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Derek

Discouraging budding composers

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I wanted to read the whole topic, but then I realized it was 32 pages long, so I'll just respond to the first post like I bet everybody else did :toothygrin:

I had a self-driven, ever-accelerating exposure to advanced art music once I got into college and started taking music classes. In about three months I realized that almost everything I'd written over the past four years -- not all of it, but most -- was complete crap compared to what I wanted to be writing. Because I was so rapidly forcing myself to advance, my compositional skills lagged far behind my exposure and theoretical/analytical training. I not only got used to criticism, both from myself and my teachers, I began to look for it.

Remember that Family Guy episode where Stewie tries to get Lois to beat him? That's me, kind of :P Sounds lame, but I want so desparately to close the gap between my listening and my writing experience that I tell my profs up front to lay on the criticism as honestly as they can. And honest criticism isn't about self-deprecation. No profs ever told me "you're no good" or anything of the sort. They have told me things, however, like:

I see what you're going for. But the harmonic complexity of this passage just doesn't work. You've obsured the melody and it's too hard for the audience to follow. Your harmonic techniques and color are really good, you just need to integrate them better with the whole composition. Also, these harmonies here, here, and here are all in root position. That gets boring fast. Get some counterpoint going, smooth it out, and it'll sound much better.

And then a seminar-room-full of young composition students nods their heads, and it feels great. I'll admit, this kind of criticism might sound a little harsh because of the imbalance of compliment with critique. But if I had people telling me this stuff four years ago, I might have saved a lot of time.

So my theory on criticism is: As long as you're not mean, honest and complete criticism is crucial and therefore inherently nice. Inconsiderate bashing is the worst thing you can do. Criticizing honestly, completely, and in detail, and suggesting improvements, are the nicest things you can do.

And for those of us receiving criticism (once I post stuff, bring it on!) -- from experience I've learned that it's always possible, and often likely, that your piece has a decent portion of suck mixed in with the good. This doesn't mean it all sucks, or that you suck. It means, if you can hear the suck, that you're already getting better.

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Oh, and Nikolas's post is really good. I'll add one thing:

  • Critiquers: don't be harsh.
  • Critiquees: don't take the truth as harsh. If something isn't good, you ought to know, right? If you don't know, you can't improve -- but the upside is, as you get better, you get so much better at seeing the faults as you write.

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I see nothing wrong with criticizing anyone's works. If they display them to the public to view they should fully well expect it. Why should I have to hold back my opinions on something just because someone is too sensitive and will get their feelings hurt?

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Because often it is quite clear whether the person is truly a beginner and all they need is encouragement. Criticism is useless to total beginners; what they need is to be encouraged to continue developing their craft. Yes, people should learn to take/ignore criticism, but we should try to be accommodating to beginners. Treat them like children in other words. Give them "unconditional love" as it were, as compositional parents. Peers, those who are experienced composers as we are, can dish out as much criticism as we want. My argument is pretty much likening a beginning composer to a child. And in many cases, a beginning composer IS a child. Like all children, they need encouragement. I feel very strongly about this issue, because when I was a teenager, I pursued another creative activity and was harshly criticised by an older, very prideful and insecure teenager. It really hurt me and it made it hard to be creative with that activity anymore. Now, however, I have a job with that activity and am pursuing music as happily as a child in a playground. The idea of having these things reversed...horrifies me.

I've spoken individually to various individuals on this website. Negative criticism has caused months-long slumps for some of these individuals. Whether you like it or not, your harsh words can kill someone else's creative spirit. Stop (not you necessarily, just anyone guilty of it) dishing out all this criticism, lest you live with the horrible fact for the rest of your life that you destroyed the musical childhood of someone else.

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Perhaps you have personal issues that you need to solve, then. Not everyone will get their spirits crushed by a few words, in fact I think most people can take criticisim very well. I'm not going to stop just because someone can't handle it. Now that doesn't necessarily mean I am harsh, I am honest with my opinion, not cruel. I won't tell people to give up or that they fail at life or anything like that, I will tell them how I trule feel about their work.

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All I'm saying is be sensitive to your (not necessarily you, again) fellow human beings. Some of them are children, and need encouragement and love. If you meet someone like me, who is an experienced composer (after a fashion anyway), I will listen to and enjoy any sort of criticism, as long as it isn't said purely to hurt or cut down. In that case, I would just ignore it. I'm not saying stop criticising anybody, just try to determine first if they are someone who wants a bit of encouragement or praise, or whether they are someone experienced who wants an honest opinion.

