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Criticing your colleagues on Young Composers.

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When you are looking and listening to a piece in the "Upload Your Compositions for Analysis or Feedback " section of this forum, what is it do you look for before you post a critic?

When looking at the sheet music posted by your colleagues on youngcomposers.com, what makes a piece of sheet music good sheet music and what makes it really bad? Same goes for the music overall that you hear.

Discuss: What makes a post on this site worth your praise or criticism.

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1) Idiomatic creative use of the instrument or instruments

2) Ability to make choices and contend with the results in a conscientious, thoughtful manner - all actualized in the music. So, if you choose to have a fragmented set of material to constitute a movement and you find it incoherent and that is fine, then be ready to deal maturely with the consequences. If you are writing a piece of music for a particular film scene, be sure you are making choices about how you are or are not connecting music with imagery, plot and dialogue. I wish I could be clearer but I cannot.

3) A clear, clean score and/or set of directions. That means correct placement of dynamic, tempo markings, enough space to read parts, labels and directions marked clearly and in advance for the performer. Clear, understandable diagrams.

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When I am critic a piece there are many steps I take before I began to post a response. I first try to understand what the composer is going for. What style they might be trying to achieve or what harmonic language they are using or if they are even using a harmonic language. I also try to see if there is an attempted form or not. I then try to listen and look for what the composer war trying to communicate and how much effort he/she took to communicate that message.

With that in mind I then ask myself a few questions:

Did the composer achieve what he/she wanted or are the settling for something less due to a lack of knowledge or lack of care?

Is the piece clear and understandable?

Is the piece conveying the message the composer want clearly or is that message muddy and covered up by useless things?

And does the piece hold my interest?

But the one thing I weigh the most when criticizing a piece is the score. Keep in mind if a score is not provided this next section doesn't apply to them, but when they do I provide one, I take how the score looks into consideration. I check for all the basic notational things; placement of the staves, dynamics, how the beats are notated, chord spelling and interval spelling, articulations and were they are placed, and for choral music and songs text setting. I also check to see if the parts are idiomatic to the instrument they are written for. Its one thing to write impossible music for sample sounds its another thing to write it for real instruments and performers.

After all that I then check for spots that are notated correctly but can be re-written for clarity. Such as writing in odd meters when a simpler meter can work just as well, or oddly spelled chords and notes that can be respelled to better reading and so on.

All these things go into how I rate and critique a piece of music posted on this site. I do tell them when I really like something and try to do that as often as possible but I will point out things I disagree with or are notated incorrectly and I would only hope that my colleagues would do the same for me.

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I think there is really only a few basic criteriums for judging a piece of music.

1. Does it sound good to you, would you listen to it again?

2. Do you think the music fits the given scene if intended for a movie, game etc?

3. Does the sound quality meet todays standards?

Any other approach is basically analyzing a piece of music, harmony, melody, rhythm, the orchestration, mixing, that is all worth mentioning, but does not need to be mentioned if you wish to give a full-out listeners critique.

I am most happy when somebody writes something like "I really liked it, it reminded me of this-and-that, beautiful melody... etc" thats how I know I achieved what I want in all my works, and that is to create music that people will love to hear and make them feel or see some stuff, you know...

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I am most happy when somebody writes something like "I really liked it, it reminded me of this-and-that, beautiful melody... etc" thats how I know I achieved what I want in all my works, and that is to create music that people will love to hear and make them feel or see some stuff, you know...
Such a "review" tells you nothing of what you may be doing wrongly or ineffectively, and only serves to shine your ego.

If anything, people today can definitely do with less ego-shining.

Music is not youth soccer, where everyone gets a trophy, "just for showing up!"

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Such a "review" tells you nothing of what you may be doing wrongly or ineffectively, and only serves to shine your ego.

If anything, people today can definitely do with less ego-shining.

Music is not youth soccer, where everyone gets a trophy, "just for showing up!"

There is no right or wrong in music, that is what makes this art so great. Now some things no doubt sound better than others, but the final judge will be you, the creator, and the listener, and if you do not satisfy neither of those parties, than you certainly know your piece was crap.

I couldn't care less for those reviews of type "he used a parallel fifth there, and dissonant tone here, he has no idea what he is doing". Maybe it was intended to be like that, dissonant, weird and what not.

So comments that strictly rely on musical theory and dissecting of form, harmony and melody are in my opinion much less useful than general advices that a simple non-educated music listener can give. After all, we all create music not only for ourselves but for other people too (I hope).

