October 20, 2010 at 04:40 PM ·

We all want praise and don't like criticism, even the so-called constructive type.  Any ideas on how to be thicker-skinned, ignore unfair criticism, accept useful criticism and deal with all of the stuff inbetween?  whether with private teacher, master class, playing in an organized band or in a jam session with unknown musicians....??

Replies (41)

October 20, 2010 at 05:21 PM ·

 When I receive criticism I usually just say "thank you".  That's how I accept it.  Gratitude seems like a good response because I know that if my playing was really horrible they probably would just tell me to stop trying.  The fact that someone goes out of their way to mention something that needs work tells me that I'm not a hopeless case.  I have an orchestra audition this coming Sunday and I'm kind of freaked out about it so I know that the prospect of being judged is definitely a bit traumatic, but when it's over at least I won't have to stress out about playing Ein Heldenleben.  Also for some confounded reason I've developed a string crossing problem in the Brahms excerpt that they require that I've never even had before this week.  So, I figure when this is over there will be another reason to be grateful.  These gorramn excerpts won't be my daily torment any longer.  Huzzah. 

October 21, 2010 at 02:01 AM ·

Interesting question. Even though it can pain the ego to receive criticism, I am always interested to hear feedback, either negative or positive. Usually when I am being criticised, I would consider (1) who is making the judgment; (2) what they are really trying to say, as sometimes what they mean can be difficult to word effectively; and (3) how I can use their comments to improve. Even if criticism might be somewhat unfair, it can still be useful. If criticism comes from someone who hates violins, maybe it's not so useful.:)

I try to remember that I play for the pleasure it gives me, but not everyone will like or admire my playing, or even have the same tastes in music. Also, I don't feel that I play as well as I would like to, so if I can be critical of myself, of course others will be too. Allowing myself to feel hurt doesn't accomplish anything.


October 21, 2010 at 03:30 AM ·

This is like everything you will do in life, hobbies, work, personality etc, even when you think you are/were ok, some other people will not think so.  You have to take the critism and try to improve without becomming obssessed or negativly affected by it.  Once you've made an effort to improve, stay yourself because you can't pretend to be someone else...  Some people will like you, some won't... this is life.  There are many versions of a good violinist as there are many versions of a good person! 

Just my two cents...


October 21, 2010 at 04:42 AM ·

Qualify it.

While listening, try and identify the basis of the critic, the goal of the critic, and how that goal aligns with what you want from the communication. Only take away what is positive for you (and negative criticism may be positive, if you are looking to improve). Anything else, hear but ignore.

Don't let the criticism affect your opinion of yourself; it may be factually accurate or it may not be, but only if you hear the critic as someone that has something of value to impart should you try and take something of value from it. If someone feels that your sound is lacking something, it could be the strings, the violin, or even the acoustics. If they are not aware of the possible interactions, it is up to you to sort that out.

October 21, 2010 at 12:19 PM ·

It depends on whether it is useful ctriticism as well as the constructive critiscism that people have already mentioned.

We had an experience recently when our quartet agreed to have a masterclass situation with someone that one of the members knew - a friend of his mothers - and a one time "professional" player (cellist).

It did not occur to me that it might be destructive. (Silly me!)

After we had been playing for less than a minute she stopped us. Too soon, I was thinking.

We started again (the Schubert A minor Rosumunde) and she then for no reason started to count out loud. Trouble was she counted 3 - 4 when it was 1 -2 (she had a score). This happened twice.

She then asked me (as first violin) to play the well known triplet passage with the big slur, seperate bows and accenting each first triplet note. Has anyone ever heard it played like that?

Well, I did it once and then reverted back to the norm.

She also asked me to play some of the chords sort of mf  or less, instead of a healthy forte as written.

By this time I was realising how useless the old dear was. She managed to get us to all play pretty badly in comparison to how we would have normally played, due to all the seeds of doubt and confusion she planted with the second fiddle and viola as well.

Never again! (Unless I know who we are getting).

October 21, 2010 at 12:50 PM · Interesting question. Each of those scenerios has a very different feel to me as far as criticism being offered/accepted. In a lesson or masterclass, I would expect direct corrections (notes, bowings, dynamics) & suggestions about interpretation. Whether I stayed in the setting would depend on my perception of how useful & applicable I found the ideas after careful consideration & practice. "Bands" are pretty well-known for imploding (or exploding), imo, because the players haven't worked out how, when & in what terms they will offer criticism. May lack technical vocabulary to keep it less personalized, too. Fervent argument is one thing, "criticism" is another. Informal jams shouldn't have much of an element of criticism between players. A long-time jam or one between players who know each other well takes on the characteristics of a band, and needs similar, agreed-upon rules of order. Sue

October 21, 2010 at 01:57 PM ·

I agree; an interesting topic.  Frankly, in the world of seisun playing, it doesn't really come up all that frequently. We tend to cut one another a pretty wide berth when it comes to the actual quality of our playing. After all, these seisuns are fundamentally a social occasion: music to drink pints of stout by!  It's hardly life and death!

