Saturday, January 04, 2014


Feedback: information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

We have all heard it said that our principal teacher, the person who listens to us more than any other person, the one that tells us how to practice and prepare and the one who determines what sounds good and what needs work, is ourselves. Of course, we all have many more teachers; our official teachers from private or institutional study, our colleagues, our fellow students plus all and any criticism from whatever source it may come. Feedback is essential to our learning process.

In most conservatories, after an exam, there is a comprehensive discussion among the adjudicating professors to compile the reactions and pass on the information to the student. It’s a good system; the students get a collective view of their year’s progress and advise on how to proceed the following year to their best advantage. In other words, they get positive and valuable feedback.

Sadly, that is not always the case. As a foreign teacher, the only opportunity I had to communicate with most students was after exams, at which time most students in the school would come to me and ask for my feedback. Although I had all the information for each student in my iPad, language problems made it impossible to communicate the information the students wanted and needed to hear. After having my comments translated and written in Japanese I had them distributed to the students. The next day I was told that the students didn’t need my comments, they only needed my score, a number from 1 to 10!

As an evaluation for musical performance after a whole year of work, that is irresponsible pedagogy!!! Students need feedback, all musicians need feedback and feedback should never be exclusive to only a single teacher! Teachers need feedback too, the quality of the students reflects the quality of the teachers.

If we agree with Leonardo da Vinci, who said that it is the student’s duty to surpass the teacher. Certainly then, it is the teacher’s duty to make available and provide the feedback to make that possible.

Early in my career, while playing in the Rochester Philharmonic, I learned to make a point to tell colleagues when they had played exceptionally well. I was young and na├»ve but it was obvious that just a few positive words had an enormous and lasting effect. With three or more concerts a week it was too easy to forget the concert and just go home. Musicians need to both take and give feedback, it’s how we learn, it’s how we grow and evolve.

January 4, 2014, Tokyo