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Lessons from the word NO


I’ve heard this word more times than I’m happy to recall. It’s plagued my composition lessons, composition competitions, auditions, masterclasses – this word is everywhere in music.

But does it have to mean the end of your musical career? Should you give up after hearing it X many times? Does NO need to be the end-all of your creativity?

Yes, yes and YES.

Haha jk,

No, no and NO!

Let’s dive into this gut-wrenching and empowering word to discover when you can grow from it or when it’s time to kick its sh**y implications to the curb.

“What part of no do you not understand?”

First of all, I’d like to define what it is I mean by the word NO. No can come in many forms: an insult with no actual feed back, a declaration for you to stop your work with no solutions or considerations to help you move it forward, or someone just telling you how unsuccessful you are at what you’re aiming to accomplish without offering any insight whatsoever to improve your vision. No can also positive. It can act as a beneficial stopping place in your studies, a signal to consider all that has come before you and/or a chance to pivot in the direction that will be the most beneficial to the success of your craft or work.

Enjoy those run on-sentences? Me either. Long story short, the word NO is loaded. It shows up with a lot of baggage and leaves a lot for us to unpack.

Who said it?

Which brings us to the first major consideration: who is saying this word to you and under what context?

If it’s your neighbor or someone who is committed to misunderstanding your career and livelihood – ignore them completely. Ain’t nobody got time for that negativity in their life.

But if it’s a world renowned professor of music composition critiquing your work – it *might be time to listen and give weight to what they have to say.

(I like to speak in metaphors and scenarios for music composition – but this phenomenon is absolutely universal to the arts and is encountered by creators, theorists and scholars alike.)

Back to the rant –  did you catch that I threw the word *might in that sentence? Any thoughts on why?

Here’s one: a world renowned composer *might be there to help you advance your craft or they *might be there to rip you to shreds as a boost to their ego and personal agenda.

Yeah I said it.

There are musicians and forces out there that have absolutely zero interest in helping you become better at your craft. And it’s up to you to decipher the good criticism from the bad.

Music is challenging because there are many wonderful teachers that give gut-wrenching but completely worthy and necessary feedback and many wonderful-on-the-surface-but-rotten-underneath teachers that are ready to rip you a new one with no interest in seeing you grow.

You have to be vigilant with every opinion you encounter because the good and bad is all around.

I’ve had artists give me amazing feedback and inspire me to work harder – in the form of no. I’ve had artists give me horrible feedback as a boost for their own ego – in the form of no. Same thing with friends and colleagues. Same thing with professors and respected educators.

You never know who is stomping on you for the spotlight or tearing you down so that you can grow into a better version of yourself.

They said what?

Which brings us to the next point for consideration – what is being said?

If the motive behind the comment is malice: kick it to the curb. I.e “your music sucks, I just can’t relate to it.” …. well then… next. There is nothing to grow from here. Drop the comment and continue on.

But if the motive behind the comment is to convey some hard truths you actually need to hear – then it’s time to swallow your pride and allow space to grow. I.e “this passage is unsuccessful at sharing your vision. Here are some things to consider to bring your vision to life.”

Common Sceneri-No’s

Deciphering between comments of malice and comments intended for growth can make all the difference for learning how to gauge feedback. The following examples are here illustrate the difference between comments designed to hurt and comments designed to help.

Consider feedback that says “no” to the style or execution of your work.

  • A malice comment sounds like this: “I just don’t understand your work. Therefore, it’s not very good.”
  • A growth comment sounds like this: “Help me understand the idea you were going for. If it wasn’t readily known to me – then it might miss the mark with other listeners. Let’s see if we can help you discover some more effective solutions to share your vision.”

Consider feedback that critiques what you are currently doing in your work:

  • A malice comment sounds like this: “No. Don’t do that. It’s cliche and it’s been done before.” (With no further explanation and/or possibly some more insults.)
  • A growth comment sounds like this: “What was your intention for this moment? Is there a more creative way to express this area of your work?”

Consider feedback that addresses room for growth:

  • A malice comment sounds like this: “You’re just really not cut out for this.”
  • A growth comment sounds like this: “You could benefit from incorporating elements of further study in your work.”


Sometimes no can be a real bitch. It can be a wound that was meant to make room for growth – or a wound that was merely meant to decapitate you for the glory of someone else’s ego.

However, no can be a godsend if used appropriately. So stay diligent when you hear this criticism. It’s super important to listen to what is being said and consider for what purpose it is being said, and by whom.

And if you’re new to music and drowning in the feedback – it all gets easier to sort out with time.

Keep creating my friends, and never let the naysayers get you down.

One comment

  1. TinkerElle says:

    One of the sentence I keep in my mind is “No doesn’t always mean no. Sometimes, It means try again.” 🙂 It became so much easier to cope with rejections once I just detached myself from it, and accepted the fact that it’s part of our industry culture/ structure. It just means that whatever opportunity I was seeking for wasn’t a good match for my growth at the moment. I totally agree with the fact that there’s clear distinction in the value of a comment based on its intention. I think more music students should consider this when they choose the teacher! In my experience, that is the number one factor in finding a teacher who will help you to grow as an artist!! <3

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