That having been said,  we do care about our bowing, our intonation, our ornamentation, our stylistics, and so forth. However, we seldom give one another advice (constructive or otherwise), even in private.  We're eager to pat a fellow fiddler on the back for a particularly well-played set, but that's about it.

I think if I were to encounter a situation where someone did actually offer to give a technical critique of my playing, my response would depend largely on that person's demonstrated playing ability on the same instrument.  I have occasion to play with several fiddlers with violinistic experience in symphonies and chamber ensembles, and were they to make a suggestion (they never do, by the way) I'd gladly accept it and try to act on it.  They all know this, as I've told them so on a number of occasions; I actually invite their criticism.

Would I accept an opinion of my playing from someone who didn't play violin?  I have, but from only one person: my wife, who happens to be a trained soprano and has an extremely good ear.  She's been along on this musical journey through " violin world" since my very first squeals and scratches in our basement, through my "graduation" to the main floor (that was huge) and eventually to my being able to play in public.   She's "walked the walk" with me, every step of the way.

October 23, 2010 at 12:44 AM ·

If the person can play it better than I can, I take it seriously, if they can't, I don't. If it is someone who doesn't even play the violin, I think they are just rude and controlling. If it's a songwriter who only knows three or four chords on a guitar, I think it's funny.

October 23, 2010 at 09:45 AM ·

"If the person can play it better than I can, I take it seriously, if they can't, I don't."

I think this might be a bit limiting - what we all benefit from is exposure to a different perspective, regardless of whether the commentator is even a player.

Players often think that they way they do it is they way you should do it, while some of the most insightful comments I have had, have been from non-players. They tend to focus on the musicality; whether they can hear a phrase or it just sounds muddled, for example.

In fact, given that most of the people we play for don't play, I think their opinions should be given more credence.


October 23, 2010 at 09:59 AM ·

I think I agree with this, although the fact that most of the audience will not be players can also have the opposite result, sometimes resulting in rather strange views.

But of course, criticism coming form a musician who plays a different instrument can be very useful, as the preconceptions and their un-biassed ear, often gets to the problem.

October 24, 2010 at 05:45 PM ·

It depends on where the criticism comes from and where it's headed.

There are people who offer criticism that will make me a better player, or help me realize my goals.  There are people who will try to change my goals into theirs, and who dislike something simply because it doesn't "smell like them."  I appreciate the former, and ignore the latter.

There are also people who offer criticism of the music and technique, and people who offer criticism of ME in the guise of helping.  Again, I appreciate the former and ignore the latter.

October 25, 2010 at 12:23 PM ·

A lot of good ideas - and I particularly agree with everything Janice just said. I might add that I would recommend being open to criticism from your teacher, fellow quartet members, your recording engineer if you ever make a CD, and a small handful of other trusted and respected sources. But not everybody. Even assuming that everyone is well-meaning and qualified, everyone sees, hears, and focuses on different things - and if you're open to everyone, it can make you crazy!

I recently staved off criticism from a certain very good but competitive violinist who adores getting compliments, but is very critical of everyone not in his favored circle. He asked for a copy of my latest CD. I said "fine - but one thing. We both know that you can be very critical. I just don't want to hear it. At least not until you've made your first CD, now that I've made two. Then we can criticize each others' recordings." He said OK - and ended up saying some nice things about my CD.

October 25, 2010 at 02:03 PM ·

I use to use Karate but found Toyota crankshaft works better.   

October 26, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

I just recalled a cute exchange from the the show "Will and Grace". Someone offered some critique to Jack, I think about his show, "Just Jack". Said Jack: "oh constructive criticism! OK - hearing it...processing it...[then with  a wipe of his hands and a sigh of relief] it's gone!"

October 26, 2010 at 02:14 PM ·

When Sir Thomas Beecham was asked for his reaction to a British university planning to establish an academic chair for musical criticism, he said that it ought to be an electric chair.

