Guide to Critiquing a Performance:
for use in Improving Your own Playing or Giving Commentary to Others
Robert T. Kelley
January 2000 - May 2001
Note: This is an aesthetic idealization of music criticism. In reality, one must always temper criticism with tact, positive reinforcement, and selective criticism (choosing one or two main concerns rather than a deluge of perjorative comments).
These are based on the material in the score
Matters of Taste/Interpretation
- Correct pitches
- Correct rhythms (and clarity of meter)
- Correct articulation
- Correct dynamics
- Correct voicing (bringing out the most important voices)
- Proper harmonic pedaling, and following pedal marks (for piano performances)
These should be used to enhance the substance of the material in the score
- Appropriate tempo and effective timing (however, often the composer gives an exact metronome marking)
- Range of dynamics (depending on style of music)
- Tone (dark/bright, timbral shifts, etc.)
- Amount of pedal and use of soft pedal (for piano)
- Prominence of melody and shading (the subjective aspects of voicing)
- General articulation issues and very particular articulation differences (articulation, too, is not always objective)
- General style (less subjective is whether the style is appropriate for the period)
When I'm asked to critique a colleague's (or student's) performance or when I'm critiquing a recording of my own playing, my technique is to sit with the colleague's (or my) score and listen. I mark mistakes and suggestions in the score:
This is done for each performance that I hear of the piece. In order to help my colleague (or student) determine which performance certain marks I made came from, I either write in a different color each time, or I pick a distinctive symbol (X, O, *, +, etc.) to put in the margin next to the system where a mark has been made. For this reason, some students like to make a photocopy of the score that can be scribbled on so that their expensive original score isn't a multicolored mess.
- Circle wrong notes and rhythms (and mark rests by circling them or drawing a vertical line where the cutoff should be)
- Mark all memory mistakes (with a big "M")
- Write in tenuto marks and accents when the rhythmic clarity is lacking
- Circle dynamics that aren't followed and write in dynamic suggestions (which are a matter of taste, of course)
- Add slurs or other articulation marks in the score when the style or touch needs rethinking.
- Circle the most important voices when they aren't brought out
- Draw lines under the music to indicate proper pedaling (when not followed)
- Mark spots where the timing is awkward (and/or make suggestions). Tempo fluctuations are marked with:
- > (means accel. or "You are DRAGGING!")
- < (means "You are RUSHING!")
- ~~~~ (a squiggly horizontal line indicates a (usually slight) ritardando)
- Circle dynamic markings in the score that are too subtle in the performance (or "X" them out when they are too jarring).
- Cross out notes that are played way too loud or need to be way in the background (with "X"s).
- Make suggestions about style, articulation, timing, etc. in the margins
I may say some things to the performer after he/she is done about the one or two most important issues that I think need addressing. If the performer then has questions about the specific stuff I marked in the score, they can ask me.
Note that the fact that I ask for the score implies that (if you're my student) I'm not going to critique you if the music isn't memorized. (However, I'd be happy to help you before the piece is memorized if you're having problems memorizing, or if you need help with initial interpretation or a technical passage.)
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© 2001 .
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