Support your peers with positive feedback instead of "constructive" criticism

Constructive criticism. Don't you love it when a friend or peer offers you constructive criticism about a performance? It usually just sounds like thinly-veiled plain-old criticism to me.

A very wise teacher I've worked with for years in a master class-style weekly voice class NEVER lets her students offer their own opinions of each other's work. She says they pay her to provide her professional feedback. And frankly, people's "constructive" criticism can sting. The last thing we need to do to musicians is wound them with our words.

Musicians who are putting their vulnerable selves on the line need to be open to being TAUGHT by their own teachers and other who they hire to give them feedback, but their peers are not being paid to offer their opinions. And their peers' musical training is oftentimes not mature enough to offer valuable feedback.

Giving positive feedback

I teach music classes to college students with intellectual disabilities. Two students perform a song of their choice with YouTube every week. After each performance, I ask the students for "describing words" to share with their peer who just performed. They support each other beautifully with words such as...

  • Your singing really touched my soul and made me cry.

  • I loved the song you chose. It made me want to dance.

  • You had great posture and looked so strong.

  • You sang right on pitch.

  • You are quiet in class but when you sang you were loud and used so many words. I was very impressed!

  • You are a really great singer.

Now realize that some of these singers literally sing one pitch for the whole song. For others, the words are completely unintelligible. And individuals with intellectual disabilities are usually incapable of sarcasm or hyperbolic language just to butter someone up. So these statements are their honest, gracious, building-each-other-up feedback. It's just beautiful!

How can we use these students as an example in our choirs, classrooms, studios, and families? Only provide constructive criticism about a performance if we are getting paid to do so. And we all can always find positive feedback to share about an aspect of the performance. Even if the only thing the person did well was stand up straight, we can bring that information to the performer, leaving them built up and grateful that they opened themselves for another performance.

I've heard of an exercise that some choirs and classes do. They put one person in the middle of a circle and have them close their eyes. The other group members shower them with positive aspects of their singing/playing and their personal character. I haven't tried this with my groups yet, but I think I will soon. I would love to hear about your experiences with an exercise like this.

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