October 26, 2010 at 05:51 PM ·

I also do not take compliments on my playing too seriously either. I use the same criteria. While I have appreciated people coming up to me and gushing, or someone saying "that is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard", to take another person's opinion, positive or negative, without personal knowledge of playing the instrument can distract from my own goals. That's just my opinion of course. I am at a point in my life though that I have no interest in changing things to sound like this or that player. Not too long ago I had a fiddle player tell me what I needed to do to sound just like the recording of a tune we were working on (slow down the vibrato, fast vibrato is not popular anymore), my thinking was, why would I want to sound just like the recording? It's already been done, and it's not my interest to impersonate another's playing. Except of course, I would love to be able to come up with some of the interesting sounds Stuff Smith did, and would kill to produce the variety and purity that Miles Davis did, but on my violin. I am working on it!

October 26, 2010 at 08:24 PM ·

To take meaningful criticism properly, and to be able to use it, first we have to understand that criticism.


October 26, 2010 at 10:11 PM ·

Many know this one, but it's worth repeating:

The composer, Max Reger once got a scathing review. The conventional wisdom says not to answer reviewers, as they usually have the last word in their own publication, and will only be harder on you next time. But Reger wouldn't take it lying down, and wrote this brief and brilliant letter to the reviewer: "My dear Herr ___ I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. Your review is before me. Soon it will be behind me"

There is a similar but longer story re Kreisler. Maybe someone else would like to tell it?

October 26, 2010 at 10:57 PM ·

I think Rebecca's comment (slow down your vibrato to sound like a recording) is a great example of the kind of constructive criticism we get offered to us. This can be interpreted in many ways, and if I were in a downer frame of mind, it could be something like, "You can't play as well as so-and-so, but here's how you can improve--slow down your vibrato." However, I like to think that I would hear this as a reminder to make sure I can comfortably play any kind of vibrato I want, on every finger, any time I want, and use it to improve my playing...rather than dwell on being criticised.

October 27, 2010 at 12:22 AM ·

Well, an alternative is to go off on a tangent and confuse the reviewer.

Something like:
Well, I have been thinking of changing my vibrato to chin vibrato, to get the extra nuances that provides'

If they play at all, it is likely they will quickly retreat to a safe distance... 

October 27, 2010 at 01:15 AM ·

 Hmm.  Tape record yourself.  Your own criticisms of your playing will be far harsher than anything anyone will throw out there.

The other thing--study with someone who balances criticism with more positive statements geared towards progress... preferably someone whose opinion you value.  That can help balance out other things other people will throw out at you (presumably their opinion may not be as valuable as your teacher's anyway).

October 27, 2010 at 01:58 AM ·

Someone once said this and it helped me a lot over the years: you should be really worried if no one criticises you because that means people have given up on you. You get criticism means someone cares about you.

October 27, 2010 at 03:45 AM ·

If you really want to improve then you should accept the critics, many people dont realize that if someone is listening to you and is not telling that you are Heifetz but says that you should work harder, or improve X things etc. they are doing it for your well being (obviously there are exceptions, there are many people that dont know anything about music or are very weak musicians and talk as if they are great masters).

There is no shame at all in listening to other people´s opinion. Unofrtunately many violinists think that they are super masters and they expect everybody to only praise them and say how wonderful they are, and when someone begins to give a critic they take it as a personal attack. Its a shame, people like them will never improve.



October 27, 2010 at 09:11 PM ·

there are three things to be learned from criticism:

1. The critic doesn't know diddlysquat about true violinism (supposing of course, you're truly violinistic)

2. The critic is a total and absolute unfeeling and i_diotic jer_k

3. The critic has told you something that either you agree with and can learn from, or disagree with and still learn from (whether or not you take their advice).

One thing I do hate, is when you play your guts out for someone and they critique you when you neither asked for it nor desired it. 

Of course, I'm an amateur player, which protects me from the agression that professionals have to deal with.  But either way, if you know you gave a brilliant performance, there should be  little anyone can say to knock you off your well deserved pedestal.



October 27, 2010 at 10:17 PM ·

Michael you are using a light bow I think you will sound even better with a 61 gram bow. 

