Improve Faster with Feedback
By Hans Jørgen Jensen
The importance of feedback
We all know that feedback plays a crucial role in learning to play a musical instrument. Without regular and supportive feedback, it is difficult to assess progress and guide future development and goal setting. Feedback occurs in the lessons we have with teachers, the comments we get from peers, as well as the important self-feedback we give ourselves when practicing and performing. The following are three important situation specific versions of feedback in the world of music:
- Feedback that you give to yourself after a performance or in a practice session.
- Feedback that you give to other people as a parent, teacher, colleague, or a judge in a competition or audition.
- Feedback that you receive from other people during a lesson or after a performance.
Not all feedback is helpful
What we don’t always realize is that there are many kinds of feedback and that the kind of feedback we give or receive can make the difference between success and failure. A study on feedback exploring its effectiveness revealed that even feedback between students and teachers is often far from successful. An incredible one-third of analyzed feedback interventions was detrimental and decreased the students’ overall performance quality. This information shows that well-intentioned educators might regularly provide students with comments that decrease their intrinsic motivation and discourage them from learning.
Several recent scientific research studies give a clear indication of the effectiveness of different kinds of feedback. From those studies we can see that the best results arise from students receiving information feedback about a task and about how to perform it more effectively. Feedback coming from video, audio, or computer-assisted instructional feedback, as well as feedback related to goals, is also very successful. The worst results come from feedback related to praise, rewards, and punishment. Programmed instruction, praise, punishment, and extrinsic rewards were also less effective for enhancing achievement.
An often-overlooked aspect of feedback is the influence it has on motivation. When feedback is related to the results of a task and extrinsic rewards there is a negative correlation. Researchers Deci et al. conclude that extrinsic rewards are typically negative because they “undermine people’s taking responsibility for motivating or regulating themselves.”
The influence and importance of feedback in performance
Feedback in a performance situation has varying degrees of influence depending on the individual musician’s performance level: Novice performers are generally less-effective learners and have minimal self-regulation strategies and they depend much more on external factors (such as the teacher or the task) for feedback. They rarely seek or incorporate feedback in ways that will enhance their future learning or self-regulation strategies.
Performers that are more developed use self-regulation to accept feedback both from themselves and other people. Self-regulation involves an interplay between commitment, control, and confidence. It addresses the way students monitor, direct, and regulate actions toward the learning goal. It implies autonomy, self-control, self-direction, and self-discipline. Such regulation invokes “self-generated thoughts, feelings, and actions that are planned and cyclically adapted to the attainment of personal goals” and can lead to seeking, accepting, and accommodating feedback information.
The quality of the feedback
When giving feedback to students it is important that the information is focused on the performance and the specific technical and musical details that should be improved. The more specific and accurate the comment is, the better. Referring to personal qualities of the student or comparing them to their peers is less effective for several reasons, but most importantly because it directs attention and comments away from the task at hand and towards the self, resulting in much less motivation for the student to practice more effectively in the future.
In a studio class setting it is incredibly helpful to invite participation from the entire class to provide feedback to the performing student. The more we as teachers are open and accepting to all the comments from students, the better and more meaningful the feedback will be and the more impactful and meaningful it will be to the performing student. Due to time constraints and class size, I encourage written comments from all the students in a studio class.
Create goal-relevant feedback
When the performer has a clear goal, such as preparing for an audition or competition, it is important to calibrate the feedback to the level of playing expected at the event. If the event is one month away, it is important to say exactly what the performer is missing from being ready for the event and point out the exact steps needed over the next few weeks. While being positive and upbeat is helpful, practicing honesty is also important and required if we want students to develop to their fullest potential.
In my feedback to students, I spend a lot of time searching for the reasons behind the problems that we are trying to improve and fix. The more the students are involved in that process, the better they will improve in the future. Once the reasons for the problems are found, the process becomes geared towards the precise practice steps needed to fix the issue.
As teachers we need to continually improve
The more we as teachers are involved in the whole practice and feedback process with the students, always searching for newer and better ways of setting and conquering goals, the more ownership the students will put into the whole learning process. It is important that we as teachers always challenge ourselves to come up with more effective and efficient solutions to the entire feedback and practicing process.
As you continue in your practice journey, note the three questions below. Asking yourself these questions within your practice sessions, during a planning session, or during your own teaching is very helpful in making sure goals and implementation tasks are both carefully assessed and recalibrated.
- Feed Up: Where am I going? (What are the goals?)
- Feed Back: How am I going? (What progress is being made toward the goal?)
- Feed Forward: Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)
Remember to receive feedback with an open mind and give feedback with a lot of respect, especially to yourself! Enjoy the feedback process and happy practicing!
 Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, M. R. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627–668.
 Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attaining self-regulation: A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts & P. R. Pintrich, (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 13–39). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.