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 Post subject: Having a positive, self-critical attitude
PostPosted: 27 Jan 2013, 17:52 

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Having a positive, self-critical attitude

by Krešimir Cindrić


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Do not upload bad YouTube videos


Anyone who has searched YouTube videos for ocarina will notice that the first quality ocarina video shows up on page 5 of the results, and the first 20 pages of the results do not contain anything regarding the Budrio tradition of the ocarina, ocarina ensemble, etc... Even if we ignore Zelda "Let's Play" series and tunes from Zelda played on musical instruments other than the ocarina, we are still left with mostly terrible performances of music - which are out of tune, contain wrong notes, wrong rhythm, not to speak of interpretation being dull or unimaginative.


Casually browsing YouTube, one will never find videos such as this or this.


That in itself is a disaster, but it is easy to explain why it is happening. On the open forum like YouTube, quality is not a prerequisite for uploading. Combine that with the fact that low quality performances tend to be vastly more numerous than high quality ones and you will get the situation I am writing about. This is true for other instruments as well - searching "violin" on YouTube will give "violin dubstep" as the first result.


We should be aware that our beloved instrument, the ocarina, is not a very well known instrument. The first contact some people will have with it may very well be through the video you upload to YouTube, or by listening your performance. So, in a way, you also decide whether our beloved ocarina will be perceived as a serious, concert quality instrument or a toy. This will also affect professional ocarinists, ocarina makers and everyone who is passionate about the ocarina - and reflect in how often ocarina performances are held in prestigious concert halls.


So, the first reason not to upload low quality videos to YouTube is to protect the reputation of the ocarina. However, in my opinion, the "reputation" of the ocarina on YouTube is so bad, it is beyond salvation. YouTube is simply not a good forum to promote the culture of the ocarina, but it is still a great video hosting site. A new YouTube user will not get many views on their video, unless they share that video on social networks like Facebook, hoping it becomes viral - uploading videos of cute dogs and cats is a much easier way to achieve that, than playing music.


Standards of a decent performance


There is a much better reason why a beginner should not perform in public (including uploading public YouTube videos) and that is the fact they do not yet have the ability to critically reflect on their work. In psychology, this is called the Dunning–Kruger effect. An unskilled musician (a beginner, the one who did not spend many years studying music) does not have the ability to recognize their mistakes and because of that, musicians whose skill is far below average will consider themselves average or higher than average - much better than they actually are. They will often negatively react to any criticism, demand explanations, offer excuses and become offended and angry. This behaviour is completely normal and we all instinctively suffer from it. However, it is important to recognize that and fight against it. Learn to be self-critical - patting yourself on the back saying "it wasn't that bad" will get you nowhere. Even if your goal is not to be a good musician, you may as well save yourself from embarrassment. Also, knowing what your weak spots are is the first step on focusing your practise sessions to improve them.


I have noticed many old members of the online ocarina communities removing some of their old YouTube videos. My guess would be that this is because they have spent a long time in the ocarina community so their taste has developed (whereas most beginners lose the interest in only about 2 or 3 years of starting to play the ocarina). They have become aware of the standards of a good performance on the ocarina and noticed that their videos were not quite up to these standards. To others, that was, of course, obvious from the beginning.


How to know whether your playing is good enough to show it to others? That is a difficult question to answer - but some things are easy to point out:


  • make sure to play the correct notes - if you make mistakes such as playing a wrong note, practise more,
  • make sure to play the correct rhythm - if you make rhythmic mistakes, practise with a metronome, at a slower tempo,
  • make sure to have correct intonation at all times - I already wrote an article on what I think is a good way to improve intonation when playing the ocarina: Exercises For Improving Intonation.

These three things are the barest minimum of what constitutes a decent performance. They are not a matter of opinion or taste. If you cannot objectively satisfy these three requirements, you should not play the ocarina (or any other instrument) in public, including YouTube videos. In fact, before you satisfy these three goals, you should not even consider the interpretation of music and feelings and emotions that your music should bring out in your audience - if you play wrong notes, make rhythmic mistakes and have trouble keeping in tune, the only emotion your playing will bring out is misery. This may seem harsh and overly pedantic, but it really is not. Nobody with any musical sophistication will want to listen to a performance where the musician is playing the wrong notes, stumbling across the rhythm and being all over the place in intonation. Playing a music instrument simply requires a lot of work, and every musician who wants to perform in public should be prepared to do it.


Of course, while necessary, correct notes, rhythm and intonation are not enough for a performance to be touching and beautiful. A computer playing a MIDI file can do these three things better than any human, but for a great performance it takes a sensitive, emotional musician who lives the music - and not only that, but also great taste in music. Listening to the best musicians playing the ocarina can be inspiring and enlightening regarding the standards of a good performance. Most of us will never reach that level, but any step in that direction is a good one. There are no shortcuts.