You can get that kind of theory-related advices from a book, wheres you cannot get a "it was so good, it made me dance..." comment form it. You need a living-breathing person for that.

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I couldn't care less for those reviews of type "he used a parallel fifth there, and dissonant tone here, he has no idea what he is doing". Maybe it was intended to be like that, dissonant, weird and what not.

So comments that strictly rely on musical theory and dissecting of form, harmony and melody are in my opinion much less useful than general advices that a simple non-educated music listener can give. After all, we all create music not only for ourselves but for other people too (I hope).

You can get that kind of theory-related advices from a book, wheres you cannot get a "it was so good, it made me dance..." comment form it. You need a living-breathing person for that.

Both kinds of remarks are necessary. Constructive criticism is better if you do it more often, positive remarks are good to make sure nobody loses confidence. And you're wrong if you think that even the dryest theoretical remarks have just as much effect coming from a book as from a person. An internet forum like this is somewhere in between, because it's still not quite the same as personal interaction with for example your teacher.

General remarks by non-educated listeners remain very limited. If they say it's good, you can feel good about yourself, and if they say it's bad, you can console yourself by thinking it was just one person's uneducated opinion anyway. In the end, you don't evolve. Theoretical remarks at least make you think about what you wrote.

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Obviously, there's use in saying what you liked.

Criticism, however, isn't just a matter of "you didn't 'get' it." You can criticize the music from a position that isn't just "I didn't like it." I like to find holes, even in music that I enjoy...

Anyway, I generally look for:

Lack of repetition (unless it's obviously a repetitive piece)

Voice independence (what's the point of having a full orchestra if everything is just doing the same 3 things?)

Awareness of more recent ideas and genres in music (Come on, music doesn't end at 1XXX)

Then again, I can't remember the last time I reviewed something on here.

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I, first and foremost, am about the good things in the piece. I don't go into anything looking for a bad sounding note, or an incorrect form, I just go into and take the piece for EXACTLY what it is. I believe that even constructive criticism can tear down a new person if there's never a positive in there. However I won't lie, so if I truly listen, and don't like the piece at all, or if I listen, and can find nothing to say, where the piece is written fine, and playable, and technically correct, but I can find nothing to say about it, I'll usually just not comment, but maybe I'll listen to the piece again in a day or two when I'm in a different mood. Now, if something is so off that it catches my eye/ear while looking/listening, then I will begin with constructive criticism.

If I like something, and can make no comment on it, I will at least do my best to make an educated, adult musician's statement as to why I like it. In my opinion comments like "I like it, it made me dance", though they definitely have their place at times, make the commentator sound uneducated. I would expect such remarks from a child, or a non musician who listened to the music and 'it made me dance' is all they can come up with. To me, such comments, especially in overwhelming amounts, just become annoying, and frustrating. (speaking from life experience) However, 1 well-said comment as to why someone likes it could mean the world. (The piece was so moving. I really loved what you did with the interlocking rhythms. So clever how you fused the 1st melody with the 2nd melody and then morphed them both into something new at the end. And again, those rhythms in that last section were just so driving, and yet so light and bouncy.....I WANTED TO DANCE, HAHAHA.) All that being said, this being a website for young composers, I like to hope that each comment that anyone gives will have some degree of complexity to it besides being as simple as 'cool piece. i liked it' so that everyone can grow from every good comment and bad comment. There is nothing to be gained but confidence from the simple comments. Confidence is great, but we all can offer so much more.

On the same hand, comments like "This is weird, I don't like it" are just as pointless and useless to the composer.

Main things I look for:

1. Playability if it is to be played (usually omits video game or electronic)

2. Lyric setting is one of the biggest as well as voice leading in choral setting

3. If a section catches me off guard, then why does it catch me off guard

I think criticizing on things like improper form, 'incorrect' notes/chord, etc etc are all pointless unless it's clear the person made a mistake. If it is intentional, then I think it should always be left alone. In the time we live in, looking from the present all the way to the beginning of music, we know that just about anything is possible. Any pairing of notes, and even quarter-tunings of those notes can go together perfectly. If you are intentionally straying from proper sonata form, perhaps you are intentionally creating your own form.

That being said, I think anyone who posts should be ready and willing to take any criticisms they receive if they are sensible and well explained, no matter how harsh.

