What is the Inner Critic? The Inner Critic is a part of you that is over negative in its criticism. It’s judgmental and emotional and it can negatively affect your learning and performance. It is a very harsh way of trying to improve standards and can be lethal for nerves. It is also very easy to tense up physically as a protective mechanism which is the opposite of what you need.

If you have a strong Inner Critic, you can also project it on to the audience or examiner. “If I think I’m terrible then they must think I’m terrible.” What you really want is to be more positively critical in a way that is non-judgmental and non-emotional. You could call this the Objective Observer.   

So how does the Inner Critic work? You Inner Critic might say:  

 “Oh God, I’m such an idiot…I messed up….it’s an F♯ not a G…Get it right… You jerk!” It feels horrible and it doesn’t help you improve or get better. It also gives you no information about what you actually need to do because it is so concerned with beating you up.   

So how does the Objective Observer work? It might say:  

“Oops, that was a G instead of an F♯. Why did I do that? I need a better fingering - good, that’s better!” This is not only non-emotional and non-judgmental, it’s calm and will give you the information you need to improve.   

Here are a few suggestions of how to do this:  

  • The first step is to notice the Inner Critic when it pops up and be pleased that you’ve spotted it because shows you’re aware.   

  • The second step is to consciously change your language to the Objective Observer.   

  • Be prepared to do this repeatedly over a period of days, weeks or months. This is a new habit that needs building in and it needs practice – as much as learning the music does!  

Changing how you practice from the Inner Critic to the Objective Observer is incredibly important, not only for how you learn but also for how you feel about performing. It can lessen any nerves or tension you might have and can really your enjoyment of music generally.  

Charlotte Tomlinson is a performance coach who helps musicians perform at their peak. Find out more about her work.

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Last modified: Wednesday, 28 June 2023, 9:29 AM