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When some one makes their first post here, I go out of my way to say something good about the piece. Often times that is an easy thing to do, but occasionally, it takes a while to phrase my words correctly. Why anyone would purposely knock down a new member's post is beyond me, but I have seen it on more than one occasion. You can criticise someone's work without being negative. This is a skill ALL people should learn.

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Well I suppose some of us have differing opinions on how to communicate criticism. I said earlier that I am not ever undersivingly cruel in a review or critique, but if I have an honest opinion I will voice it, even if someone's feelings may get hurt. I don't believe in 'softening up' your opinion just to spare someone a tear, but I don't believe in outright attacks either.

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Well I suppose some of us have differing opinions on how to communicate criticism. I said earlier that I am not ever undersivingly cruel in a review or critique, but if I have an honest opinion I will voice it, even if someone's feelings may get hurt. I don't believe in 'softening up' your opinion just to spare someone a tear, but I don't believe in outright attacks either.

You have a valid point. Everyone has a way of going about things. This does not mean that one way is better than another. But I was specifically talking about new members. New members are good for the site and for those of us who are members for a variety of reasons. I won't go into that in this thread. Suffice it to say that the more members, the better off things will be. With that said, we should try to do what is in our power to welcome any new members and wait for "harder" criticisms in later posts.

For members who have been around for a while, I still look to see how old they are, their past works and any other info I can find out about them before I post a criticism. I am old enough that I could care less how hard someone criticises my work. The younger someone is, the more vulnerable they can be to criticism. All this thread is trying to accomplish is for the members to think carefully before they commit to thier words of criticism. We are what we SAY. Not what we THINK we are saying. Keep in mind that over 50% of communication is non-verbal. So half of what we are saying on this forum is not heard, because it is not seen.

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By telling someone they suck, you are giving them a gift.

No you don't. Pain of heart is not a gift. It takes a while for the human heart to build a shell strong enough to take harsh criticism.

Youngsters are insecure. This insecurity grows with rejection.

Stimulate, uplift, etc.

Never is there a need to make another person feel bad about his creations. People feel that they put a bit of themselves in the art they make. So, when rejected, this projects onto themselves. Do not ask of youngsters to be like grown-ups. Just set an example by constraining yourself to useful and constructive words. These can be critical, as long as they take the individual upwards, not downwards. This is best for their heart and development.

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No you don't. Pain of heart is not a gift. It takes a while for the human heart to build a shell strong enough to take harsh criticism.

Youngsters are insecure. This insecurity grows with rejection.

Stimulate, uplift, etc.

Never is there a need to make another person feel bad about his creations. People feel that they put a bit of themselves in the art they make. So, when rejected, this projects onto themselves. Do not ask of youngsters to be like grown-ups. Just set an example by constraining yourself to useful and constructive words. These can be critical, as long as they take the individual upwards, not downwards. This is best for their heart and development.

Whether you agree or disagree, it is painfully obvious that criticism is an important aid in musical development. Why? Because criticism lets you know what you've done wrong in your piece. Critics often say that some music stinks - composers have to deal with it. Listen : my teacher often says almost only negative things about some of my works and I don't get teary. Instead, I listen to what he said, and fix my future pieces so that he will say a job well done. It's not the comments that are incorrect its often the reactions. To be in the entertainment business or music business, whatever, you have to have an ego and you have to believe in yourself while still listening to what others have to say even if it is negative. I mean, sometimes those who speak badly about your work are dead-wrong - I'm sure people haven't agreed with me, but learn to deal with it. That's life.

Derek, maybe the reasoning behind your post was to defend your own compositions and feelings. But regardless - to all those that can't stand to be criticized: toughen up or stop posting your works. Frankly, it's as simple as that and I'm sorry if I'm putting it too harshly.

EDIT: I also meant to say that yes, youngsters do need to be encouraged, but by the age of 20 or so, I believe it's time to be honest and just because some one's new doesn't mean they're young. There are a lot of older people on this website.