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I think criticizing on things like improper form, 'incorrect' notes/chord, etc etc are all pointless unless it's clear the person made a mistake. If it is intentional, then I think it should always be left alone. In the time we live in, looking from the present all the way to the beginning of music, we know that just about anything is possible. Any pairing of notes, and even quarter-tunings of those notes can go together perfectly. If you are intentionally straying from proper sonata form, perhaps you are intentionally creating your own form.

Right, but if a piece is framed and written as if it were a traditional sonata form/something else traditional, but breaks in some way seemingly without reason -- at the very least the question should be raised of "why?"

Anything is possible, but the whole question is one of "Why did you choose to do that?" If, from the music, a listener can't figure that out, then it's worth mentioning.

An example from my music -- the piece Onus:

The question was raised that with the high lack of repetitiveness and the varied B sections, why does the A section repeat verbatim? Now, of course, I wrote it that way for a set of reasons, such as to give the listener (and player) something to grab hold of, and as an homage to the jazz concept of the head. But, a listener might want a piece that develops instead of repeats that head.

The comment was taking into account the piece as itself, not reverting to some preconditioned idea of "music," and as such is a helpful negative comment.

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I think criticizing on things like improper form, 'incorrect' notes/chord, etc etc are all pointless unless it's clear the person made a mistake. If it is intentional, then I think it should always be left alone. In the time we live in, looking from the present all the way to the beginning of music, we know that just about anything is possible. Any pairing of notes, and even quarter-tunings of those notes can go together perfectly. If you are intentionally straying from proper sonata form, perhaps you are intentionally creating your own form.

True, but just because something is possible doesn't mean it always works. Of course this is always subjective, so you should never say it is wrong. But I know for myself personally that I've evolved from accepting criticism on things that I did quite purposefully. Because then you focus your attention on it and maybe understand why it could bother a listener. So IMO even remarks like "the dissonant in bar X was weird to me" help, even if you can't quite explain why. Of course, you don't always have to do this, it depends on how experienced the composer is.

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Right, but if a piece is framed and written as if it were a traditional sonata form/something else traditional, but breaks in some way seemingly without reason -- at the very least the question should be raised of "why?"

I completely agree. If you call your piece a piano sonata in Eb, and it is in no way a proper sonata form, then by all means, I'll be there first one to contest. But sometimes the comments on here are 'boy you really need to work on your form, you didn't develop the B section before returning to the A section...even if the piece just has a random name that says nothing about Sonata or anything of the sort. Maybe that person didn't want a full B section. Maybe it's not even called a B section, maybe it's just a blurb of an idea to come before the repeat of the intro, whichever. I just think people need to be more allowing of intentional creativity, as opposed to constraints of specific structural creation.

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I agree with Flint.

And it is easy to be lenient on our colleagues - it happens at all levels of composers.

So seek comments from people outside your network and comdort zone - be sure to go to the best. You may not like it and act so but in the end you'll be better for it.

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There is a general principle in psychology: To teach a behavior, catch a person doing something right and reinforce it. Rather than focusing on a persons weaknesses and lecturing them on how to do it better, focus on their strengths and help them build upon them.

Of course there comes a time to critique a person's weaknesses, but the rule of thumb is to start with their strengths and to always offer about 10 positive criticisms--4 or 5 at a minimum--for each negative one.

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There is a general principle in psychology: To teach a behavior, catch a person doing something right and reinforce it. Rather than focusing on a persons weaknesses and lecturing them on how to do it better, focus on their strengths and help them build upon them.
Dunder-headed mealymouthed pseudo-pop psychology is the reason why we have nearly an entire generation that thinks that everything they do is "special". Every girl is a 'princess', and every boy is 'fly'.

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Dunder-headed mealymouthed pseudo-pop psychology is the reason why we have nearly an entire generation that thinks that everything they do is "special". Every girl is a 'princess', and every boy is 'fly'.

Thanks, psychology expert. ;)

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Dunder-headed mealymouthed pseudo-pop psychology is the reason why we have nearly an entire generation that thinks that everything they do is "special". Every girl is a 'princess', and every boy is 'fly'.

At least consider it as a possibility.

I also am annoyed by the mass of pseudo-psychological self-help trash and by the obscene prevalence of narcissism among today's younger generation(s). But I also believe that psychology today is a legitimate science--that it's practitioners for the most part adhere strictly to the scientific method--and that it is of inestimable utility to all people.

