A student recently asked me whether his music is really beautiful and I had to think long and hard about what to say. If you’ve ever had doubts about your own music or you want some ideas for how to judge your own work fairly, these thoughts are for you too.
First off, let me reassure you that what you’re asking is something that pretty much every artist in any discipline goes through. You’re going through a little bit of insecurity: “Is my work any good?” “Will it be appreciated?” “Would anyone pay for this?” And you’re also finding that it’s really hard to judge your own work.
These are perfectly normal experiences for artists of any artform and discipline.
Now this might not be what you’d like to hear but I honestly believe that when you’re just starting out, it actually doesn’t matter that much whether a particular composition or song is beautiful. What matters is that you answer these questions honestly:
- Is this the best I can do at this moment?
- Is this sincerely my absolute best?
- Is this really the most I can give to this art right now?
This is what matters most of the time. Because only by giving it your all can you grow and do better next time. And this is exactly what you need when you’re just starting out – a positive loop of improvement where every new piece is just a little better than the previous.
Second point: Thinking in terms of ‘beautiful’ makes this whole process a lot more difficult. Beauty is very subjective, especially in music. So a better question would be “Do I achieve what I set out to do in my piece?” “Does it communicate or express what I want it to?” In other words,
“Is my music effective?”
This is a better question for the simple reason that it’s almost impossible to measure “beauty” but it is possible to measure “effectiveness”. How? By analyzing the different parts of your music and how they work together. For example, did you choose the right instruments for the right purpose? Are those the best chords for that specific moment? Should this section begin louder or softer or anywhere in between? Does this section end too abruptly? And so on and on, look deeply into the parts of your work. It’s a little bit like getting to know a new friend and all her nuances.
Now this skill takes time to cultivate so it’s a great idea to find a teacher you trust and can work with. This can be in real time or it can be online like we do here at the School of Composition. Whichever way you go, listen to your teacher’s honest feedback and ask honest questions in return.
So if I just had to give you one solution to this whole situation, it would be to reflect: “Is this the best I can do right now?” “What is the feedback I’m getting?” and “What will I do better next time?”
By reflecting like this, you’ll be aware of where you stand and you get to improve your craft bit by bit until you’ll slowly find that your own answer to “Is my music any good?” becomes a resounding yes, every time.