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Whether you agree or disagree, it is painfully obvious that criticism is an important aid in musical development. Why? Because criticism lets you know what you've done wrong in your piece. Critics often say that some music stinks - composers have to deal with it. Listen : my teacher often says almost only negative things about some of my works and I don't get teary. Instead, I listen to what he said, and fix my future pieces so that he will say a job well done. It's not the comments that are incorrect its often the reactions. To be in the entertainment business or music business, whatever, you have to have an ego and you have to believe in yourself while still listening to what others have to say even if it is negative. I mean, sometimes those who speak badly about your work are dead-wrong - I'm sure people haven't agreed with me, but learn to deal with it. That's life.

Derek, maybe the reasoning behind your post was to defend your own compositions and feelings. But regardless - to all those that can't stand to be criticized: toughen up or stop posting your works. Frankly, it's as simple as that and I'm sorry if I'm putting it too harshly.

EDIT: I also meant to say that yes, youngsters do need to be encouraged, but by the age of 20 or so, I believe it's time to be honest and just because some one's new doesn't mean they're young. There are a lot of older people on this website.

Criticism, fine, however negative. But use the right words, and it will have a better effect. It is also to look at the experience of a composer.

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Hey,

First off, I've not read this thread and all of the responses because of two reasons:

1) I've been out of town for the past four days and am just now getting around to reading this

2) I'm feeling lazy.

but, I will go ahead and add in my two cents.

First off, this forum is a place for composers to learn and share new ideas. I really enjoy meeting other composers, discussing topics and reviewing other's music. I want this forum to be a educational and fun place for all who come here. What I don't want this place to be is a bash-fest...however I think several things need to be addressed:

1) Creating art is a very personal thing, and the creator of that art puts a great deal of him or herself into that project. Naturally, it can hurt when you learn someone else didn't find value (or enough value) in your work. Because of this, when leaving reviews it is always best to very considerate and positive. What I mean is instead of just saying something like "your piece sucked." or "your piece is okay, but not great." is more harmful than helpful.

Instead of just making a vague statement, point out some things you thought could be improved and then make suggestions on how you'd fix those points!

2) All composers need to leave their ego at the door when posting work on this forum. By posting your work, you're agree to submit it to critique's of others. If you're not wanting to hear constructive, then don't post it up for mass reviews. I work as a professional composer and sound design and have to put my work up for co-workers and managers scrutinize daily. Sometimes they love what I do, sometimes they don't. Sometimes I agree with their points and other times I do not, but what I always have to consider is if my music fits the project or brand. If it doesn't, then my job is to make it work.

Some composers are way too sensitive about their works, and wouldn't do well in this type of scenario. When working as a professional composer you have to remember:

1) If someone doesn't like your work, it isn't personal.

2) Part of your job is to be able to accept negative feedback about your work and learn from it.

3) Be able to continually lift the bar and make your music improve with each attempt and project.

I'm being long winded about this, but I'm basically trying to state this:

Reviewers: Be polite, professional and informative in your reviews of other works. Don't bash, instruct and don't be afraid to really elaborate. Most composers I know really appreciate in-depth reviews that offer up solid solutions.

Composers who are posting works: Be ready to hear constructive points about how to make your work(s) better. After all, this is how you get better! I greatly value reviews left by my peers that offer a new technique or solution to make my work better. To just hear "you rock!" over and over again doesn't help me improve and continually raise my bar.

Hopefully, I made some sense in all of this. Best of luck!

Nathan

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Hey,

First off, I've not read this thread and all of the responses because of two reasons:

1) I've been out of town for the past four days and am just now getting around to reading this

2) I'm feeling lazy.

but, I will go ahead and add in my two cents.

First off, this forum is a place for composers to learn and share new ideas. I really enjoy meeting other composers, discussing topics and reviewing other's music. I want this forum to be a educational and fun place for all who come here. What I don't want this place to be is a bash-fest...however I think several things need to be addressed:

1) Creating art is a very personal thing, and the creator of that art puts a great deal of him or herself into that project. Naturally, it can hurt when you learn someone else didn't find value (or enough value) in your work. Because of this, when leaving reviews it is always best to very considerate and positive. What I mean is instead of just saying something like "your piece sucked." or "your piece is okay, but not great." is more harmful than helpful.

Instead of just making a vague statement, point out some things you thought could be improved and then make suggestions on how you'd fix those points!