Beware of flattery


I often hear this argument: "but if I don't perform in public, how will I know whether I am doing a good job or not?". I'd like to argue that it is better to not get any feedback at all, than such feedback. If you are just patient, over time you will become aware of the standards of good performance on the ocarina and notice which performances are up to those standards.


In communities where people are not anonymous, such as on ocarina forums, it is a good social strategy to compliment others. Saying "this was very nice, good job!", even if you do not mean it, is polite and costs practically nothing, while it gains social points (especially in the atmosphere where majority of people are beginners, lacking the ability to tell a good performance from a bad one). On the other hand, giving genuine criticism can have consequences on social status. People who criticize a lot, even if they are right, will often be perceived as "negative", "mean-spirited", "elitist", "stuck-up", "unfriendly", "abrasive", &c... (especially by people who either lack the ability to notice mistakes or, more often, by the people who want to gain social points by going against the unpopular opinion - in the atmosphere of incompetence). But beware of flattery. Dishonest compliments, as well as genuine compliments by ignorants, will only harm you if you take them for granted, by increasing the illusion of competence and making you less aware of your limits.


So the lesson is: do not expect genuine criticism from people who are at risk of being perceived in the negative light because of that. Also, be sceptical of compliments that may serve the function of advancing one's reputation (my advice is to just politely say "thanks" and ignore it). The best feedback you can receive is from anonymous people, or really close friends who are not afraid of saying: "that was terrible!". Also keep in mind that most people cannot tell apart good music from bad music. That is why Ke$ha is popular.


Also, it is much better to mistake truly mean-spirited criticism for being genuine, than is to mistake dishonest flattery for true words of approval. When assessing your abilities, it is always better to underestimate it than to overestimate it.


Be your worst critic, but also be fair to yourself


As you improve in time, you will notice more and more things which you can improve - even smaller mistakes will bother you more and more... The better you are, the more critical of yourself you will be and your confidence in your skills will be lower. This is also perfectly normal - it is the other side of the Dunning–Kruger effect. Do not treat yourself unfairly, be mean to yourself and cause demotivation. Is important not to fall into the trap of self-loathing, because that way you will never get anything done. Not to mention, you will always be miserable. As with everything in life, here it is also important to find the right balance. There will always be room for improvement, but being miserable over it is simply wrong. Also, with decreased confidence, you will have problems like stage fright and shyness - and it is important to recognize that and work on it, if you want to be a performing musician.


Fighting stage fright


Stage fright (performer's anxiety) is an especially nasty problem - it can make a great musician paralysed in fear, sweating and shaking - and that will make their performance much, much worse than what they are truly capable of (nobody can play an instrument with hands shaking and mind absent). Even worse, since such a musician has already developed good taste and critical ear, they will be painfully aware of all mistakes (much more than an average listener), which will only reduce their confidence and make their next performance even worse - spiralling down into disaster...


The first step towards fighting stage fight is to be able to play the piece well. If you haven't practised the music piece enough, do not perform, but practise more. Make sure to be able to play the notes without thinking about them, automatically (the so-called "muscle memory"). Also, make sure you can continue playing from any point in the piece, in case you stumble and need to continue. You can practise that by forcing yourself to play not from the beginning, but from various points in the middle of the piece. Make sure you can play the piece in quicker tempo than necessary, and also really slowly - you should be flexible with tempo and equally capable of playing slowly and quickly (in reasonable limits, of course). Without having a well rehearsed piece, you should not even consider performing in public.


Being confident that you have rehearsed the piece sufficiently may not be enough to overcome fear. Do private performances at first - perform in front of the people you feel comfortable around, your friends, family, teachers, neighbours... Make sure, though, that you take it just as seriously as any public performance - don't allow yourself to correct the mistakes and start playing from the beginning in case you mess up - everything should be exactly the same as during a public performance, except there won't be an angry mob ready to throw rotten tomatoes at you if you make a mistake. Sometimes, simply acknowledging the problem might make it better. Observe the symptoms of stage fright and be aware that it is all a consequence of brain chemistry and electricity. Try to exaggerate the symptoms - if you tend to sweat, try to sweat even more and if your hands shake, try to shake them even more... This will give you some control over the symptoms. One of the common symptoms of anxiety is diarrhea - it is useful to go to the toilet before performing, so as to have one less thing on your mind.


Assuming a daredevil, counterphobic attitude may also help, if you are that sort of person. Try to enjoy the excitement that your fear gives you and seek opportunities to confront it - like you would enjoy a horror film. This may be the most effective way to solve this problem, but it requires mustering up enough courage.


