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I recently joined a music band that's composed of four colleagues with who I don't work (different projects & teams), but I know them well since we have lunch and banter next to the watercooler together. However, the four of them do work together.

I'm the singer, I'm new to this role (I normally play the guitar and it's the first time I'm in a band). My coworkers have a pretty good level at playing their respective instruments.

Sometimes I make mistakes while singing. For instance, I'd fail to reach a high note, or start a bit too late. I know I perform way better after we already rehearsed a couple of songs, as my voice is warmed up and I'm calmed down. But some days I perform worse than the previous week. Normal stuff, heh?

The thing is, I'm extremely self-critical and sometimes I'd be scared about completely sucking at what I'm doing whereas it's just me freaking out. This band thing is very new to me, so I'd like to have some feedback to know how I can improve. But in the band, the only times when people point out what went wrong, it's only regarding their own practice:

Man, I screwed everything up...

But if I say:

[Laughing] That was very high-pitched. That didn't sound well, or was it okay?

They will literally say nothing. They'd look at me while saying, and then we'd move on to something else.

I don't know why we don't talk about each other's performance, both on the bright and less bright sides. Maybe they don't want to judge the others, in which case I'm totally fine with us not giving feedback to the others. But if it's because they don't dare to critique my performance, I'd like them to let me know, so that I can improve.

How can I invite my coworkers to give me feedback regarding my singing?

PS:

  • I tried asking for direct feedback. "What did you think of that performance, was it okay for you? I feel some parts weren't that great". The thing is, even direct questions don't trigger feedback.

  • It's not only about my own performance. As a guitarist, I sometimes feel I could give some advice to my coworkers on playing the guitar, but I refrain myself because I'm scared they'd think I'm criticizing them.

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If the group dynamic precludes public criticism, but you want feedback in order to improve yourself, seek out one of the band members privately and tell them that you'd love feedback because you want to develop your skills.

Beware of a few things:

  1. The band mate might not have feedback for you. I am a professional music teacher, and learning how to listen critically to others in order to give helpful feedback is a skill that you continually develop. When you concentrate hard on your own playing, you have little cognitive room left to do detailed listening to the players around you. (This is because you are literally using the same brain circuitry to do both tasks.)

    In this case, don't pressure them, but reiterate to them that you are looking for feedback, so if they notice anything in the future, they should let you know.

  2. The band mate might not be comfortable providing feedback. Move on and speak to other band members.

Also, as some general advice from a longtime music teacher and performer: don't worry too much about a cracked note, or other similarly highly noticeable (but very limited) flubs. My students will pummel themselves over these sorts of mistakes, but they have very little sense of how they're really being perceived.

Professionals make errors all the time, and they basically go by unnoticed. That's because what people listen for in music is much more general: do you have a good sense of tuning? Do you have a good sense of phrase? Is your singing in the appropriate spirit for the song itself? That stuff is ultimately much more important than single mistakes.

No one cares about the cracked note, but they do care about a good show, and that's where you should put your mental energies as well. Forget the bad note. Make sure your performance really sells the song.

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I don't know anything about music. However, I do know some things about writing. And, what's important here is that I know how to ask feedback about what I'm writing.

When I send my work to someone, if I just say:

Please, tell me, in all honesty, what you thought of it.

I don't have good feedback. People usually don't know what kind of feedback would be useful to you. They don't what you are looking for and, even worst, they want to be nice.

What they don't understand is that nice feedback aren't useful to me. But they don't know what other kinds of feedback they could give me, so that's what I end up with.

So, when I noticed the problem, I did some research in order to know what tricks used other writers to have good feedback.


I ended up with a few things. I tested them and it (more or less) worked for me.

1. Be very specific in what you ask.

In my case, I ask things like:

Hey, I'm afraid there is some homophobic, racist stuff in what I have written. Could you tell me if it's the case?

Or

I'm afraid this character is a bit "flat", stereotypical. What did you think of it?

In your case (singing), I don't know what you could ask about. But I believe the advice still applies.

Note: Giving good feedback is complicate and demanding, so I avoid asking one person too many questions. Instead, I select a few people and ask them different questions each. But, for some more opinion-based/important questions, I sometimes ask several people the same question in order to have multiple points of view.


2. Warn them beforehand that you are going to ask them those questions.

I found that, when I ask them the question after they have finish reading, they are often unsure and/or don't really remember.

However, if I tell them:

Here is the question(s) I'm going to ask you after you read that.

I have much better results.

When I do that, I keep in mind that humans aren't good at focusing on multiple tasks at once. For example, when I'm focusing on my conjugation, I'm far less likely to notice a misplaced comma or a sentence too long.

So, you can try to ask for multiple things to the person you want feedback from. However, the feedback probably won't have as much quality as it would have if you had only asked for one feedback.

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I'm taking a point from Ælis and running with it.

... humans aren't good at focusing on multiple tasks at once.

While your band is practicing, everybody is focusing on their own performance. Nobody is paying much attention to the mistakes other people make. Maybe they're doing that as part of a culture of no public criticism. But it's also entirely possible that they really don't notice.

When I was a freshman in high school, I spent a lot of time on the family computer in the basement. My slightly older brother got into a band, and they spent a lot of time practicing in our basement. Like pretty much any high school band, they made lots of mistakes, but nobody noticed each other's mistakes while they were playing.

This was a group of people who were very critical of others, and were especially prone to criticizing each other (usually this was playfully). They had no reservations about complaining of each other's faults, they just honestly did not notice. In order for anyone to notice another person's mistakes, they needed to record the session and listen to it.

Even on playback, they still had their areas of focus - the drummer only noticed timing issues. Another of them only noticed wrong notes that weren't exactly one octave off.

My advice would be to make recordings of your sessions, at least for the purpose of letting the other band members review your work while they're not focused on their own. You may also want to ask if you can share the performance with others, to get the opinions of people outside the group who won't be focused on listening to their own performance for flaws they didn't catch when they were actively performing.

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