2) All composers need to leave their ego at the door when posting work on this forum. By posting your work, you're agreeing to submit it to critique's of others. If you're not wanting to hear constructive, then don't post it up for mass reviews. I work as a professional composer and sound design and have to put my work up for co-workers and managers to scrutinize daily. It can be a hard thing to get used to! Sometimes they love what I do, sometimes they don't. Sometimes I agree with their points and other times I do not, but what I always have to consider is if my music fits the project or brand. If it doesn't, then my job is to make it work. My point is you have to have tough skin to be able to make it in this business!

Some composers are way too sensitive about their works, and wouldn't do well in this type of scenario. When working as a professional composer you have to remember:

1) If someone doesn't like your work, it isn't personal.

2) Part of your job is to be able to accept negative feedback about your work and learn from it.

3) Be able to continually lift the bar and make your music improve with each attempt and project.

I'm being long winded about this, but I'm basically trying to state this:

Reviewers: Be polite, professional and informative in your reviews of other works. Don't bash, instruct and don't be afraid to really elaborate. Most composers I know really appreciate in-depth reviews that offer up solid solutions.

Composers who are posting works: Be ready to hear constructive points about how to make your work(s) better. After all, this is how you get better! I greatly value reviews left by my peers that offer a new technique or solution to make my work better. To just hear "you rock!" over and over again doesn't help me improve and continually raise my bar.

Hopefully, I made some sense in all of this. Best of luck!

Nathan

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I've already said all I think, but I figure I'd stimulate more discussion in a thread that is more on topic:

Is an insult, without mentioning anything about oneself, a self indulgent act? In my opinion, it is. I believe this is pertinent to this thread. Yes, we want criticism on this site. But we do not want insults, veiled insults, or arrogance. All such things, even without mention of "self" is, in fact, self-indulgent. When you insult someone or put them down or make them feel like they didn't put thought into something, you are indulging yourself because you get a little ego boost from saying it. disclaimer: yes I am aware I have insulted people on this website, I'm not perfect either. That doesn't mean we shouldn't all attempt to be introspective and try to curb such behavior to a minimum.

Discuss.

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I've never understood, however, how criticism can ever be helpful. LIke.....whenever someone tells ME that something is out of place, I'm usually just like, gently caress you *I* like having that in there

Ditto. Nothing else matters. xD

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I usually hate it that people like what I make because they know me. I rather get some critique that's right, than some applause from the ones who know me.

That doesn't mean I don't like good comments offcourse and when I give someone some bad critique he or she is upset about; I'm sorry!

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yes that's true. Sometimes people will go "oh that's lovely dear" because they're a friend or family member. It's a little annoying when you know they think something's not right. but sometimes they do mean that's lovely, so let them say it :P

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Hey,

First off, I've not read this thread and all of the responses because of two reasons:

1) I've been out of town for the past four days and am just now getting around to reading this

2) I'm feeling lazy.

Hmm, I would disagree. It's not lazy to forgo reading 3-4 hours of text -- who has that kind of time? :thumbsup:

I'd never seen this topic before -- I can see the different points of view here, and I think several of them have at least some validity. For instance, critics, especially the harsh kind, are inevitable, like death and taxes.

I think that the best way to deal with it is to be discerning. Easier said than done, but I think that it solves a lot of the inherent problem.

Is a person criticizing with a view to helping the composer? 9 times out of 10, their tone will be respectful (there are exceptions, let the reader use discernment), and they will give at least some valid praise with their valid criticism.

Is a person criticizing with a view only for an ego boost? You can usually tell if they only like to hear themselves talk/type, using obscure words and fanciful phrasing, etc. 9 times out of 10, these critics don't really matter, since their advice is either 1) too advanced (assuming their arrogance is at least somewhat justified) to help the budding composer, or 2) impractical for the composer to focus on, since this critic isn't appealing to what the individual really needs.

A good rule of thumb is, if you respect and admire the person's music who is criticizing you, listen to what they say. If you don't, then ignore them. Simple as that :)

I have taken this all this advice myself, and I am pleased with the results.

There's a lot one can say on the subject, but this is my personal 2 cents.

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My personal two cents is this thread should have been shelved a LONG time ago. It neither educates nor illuminates that well and it is extremely overlong.

Is there a way to delete this old monstrosity?

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I've never seen anyone "insult" a piece at YC. Non constructive criticism would be "the music sucks". Constructive criticism would be "the melody sucks and has no direction".