Finally, chemistry can help. Drinking a small amount of alcoholic beverage can considerably increase your confidence - but know your alcohol tolerance and be very careful not to drink too much - you will not be able to play music if you're drunk (do not drink alcoholic beverages if you're under the legal age!). If the problem is really serious and you see no other way of solving it, consider visiting a doctor to get anti-anxiety medicine (anxiolytics). Under any circumstances, do not exceed the prescribed doses and never mix alcohol with medicine!



If you have any idea or suggestions on how to improve this article, post it here. Also, I will be very grateful if you spot any mistakes.


Copyright © 2013 by Krešimir Cindrić. Please do not repost or use without the permission of the author. Feel free, however, to link to this post.



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 Post subject: Re: Having a positive, self-critical attitude
PostPosted: 27 Jan 2013, 18:43 

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Thanks for taking your time to write this, Kres. I find this an excellent article.
I have been playing the ocarina for five and a half years now and I notice that this article describes how to deal with many situations that I have stumbled upon myself. From experience I tend to agree with everything that has been written here, and I wish an article like this existed when I first started playing. I will certainly be passing the link to this article around, so many more can benefit from it :D .


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 Post subject: Re: Having a positive, self-critical attitude
PostPosted: 24 Jul 2013, 04:58 

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Yes, I agree with all of this. It's very strange, because it all seems so obvious to me (as all of my music instructors basically explained Kresimir's post to me early in my music education) and sometimes I forget that some people have never heard of such concepts, or don't understand, (or in some very sad instances, don't care).

I do have a few comments on the stage fright section:
When it comes to battling stage fright, sometimes I like to assume the character of a person (musician or otherwise) that I feel possesses strength and bravery. For example, when I auditioned for university I "borrowed" the confidence and passion of the virtuoso Jacqueline du Pre*. Playing this game of pretend leads generally leads to less inhibitions in one's performance.

Of course, one must always practice well before playing seriously for anyone, but once the audition or performance comes around additional coping mechanisms for performance anxiety are very helpful.

When it comes to drugs like beta blockers (Inderal, ect...), I have been informed of their use (through my own research) and I do personally know instructors and musicians who do use them but this is often considered a last resort amongst professionals. I had asked my instructor in high school if beta blockers should be considered an option (specifically for my audition to university) and he generally advised against the regular use of them, because of their possible adverse effects to performance quality. This is because it inhibits the physical affects of nerves, so it also will (consequently) diminish one's adrenaline. Some performers "feed off the crowd's energy" so to speak, and this makes the audience or judges connect with the performance more.

Additionally in recent years beta blockers have gained a negative stigma as "performance enhancing drugs" in certain circles. The discussion as it pertains to their acceptable use for musicians auditioning for positions in orchestras is ongoing (or their use in general). In general it is considered somewhat taboo to tell people that you use beta blockers (especially in the classical music world), the musicians that I know of that use them have confided in me after I gained their trust.

Lastly, if I may make a recommendation, The Inner Game of Music is a very helpful book that outlines many different ways of coping with performance anxiety among the topics the book covers.

*Not the playing ability. Please do not mistake attitude for ability. Practice is always required.

Nice article, though :D


One does not make music against another.


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 Post subject: Re: Having a positive, self-critical attitude
PostPosted: 24 Jul 2013, 10:08 

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Thanks for your comment, Fermatawing. You have much more experience in this regard than I. When writing this article, I was somewhat questioning its necessity, as everything I wrote seemed like common sense and fairly obvious. But it is not! None of it is obvious and has to be taught to people, repeatedly. It probably wouldn't be so obvious to you if your music instructors didn't raise you to think that way. That is one of many reasons why music education is very important, even for people who are not interested in becoming professional performing musicians.


When it comes to drugs such as beta blockers and anxiolytics, it is always best to talk to a doctor and listen to their advice. Taking drugs on your own can be very harmful and/or ineffective, unless you know exactly what you're doing (and chances are you don't, unless you're a doctor). I don't think it is worth endangering your health so much for such a thing. I think that people often too quickly choose chemistry to cure their symptoms, as that often seems like an easy route. But as with all "shortcuts" in life, it is always worth thinking about it carefully. Maybe there is a better, more thorough way of solving a problem - it may be more difficult, but worth the additional effort. In the case of performing musicians, pills cannot possibly substitute for practise, ability and sensitivity to music. I hate the expression "performance enhancing drugs", because it implies exactly that. Of course, if there is a psychiatric condition, such as disabling anxiety, medicine can help, but one should not carelessly jump to diagnose psychiatric illness - often there are better ways of solving problems. I'm much more in favour of assuming a counterphobic attitude (like you pretending to be Jacqueline du Pre :) ) - this can be very effective, but it is not easy and it takes courage. Then again, being a musician is not easy...


