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Writing a great critique

The written critique is the single most important responsibility of an MMTA judge. It provides the student with a tangible record of the audition and it may affect and influence the student's development for years to come.  


A great critique is nurturing

A great critique is always respectful and kind. Set a positive tone by including positive opening and closing comments on every critique. Remember that words can inspire or deeply wound, and that children have long memories. Every performance has some element to commend—even if it is only having the courage to take on the challenge of the audition. For example: In the event of a memory lapse, how well a student deals with a lapse should be given as much weight as the lapse itself.

A great critique balances objective criticism with words of encouragement. Teachers, parents, and students look to the critique for indications that the student's accomplishments are being measured against a reliable standard of excellence, but also for words that will motivate the student toward greater challenges and future progress. Let your words assure the student that they are capable of taking the manageable next steps that you suggest, and give them the spark of desire to grow courageously as musicians. 


A great critique is specific

A great critique is descriptive and specific, providing a clear picture of what happened at the event. Your comments should demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the literature and performance practices of the style/era/genre of the repertoire performed. Balance comments about details with a general summary of overall performance vitality and expressiveness.

Remember: You can't say everything about a piece or a particular performance. Focus on a few important aspects of the performance, particularly elements that define the stylistic or expressive nature of the piece.

To provide positive reinforcement, use phrases such as:

I liked…

I enjoyed…

I appreciated…

Congratulations on…

Bravo for…


To describe what you heard, use phrases such as:

Your playing is…

Your performance was…

Today it sounded like…

Today, at measure…

Today, the B section was…


To provide ideas for growth, use phrases such as:

I would like to hear more…

Listen for…

How do you think it would sound if…

What if you tried…

You might want to…

Your next step could be…

I'd encourage you to experiment with... 


A great critique is fair

A great critique is always fair to the student and teacher. Evaluate the performance you hear—not the performer or the choice of repertoire. A good assessment will not assume anything about the student's preparation or potential. When unsure, give the student the benefit of the doubt. Be open to musical interpretations and technique that may be different from your own. Is the performance convincing, vibrant, and expressive on its own terms? Accept editorial markings indicated by the teacher, and make comments on how well the student executed the given plan.

In the event that you feel strongly that the performance, interpretation, or editorial markings indicate a misunderstanding of style or performance practice, direct comments to the teacher on a Post-it® note. When commenting to the student, support the teacher. If you do address the teacher, be gentle and respectful. Let your words leave room for an honest difference of opinion between colleagues. (Example: "My understanding of performance practice in this style/genre is…") 


A great critique is valuable

Use age-appropriate language. Very young students appreciate critiques that are printed rather than written in cursive style. Avoid slang or idioms that are less than professional. Do choose language that communicates clearly without being overly formal or overly academic. The most brilliant and nurturing words will be of no use to the student if the critique cannot be read. Your handwriting and signature must be legible. Your insightful and well-written critique, as well as your professional and welcoming demeanor, makes the event a motivating one—an experience students will want to repeat.

Finally, a great critique will be worth the investment of time and effort of the student, parent, and teacher. Make sure your comments provide both the quantity and quality of feedback that is worth the price of their time and the registration fee. 

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