I'd even say that's non-constructive -- that is, the comment doesn't give any actionable advice. Citing specific points that could be improved -- that's constructive: "The melody's contour around mm. 37 sucks, leaving the rest with no direction because of the seemingly random lack of cadence" or whatever would be "constructive" to me. It's the difference of the "because" and the exact areas to look at -- a general statement, though telling of reaction (an important part of the process, but not necessarily the only droid one would be looking for), isn't really helpful per se. But that's being technical.

That doesn't mean that necessarily even purely non-constructive reviews are bad, except that there isn't much you can do with the piece. But they tell you how someone reacted to it -- so that's good, right?

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I think people are more willing to take real criticism from people they respect. If you come on here, and just blast someone from what they have put up, but no respect has been built, the critiques will probably just be ignored.

I would recommend that if someone is new to the forum, and they post something, then we should probably just take the stance of encouraging them, unless they ask specifically for critiques on certain aspects of their composing. I know that a simple "that was great" can make my day, while a "I didn't like it" can ruin my day. Even if the critique is valid and merited.

With that being said, sometimes getting a good kick in the butt can be eye opening. Its about the respect thats been built.

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I've never understood, however, how criticism can ever be helpful. LIke.....whenever someone tells ME that something is out of place, I'm usually just like, gently caress you *I* like having that in there

Well you see, then you shouldn't ask for critique on a piece, if you already think the piece is perfect, then you should just ask people to listen to it, plain and simple.

I'm not saying we shouldn't encourage young composers, but on the other hand, I'm sad to see how much me hype pieces, that in reality don't deserve much hype,are praised to the skies simply because we want to "help" this young composer, rather than give them a realistic view on their own capabilities. I'm not saying it's okay to word things in a rude, unhelpful way, I'm just saying that I think the other extreme is just as unhelpful as the first one. Or actually even worse, the last one is completely unhelpful, whereas the first one is rude, the latter one only boosts his ego, not his intelligence.

Sure if he doesn't want any help, fx. you, then that's fine, I can totally relate to that. I have pieces I show my teacher saying that the piece is already finished, and I think it's good the way it is, so he should just look at it and say "like / no like." But! I am tired of people saying "I like this", "this is good", when I specifically ask them for constructive criticism. Now this is not online, I'm talking about people I know, who also study music, and I ask them if they will give me some critique on a piece, and they say "It's good." You see, I don't think I write perfect music, and I have an interest in people's honest opinions, and I'm tired of this over-polite society where everything has been reduced to being nice to each other.

So no, don't wrap up your honest opinions with constant "but I really like this part, it's just that this part is not so good", no, say your honest opinion. Don't be rude, don't be someone's mom, just say "I don't think works, because ...pera pera pera", or "This sounds incredible, because ... pera pera pera". The world is tough, that's life. We should encourage young composers to never accept mediocrity, to always strive for perfection, to use people's negative criticism as a fuel for doing even better the next time. And most importantly of all, we shouldn't delude ourselves into believing that people will grow from being told all the time that everything they do is 4/5 stars, almost perfect, everyone's Mozart. The truth is that it's very likely that nearly all of us are mediocre composers, and there's only a few of us who are actually really worth the world's attention.

So if you can't stand the thought that you're mediocre, why don't you make it your long-life goal to prove me wrong, and never stop improving!

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First of all: Can we critique and critisize whoever thought of ressuracting this thread? It's ridiculous to be getting a 6 year old (started in 2006 and is 2012 now) thread going again, despite the fact that it IS a good thread.

I don't remember posting in this thread though... :-/

Anyhow.

I will point the semi-obvious that the world we live in sucks! Pretty simple as that! And while we would like to take care of everything and offer lovely feedback, etc, to everyone this is NOT how the whole world works!

I no longer have the time to deal with specific works individually, except on some very rare cases! The rest will go to the dumb, I'm sorry to say. And this is how the world works. I don't care who the composer is, or who the performer is: Eventually if I feel there's something there I'll talk about it, if not I won't. I won't spend my time trolling around, but I won't give proper feedback to everyone who's asking.

I don't know if this seems arrogant and whatnot, and certainly the older members here know that I'm quite nice and easy to approach, but the point is that things change and one, once out in the open, cannot expect a 'nice' treatment (although we try here in YC to provide one). Budding or not, beginner or adult, or other... :-/ Sorry

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