October 28, 2010 at 02:52 PM ·

I am afraid I have expressed my thinking on this matter well. My point is, there will always be critics. With the internet allowing others to post  things all over, I have noticed that the negativity level is high. Some perfectly lovely playing on youtube postings have pages of people who allow themselves to rant and say horrid things all while being protected by anonymity. This applies to many venues. For me, it is about being negative or positive, in the moment or controlling behavior. I also have found that in the violin world there is much fear and competitive spirit, people so worried about where they rank, what level they can say they are at, etc. I just think music is to be enjoyed. I have heard players who make many obvious "mistakes", but I wouldn't dream of saying anything to them, unless they asked, because it might interfere with their joy. The joy comes through, the love comes through, unless of course one is only interested in others opinions, that is why I do not concern myself with them.  We are each, every single one of us, exactly as good as we should be at this moment.  The fact that many require beta blockers to perform speaks to the vulnerability of playing in general. I also think we all play because of love, and it is very personal. There have been great creative spirits in this world that would have never put forth into the world their creations if they were focused on possible criticism. Even on here, there is so much "one upping" in the discussions. Fear or love, it all comes down to that, and when I listen to others, that is what I hear, the love, and sadly sometimes the fear that has been born of too many criticisms. You can't please everyone, so trust those who you know have something behind what they say, and ignore the rest. I certainly ignore many, here and elsewhere, because what people choose to say usually says more about who they are than what they are speaking about.

October 29, 2010 at 06:54 PM ·

"From Dion Ackermann
Posted on October 27, 2010 at 10:17 PM

Michael you are using a light bow I think you will sound even better with a 61 gram bow. "


Dion, you now belong to critic category number 3!  This is the best category, and carries an award...my respect!

It's funny because I just bought a heavier bow.  I was aiming for 60-62g, but took in auction, an unnamed French bow weighing 59g.

I have to say, it is a bit of a struggle working with this heavy a bow, but I am learning.  Whether I sound better using it...well...I guess that depends on how well I adapt to it to find out.


October 29, 2010 at 08:37 PM ·

It would have broken me to be in category nr 2. 

October 30, 2010 at 12:46 PM ·

This whole area of criticism is difficult.

I would like to offer what I consider to be constructive criticism to a violin colleage, but I'm not sure how she would handle it, especially after experiencing how she reacted about a year ago when I played in a quartet with her, as she found comments about using a different length of bow, intonation, and playing volume somewhat unsettling, even though I was (for me) quite diplomatic. It was said as a suggestion each time - for example - "you could try it with less bow" or something like that. Or "let's try that passage together just for OUR intonation."

I recently heard her play a long solo in a chamber piece, and it was the intonation that bothered me ... a lot!

So what should I do? Broach the subject? Any ideas?

October 31, 2010 at 11:25 AM ·

The most unwelcome "gifts" are unsolicited advice and criticism. Within a chamber group, constructive criticism simply must be made and accepted - which is not to say necessarily agreed with. This is especially so if it is a serious rehearsal toward a performance or just to really learn and shape something, as opposed to an ad hoc reading for fun.

But otherwise, I wouldn't offer your friend a critique unless she asks for it, and even then I would also stress what I liked about the performance as well as what I felt could have been better.

October 31, 2010 at 12:40 PM ·

Good advice, Raphael, and this is why I have hesitated.  It's probably a no win situation. I have thought of asking her what I could do to improve my playing (and I hope I would take note) - in the hope she might ask me about hers. But life is never that simple!

In a quartet situation it is a bit easier because it is in my opinion OK to suggest things, as it involves integration and matching, but even here excessive criticism of one player (and I've seen this happen) leads to a fairly strained atmosphere and never works well for the scheduled concert.

I have already said to this person that the performance was good, without elaborating, as it was a trio. But I said this to all of them, and the pianist is particularly good and I have already worked with her, and will be doing so again.


November 1, 2010 at 10:31 PM ·

you could always politely asking her what key she is playing in...

November 2, 2010 at 09:24 AM ·

Maybe she wouldn't know!!

November 2, 2010 at 02:49 PM ·

@ Peter: I recognize your problem since I have had it myself a couple of times. I am myself always very disappointed with my own intonation (I always strive to improve it, but it is not an easy task), especially in quick passages. Yet in the world of (Swedish) amateurs, there are many who have worse intonation than me. Some of them have excellent hearing (but hit badly) and some have less good hearing. The first category one have no need of criticizing, because they hear it themselves.

I would recommend not to comment on her solo piece, unless she would ask for it... (When it comes to chamber music, it is as you say, much easier to criticize since one can call it "suggestion".) Sometimes we must resist the temptation of doing the right thing.

November 2, 2010 at 03:24 PM ·


Thanks for the input. The problem is that she is (believe it or not) a conservatoir (London) trained fiddler and plays on an old Italian violin (quite nice too) but seems to have no idea about pitch, or at least in the piece she played that was so.

It must be that she can't hear, but I noticed also a rather dodgy left hand position, which won't help.

Of course we all have problems in this area - its a case of fixing it quick as Heifetz suggests. I suppose though that if your left hand is relaxed its possible to do that, but if tense then not.

