacher, friend, bandmate, or an older player at a jam that gives you some quick advice. Like everything in life there are two sides – positive and negative. So what is the truth for criticism?

Positive Criticism

Good criticism can be defined simply as someone telling you what you did right. Sometimes the person has nothing really useful to say like, “Hey, good job bro! I loved how you played that lick. That was badass!” I’ll call this back-patting.

Other times, though very rare, you might hear, “I love your tone. Are you using your volume pots to kick back and then overdriving the tubes with that clean boost pedal? That’s great! You should keep doing that.” This is specific, and useful info. Better than a back pat and shows the person was really listening. I’ll call this, for the lack of something clever, a hand-shake.

As musicians we LOVE back-patting. We love it so much that it’s all we want to hear. A hand shake is great too, but we need to know both sides of the story.

The Ups

  • Development

If you’re getting a hand-shake then what you’re really getting is specific and useful information about what you are doing right. Of course what you do with that depends on what you think of the person giving the criticism.

  • Motivation

Nothing is more motivating than being told good job! The rest is up to how you think.

  • Confidence

Knowing that you’re on the right path gives you the confidence to move ahead and perform with your A-game.

The Downs (yes there are bad things)

  • Stagnation

Without knowing enough about what you are doing wrong, and trust me you are, there isn’t as much guidance to help you move forward. Maybe it’s time for lessons?

  • Complacency

Since you are doing so well according to everyone else, why try hard and push yourself?

  • Arrogance

Along with many other things, this is the kiss of death for musical growth.

Negative Criticism

The Ups (yes there are good things)

  • Direction

Most musicians will prefer to blow smoke up my ass instead of criticize me negatively. There have been a few instances where I got some negative but constructive criticism. For example, on stage the bassist coached me into playing a rhythm that fit the song better. I let go of my ego and took his advice. Lo and behold, the shit sounded better than what I was doing before.

The Downs

  • De-Motivation

Here it is. It’s the thing that makes you want to put away your instrument, crawl into a hole, and die. It’s the one thing all musicians have feared at one point. Call it the heckler, hater, or drunk asshole. These are the “you suck”, “get off the stage”, and most of the time -dead silence- of music performance. Unfortunately I have found no other way around this fear other than kicking it in the nuts.

Know when to ignore it

In order to grow musically, you need criticism to help you identify what you’re dong wrong, where you should try something else, and what you’re doing right (which you should then do more of). Herein lies a conundrum or Catch-22 with criticism. You still need to be able to ignore criticism, because concentrating too much on it will only hinder you. It’s one of the idiosyncrasies in life.

In what ways did someone criticize you that helped you? How about a time when it harmed you?

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