Im not asking anyone to embrace every pet theory ever put forth by a psychologist. However, since the day that Pavlov conducted his famous experiment with the dogs and the bell, the concept that reward reinforces behavior has long been one that even the more stubborn skeptics can agree to and that is today supported by literally hundreds, if not thousands, of scientific studies.

Receiving positive criticism is a rewarding experience, one that has a reinforcing effect on those that receive it.

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For a real teacher, I think focusing on strong points is very important. Especially for a beginning composer, who is often not able to put every negative comment in perspective. If you focus on all the things a beginning composer does wrong (which will be a lot, because he's a beginning composer), he might feel as if it's just too much, and he can never learn it all. It's very important to have a student realize he's making good progress, and already has certain abilities, rather than comparing everyone to an ideal of a perfect composer.

The more you progress, the better you can handle negative critiques, because you are experienced enough to improve yourself. If you tell a beginner plain out that something he did is "bad", he'll feel lost, because he has little sense of what should then be "good".

I think this is a very important distiction to make, also on a forum like this. Don't treat every piece in the same way. I find that most people here instinctively don't, which is great.

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I just don't think a lot of people are good teachers.

I especially see that on here.

People on here... at least their internet personas... well-- they aren't great teachers.

There are a couple of people on here that I can see having the incredulous patience, and jovial demeanor to be what most of us would consider a great teacher. Gardener and Composerorganist come to mind.

I don't think you should be extra nice to some little brat in any sort of private study. They need to learn how things work, and how the world doesn't revolve around him.

The best teachers I've had in composition don't even care about technique anyway... That's not the point of composing.

I don't want to generalize, 'cuz some smartass on here comes in and always try to internet flame war/ argue with me and everyone else-- but I'll gladly explain if someone asks me to do so.

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There is a general principle in psychology: To teach a behavior, catch a person doing something right and reinforce it.

Because obviously behaviourism is the pinnacle of psychology everyone agrees on, and the "scientific method" can sanctify any practice…

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Usually when I teach "composition" proper, the thing I try to get clear is what I can't actually "teach" anyone and what I'm there to do. In that sense, I can't teach someone "how to compose well," I can't teach someone "how to write good music," etc etc.

What I can do I give comments on the process, give comments on the techniques used and insight into the literature/history that may be of help. I can also bounce ideas off the student, but under no circumstances can I tell them "what they have to do" with their creativity.

I stopped long ago trying to give people critiques on their music except when I like it, when I can say "Man this is cool but I would've done X or Y different." I don't think negative comments are necessary unless the claims being made by the composer are exaggerated but, well, that has little to do with the music itself.

But the most important thing, in my opinion, is giving people who you're critiquing and/or teaching something to think about. Show'em the doors if they only see the windows, that kind of thing.

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Usually when I teach "composition" proper, the thing I try to get clear is what I can't actually "teach" anyone and what I'm there to do. In that sense, I can't teach someone "how to compose well," I can't teach someone "how to write good music," etc etc.

What I can do I give comments on the process, give comments on the techniques used and insight into the literature/history that may be of help. I can also bounce ideas off the student, but under no circumstances can I tell them "what they have to do" with their creativity.

I stopped long ago trying to give people critiques on their music except when I like it, when I can say "Man this is cool but I would've done X or Y different." I don't think negative comments are necessary unless the claims being made by the composer are exaggerated but, well, that has little to do with the music itself.

But the most important thing, in my opinion, is giving people who you're critiquing and/or teaching something to think about. Show'em the doors if they only see the windows, that kind of thing.

Exactly.

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Usually when I teach "composition" proper, the thing I try to get clear is what I can't actually "teach" anyone and what I'm there to do. In that sense, I can't teach someone "how to compose well," I can't teach someone "how to write good music," etc etc.

What I can do I give comments on the process, give comments on the techniques used and insight into the literature/history that may be of help. I can also bounce ideas off the student, but under no circumstances can I tell them "what they have to do" with their creativity.

I stopped long ago trying to give people critiques on their music except when I like it, when I can say "Man this is cool but I would've done X or Y different." I don't think negative comments are necessary unless the claims being made by the composer are exaggerated but, well, that has little to do with the music itself.

But the most important thing, in my opinion, is giving people who you're critiquing and/or teaching something to think about. Show'em the doors if they only see the windows, that kind of thing.

This was something I wanted to say earlier, but couldn't find the right words. Sometimes a simple "that part was good because this and that, and that part I liked because you did it like that" is the best thing you can get...

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