I don't think I will mention the subject of intonation to her!

November 2, 2010 at 04:15 PM ·

@Peter: I guess that is safer! Maybe one way still would be to record her performance with a Zoom at some occasion and offer her the recording? Then she might (if you are lucky) discover it on her own?

I have now been invited to play with four professionals in a chamber music group for a concert. I must say, it is not easy to make any suggestions, since I am just an amateur musician, and the only amateur among them. Three of them play amazingly...but one seems to have some difficulties (does not seem to know or feel the music at all...many dynamical markings, many phrases get lost). I would in an amateur chamber group so easily have given some suggestions, but here I have no idea how to do, afraid of making somebody upset there.

November 2, 2010 at 04:39 PM ·


I play in a few chamber groups and I try to be diplomatic (hard for me, and I did tell a cellist her final couple of bars was a bit scrtchy and out of tune in a quartet a while back, but since then have been a bit more careful how I put things!)

It's always best to wait and see how you think people might react, but you can never win, as I once turned round when I was leading a section in orchestra and made a suggestion which was taken personally by the player behind, even though we were quite close.

It might be that these professionals will have a lot to say, in which case maybe just listen, or maybe they won't say anything at all, in which case be careful.

I have one quartet that I boss around quite a lot, but they seem to like it. I had another group where one person was rather quiet after sugesstions, but was also quite keen to have her say as well. In the end it was fine.

I know that in one quartet I had about 15 years ago the second fiddle came in for a lot of criticism and that did get a bit tense. It is unfortunate if one player is noticeably less good than the others, and sometimes this causes problems especially in passages where timing and intonation with one or more other players is critical.

Thses days if someone can't hack it I find it beast to move on, unless there is an easy and quick way to help them.

November 8, 2010 at 02:14 PM ·

Hi there,

You have to remember that in this field, everyone thinks they are an expert, from the real experts, to the musically uneducated listener. The reason is because music penetrates every human being, whether intellectually, or emotionally. As a result, everyone will have an opinion, whether we like it or not.

The way I deal with this is to try not to be too emotional, even when praised. Otherwise, you become too dependent on what other people think. I believe that this is a negative trait that most musicians have, and it goes beyond the instrument.

On the other hand, it is important to be humble, particularly when one is trying to help. It's all about finding that balance and appreciating honest, constructive criticism, and not reacting to that of the destructive kind.

November 9, 2010 at 01:05 PM ·

Wouldn't it be just a little presumptuous and bad form if any lay listener would bump into Itzhak Perlman after his performance and unbidden, say "Your intonation was really off tonight"?

I'm not a layman (though I am a Klayman!). Once I bumped into Yehudi Menhuin in an elevator in a building in New York that had several luthier shops. I still remember our short exchange very well:

RK - "Aren't you Yehudi Menhuin"

YM "Yes"

RK "I've always been an admirer of yours"

YM "Thank you." (spotting my violin case) "Are you also going to the 11th floor as I am" (to a certain violin shop)

RK "No. I'm getting out on the 8th floor" (to a different shop) A  moment later I got out and we said goodbye.

Now what if I would have said - more honestly - "I've admired you at your best, but I'm very disturbed by your inconsistecy and how totally out of control you often are on stage" Even if he unaccountably had asked me point blank for a stranger's critique I don't think I would have said that. Who was I to do that, and what purpose would it have served? It wouldn't have improved his playing nor made him retire. It would only have needlessly hurt a living legend who was also quite human.



November 9, 2010 at 01:37 PM ·


I couldn't agree more!!

The same thing happened to me, I met an absolutely wonderful player in a local fiddle shop here in London. A quartet leader (possibly the best current quartet).

The difference was that we sort of knew each other - and there was nothing to criticise about his playing!

The good thing was he let me play on his G B Guadanini, and I've sort of been on cloud nine ever since. I'm sure it will wear off soon. I will soon be coming down to earth with a bang. (I'm attending a concert of the quartet tomorrow night, they are absolutely wonderful, and three of them play on Guadanini's. (The odd one out is the fantastic cellist on a Serafin ...)

But a great instrument is a great instrument no matter if it costs (£1,000 or £400,000 or £4 million).

November 9, 2010 at 05:05 PM ·

I believe in the GOlden Rule quite a lot. Treat others as you want to be treated. If one does some kind of unwelcome criticism after a performance, you will leave the person with a bad feeling. Being kind to them, whether it is a compliment or a smile, will make them feel good about themselves...and remember you with a nice smile :)

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