You’re hangin’ at the local music store.
You take a shiny new electric off the wall and plug in. You unleash your hottest blues licks and the guitar just screams. You don’t have a care in the world except for how you’re gonna convince your wife/mom/significant other that you must buy this sweet new axe. ‘Cause she’s a beauty.
Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see him. He slowly approaches – cue Jaws theme – and stands uncomfortably close to you, staring at you as you play. This goes on for awhile. The vibe gets weird.
Then he says, “Dude, that was pretty good.”
(The guitar critic always says “pretty good”, never just “good”. They have to keep you in your place, you know.)
And because that wasn’t enough, he follows up with, “You just need to get your heart broken a few times. Then you’ll really know how to play the blues.”
By now, the vibe is no longer ‘weird’ – it’s flat-out awkward. Like ‘time to smack a stranger’ awkward. ‘Cause it just got personal.
Or did it?
Learn to Care Less
Here’s a tip from me to you at no extra charge: Don’t take what people say personally.
Is it difficult? Sure. Easier said than done? Absolutely. But not allowing yourself to takes things personally will ultimately lead to peace of mind and keep you in The Zone.
Given the very same performance, some people will say you were awesome while some will say you were merely “meh”, so how can you really believe any of it? It depends on the perspective of the listener. Your friends and family will almost always tell you that you’re the bomb. Go ahead, bask in the glow of being their personal rock star for a minute or two. You deserve it. But don’t get overly infatuated with this.
On the flip side, people who are jealous of your success, or of your courage for doing what they don’t have the nerve to do, will always find some fault with what you’re doing. You’ll always be too smart, too talented, too rich, and/or too good-looking and they can’t stand it. Whatever. It’s their issue, not yours. Don’t let yourself get all twisted up over this.
Both praise and criticism can get in your head – you either believe your own hype or you get caught up in the negativity. Take a cue from athletes and brush it all off. By taking everything “with a grain of salt”, the athlete stays emotionally even-keeled and performs his best. Paying too much attention to negative comments does nothing but fuel performance anxiety.
THE FOUR AGREEMENTS
I first came upon the basic premise of this article in the book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
The “agreements” are the deals you make with yourself. There are four significant ones, according to Ruiz, that are important for peace of mind, fulfillment and general happiness, or as the subtitle of the book says, “personal freedom”.
The Second Agreement is, “Don’t take anything personally.” Ruiz explains that people do things because of themselves, not because of you.
Although the Agreements are tough to execute, they have a wisdom that is undeniable. I’m especially fond of the Second Agreement because, as an artist myself, I have often been stung by criticism and let it eat away at me. When you understand that folks do things for their own reasons – like insulting you – it takes the burden off of your shoulders.
The above story is true. One of my best young students was publicly criticized in a local music store. He is 17 years old. Mind you, this kid can play the blues better than most adults you’ll hear and his band plays regularly in public. But he was crushed and started questioning his abilities. After all, he’s a teenager – he doesn’t have the life experience to ignore the negative comments or the bad manners to tell an adult critic to shove it.
Did the Six-String Critic need to say anything? No. He could have listened and just walked away. But people, infuriatingly enough, often suck. And they just can’t help themselves from telling you that they think you kinda suck too.
If you’ve ever read the comments on a YouTube video, you know what I’m talking about. There are people who will go out of their way to write the nastiest comments imaginable on someone’s performance. The person on the video had the courage to sing and/or play guitar and for that they should be applauded and encouraged. But there are raging bags of mediocrity out there that will crush them in the comments with no problem.
You might think this is exclusive to amateur performances but you would be very wrong. I’ve seen amazing performances by elite musicians and there’s always at least one moron who will say, “I’ve heard better.”
Believe me when I say, the people who make these comments get their rocks off trying to bring you down. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Your energy and time are best spent working on being awesome.
Pros Are Positive
The anonymity of the Internet makes criticism easy to dish out, but I’ve actually had people come up to me, face to face, after a performance and say things like, “I’m just as good as you”. Their motivation? I dunno. Once a guy said, “I don’t sing as well as you, but I could play all that stuff you’re playing.” My response? “Good for you.” What else are you gonna say? But if he could do it, he would do it. And he ain’t doing it…
Here’s your rule of thumb from a guy (me) who’s been around long enough to know the difference: People who level criticism at other players are almost always mediocre at best. You can bet your paycheck on it.
The best players are typically unfailingly positive, like my friends and mentors Carl Filipiak and Bobby B. They know how hard it is to be a really good musician and they would never go out of their way to point out your flaws. Even if your playing isn’t stellar, they’ll still say “good job” just to be polite and encouraging. Unfortunately, middle-of-the-road, wanna-be guitarists WILL go out of their way to criticize you because it makes them feel superior.
Want good, constructive criticism? Ask a pro. People that you hold in high esteem – and whose musical opinion you respect – will likely tell you the honest truth. If you ask for their feedback, though, be ready to accept it with an open mind. Remember that pros want you to succeed.
A Final Thought
Be good to yourself.
It’s a drag when other people give you unsolicited criticism, but make sure you don’t overdo the self-criticism either. Be patient with your flaws and work methodically toward correcting them. Never stop looking for inspiration. Understand that greatness in anything takes time. You’re on your way.
And the Six-String Critic knows it.
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