And thanks for the book recommendation, I'll try to find a copy of it.



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 Post subject: Re: Having a positive, self-critical attitude
PostPosted: 25 Jul 2013, 06:57 

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I count myself very fortunate to have had teachers that taught me these things (and more), it has made me a better musician overall (even though sometimes it was sometimes not what I wanted to hear). They told me these things because they wanted the best for me. In fact one of my high school described it like this: "There are generally two types of teachers: the ones that always take their students feelings into account and sacrifice effectiveness, and ones that are effective but at the expense of tact when important."

My teachers have all been the latter to varying degrees. For example, my private teacher for the cello. I owe a lot of my success, including being accepted into the music university to her. She's very tough, and was always very direct with me, but it's because she knew that I was worth her effort and that she wanted my success as much as I did.

Honestly, if people are offended by what you say on this article I would ask them to understand that this is coming from a person that wants both the success and improvement of ocarina players and the ocarina as an instrument.

Oh yes, above all that is the most important thing. It was the first thing my teacher told me, "Go to your doctor and talk to them." and also that by no means should I accept them from anyone else other than from a doctor's prescription* (of course). I agree with your sentiments, and that is why my teacher told me that he thinks that beta blockers should only be used on high stress occasions and sparingly. I also don't think they are "performance enhancing drugs" because they don't make the user into a virtuoso (of course).

Being a musician is not easy. I had to repeat what you said because I feel like not very many people understand this. I've lost track of how many people think being a music major is the easiest thing in the world. The world of music (especially classical music) is not for people who want instant gratification (this also ties in with your comments on YouTube and waiting to post until they can play to an acceptable level). I've been playing the cello since 2005 and I'm not close to mastering it. There's also a lot of sacrifice and competition, and in a world where few people demand classical music anyway, it's extremely difficult for anyone to be able to land a job professionally (that is, a permanent orchestra position). If one gets there, the best orchestras don't pay as well as an accounting firm pays their employees. Passion is essential. One must be willing to give their life to it if they really want that.

Of course there are few that want that, and fewer still that get to experience success. There's no shame in being an amateur, but it's important to remember that music wouldn't be able to move forward without the professionals.

I hope you enjoy the book. Barry Green also wrote The Mastery of Music, a "book of virtues" so to speak of certain elements that separate professionals and amateurs (besides the understood copious amounts of practice).

P.S. I'm glad that you found my coping mechanism amusing :) Sometimes I pretend to be past teachers as well, because of the personal connection I feel with them. They are all very good musicians. The teacher that gave me advise about the beta blockers is an incredible double bassist. I've pretended to be him on multiple occasions :D

*I'm not entirely sure about other countries but in the US one cannot purchase beta blockers unless they have a doctor's prescription. Additionally minors need the consent of parents or legal guardians before attaining and using prescriptions of any kind.


One does not make music against another.


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 Post subject: Re: Having a positive, self-critical attitude
PostPosted: 25 Jul 2013, 09:50 

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Indeed this thread is pretty informative. I agree mostly with everything, except the use of alcohol. Even small amounts of alcohol screw up hand-eye coordination, and I always make more mistakes. Also I can't feel the music as I do normally.


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 Post subject: Re: Having a positive, self-critical attitude
PostPosted: 25 Jul 2013, 16:55 

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^ Which is why using chemistry is considered a last resort by many musicians. I did know a musician that once took half a glass of wine before performing to take the edge off of their anxiety, but it wasn't done regularly.

Musicians have also been know to eat foods that are natural sources of beta blockers, bananas, among other things. I'm not sure how substantial the actual effect is versus placebo, though.


One does not make music against another.


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 Post subject: Re: Having a positive, self-critical attitude
PostPosted: 26 Jul 2013, 16:29 

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Exclent post and excelent resume Kres...
That's a problem that I'm facing in euphonium, the kids like to put some videos in youtube and FB most of the times just playing for temselfs and worse, just playing parts of a study piece...
That's to bad for a instrument image because it's to easy that that video are seeing from tousands of people. It's not just self criticism but inteligence!

I will copy and translate to portuguese your post to give to my students (if you agree).


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 Post subject: Re: Having a positive, self-critical attitude
PostPosted: 26 Jul 2013, 20:24 

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Miguel from portugal wrote:
I will copy and translate to portuguese your post to give to my students (if you agree).
Yes, of course I agree, thank you! I'll just ask you send me the translation in Portuguese once you finish it (you can do it over PM or on Facebook) and please put "www.littlegeese.com" on the copy you are going to pass around, so that this forum gets some promotion.


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