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cism. It is informative and instructive to learning goals. Ide- ally feedback shows students how to monitor and evaluate their own performing, in effect making them less dependent on the teacher and more in control of their own learning. “The ultimate goal of feedback,” says Paul, “should be to teach learners how to give feedback to themselves.”

Of course these ideas also have much application to music education, especially to student musicians who have grown beyond the beginner stage. As teachers, we can be so fo- cused on helping students prepare the music they’re work- ing on that we neglect our responsibility to prepare them as musicians. We do this best by empowering them with the musical knowledge and skills they need to be self-suf- ficient learners who are able to make musical decisions for themselves. This is one of the reasons that simply telling students “Good!” accomplishes little. Broad feedback like this does not give learners much to take with them into the future. In these “Good!” moments, students can too easily think, “Ah, my teacher is pleased” without understanding what they did to produce the musically pleasing result.

I think we should aspire to offer more specific feedback that’s primarily directed at what our students have done, as opposed to who they are. Don’t get me wrong…we should make sure our students know that we respect them as people, and we believe them to be capable musicians. But whether using praise to inspire greater investment in music, or criticism to produce performance improvement, the main object of the feedback should be students’ music making. Telling students, “You guys are awesome,” or, “You’re fantastic musicians,” may be well intentioned and seem important in building self-esteem and a musical identity. But the positive feeling students get from simple praise like this can be fleeting. Consider, however, specific feedback directed at students’ performance, such as, “You used ex- cellent breath support on that phrase,” or, “When you focus on rhythm there, your solo comes to life.” This feedback is informative and gives learners something they can take with them into the future. It can reinforce the physical skills and cognitive strategies that allow them to perform at their best. It’s true that young people rely heavily on the apprais- als of others in self-concept building, but they do so based on beliefs about what things they can do well. If you just tell a student she’s a great musician, she may dismiss it as nice teacher flattery; even if she really receives the compli- ment, the emotional impact may soon fade. But if you tell her, for example, that her piano playing has improved since she started using more dynamic contrast, then you’ve given her knowledge that can be very useful going forward.

Giving feedback is something most music teachers do naturally, but a reminder now and then can be helpful. Perhaps we should strive to be more mindful and adaptable.


It seems the right amount of positive and negative feedback depends on where our students are in their individual musi- cal development.

References Duke, R. A., & Henninger, J. C. (2002). Effects of verbal corrections on student attitude and performance. Jour- nal of Research in Music Education, 46, 482-495.

Lehmann, A. C., Sloboda, J. A., & Woody, R. H. (2007). Psychology for musicians: Understanding and ac- quiring the skills. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Whitaker, J. A. (2011). High school band students’ and di- rectors’ perceptions of verbal and nonverbal teaching behaviors. Journal of Research in Music Education, 59, 290-309.

Dr. Robert H. Woody is professor of music education at the Glenn Korff School of Music at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln (UNL). Dr. Woody regularly posts articles to his website

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