Critiquing Self-Criticism

Sigh…self-criticism has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Being a musician isn’t exactly the best type of pastime to avoid such a mental activity. Like many aspiring musicians, being critical of myself was part of my daily routine. When you’re trying to master something, it is near impossible to be perfect regardless of the amount of repetition. In relation to music, self-criticism is very much related to the fact that a person cannot consciously accept that perfection is impossible.

In fact, why would you want to be perfect? When I compose music, I do so using Digital Audio Software that allows me to create an electronic replica of the piece as it would be performed by live musicians. Because I can adjust every aspect of the sound, the resulting audio is, for a lack of a better word, perfect! It might lack the human expressive element that we appreciate in a performance by a human being, but the notes, rhythm, dynamics, tempo and articulation are all presented in the precise manner I envisioned it.

You would think that I would have no interest in having people play my music. Au contraire, I always appreciate the incorporated element of human performance. Not only because of the expressiveness that can be achieved but also because it is sometimes imperfect.

Many a time, I have worked with musicians in the studio where they have made a mistake and want to do another take. Well-trained musicians are trained to be perfectionists. Sometimes they are shocked and dismayed that I prefer their error over my original intent. It’s almost like a personal stamp of honour for them that they play exactly what’s on the page.

I can relate…I have pushed this mindset to a high level in myself where after awhile it becomes toxic emotionally and mentally. What’s helped me overcome my severe cases of self-criticism is helping others overcome theirs. Over the years, I have worked with so many piano students who are constantly self-critiquing. Why do they put themselves through that, especially for an activity that almost all do as a hobby? I’m no psychologist so it’s hard for me to say. But it’s rampant and something that people really need help overcoming in order to lead a balanced life.

It’s negative energy that’s not healthy for your body. That’s not to say that people should not strive to be better at things that are important to them. Maybe it’s just a rewording that will help reframe it emotionally. For example, rather than saying I’m self critical of myself, perhaps it could be rephrased like I’m striving to improve my skills. That way, there’s less of a link to perfectionism.

Over the years as I have gotten better at making my own personal messaging more positive, I have ironically vastly improved my musical performance and compositional quality. I often tell my students, the moment you stop worrying about making errors and accept that they can happen, you will start making less errors!

Take pride in focussing on technical detail, practicing and honing your craft, but also take pride that you are a beautiful human being that wasn’t made to be perfect. Do your utmost to be the best version of you but also accept, appreciate and celebrate whatever results might come about from those efforts.


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