The Extremely Short Dictionary of Musical Criticisms and How to Fix Them

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General Criticisms

Your piece is too short

Make it longer! … Yes, of course that’s not all. Most people like to fix this problem by simply adding more notes onto the score. You can’t just…add notes. In a piece of music, every note has a purpose and a placement that has relation to the rest of the piece. Adding irrelevant material is like upping the dosage of a medicine that’s not working…it can only get worse and prove hazardous. Maybe fatal. That’s right, your piece may overdose on pointless notes and die. What you need to re-evaluate is the absence of material that could prove purposeful. When somebody says a piece is “too short”, they’re most likely, believe it or not, not referring to the actual length of your piece, they’re referring to the abundance of material … the good reviewers, of course, say this. I would reassess what you have, and what MORE you can do with it.

Your piece is too long

This is actually a much easier problem to fix. Again, reassess what you have and what is not necessary. Most likely, the piece just drags on and you have some material that doesn’t need to be there. So just snip it out. You can ask the reviewer in question what he/she feels doesn’t need to be there if you cannot judge for yourself.

Your piece has no sense of direction

This means your piece has no purpose. It could be lacking in a number of things: it could have no identifiable theme, or no developmental aspects, or no counterpoint or variety. But, ultimately, your piece is wandering. You need give it a lot more structure and backbone. Helping to solve this problem for beginners is popping it in Sonata-Allegro form or something with a standard format. This, if understood, can really help you to grasp what to do with a piece of music, and ultimately give you a sense of direction mapped out for you. It’s a wonderful beginner’s tool.

More Musically Specific Criticisms

Your piece lacks structure

Beware, you can have form and no structure. It’s like having skin with organs and all that inside, but no spine…kind of icky and a little bit useless. You can have a theme and a 2nd theme, but it can either not fit the form in its entirety, or you fail to interpret “development”. Some people like to think that it means “writing more stuff in the middle”. You can’t do that! Every note has to have a purpose, and when you’re dealing with structure, it has to be in the right place. Not only does it have to flow ideally, but it has to make sense and make connections. Music abstractly, literally and mathematically has to do with relationships, and this is no different.

You do not finish your ideas

This one is self-explanatory. It is in related to the lack of sense of direction, but instead of wandering off with irrelevant material causing your musical vehicle of choice to miss the exit and get lost, it's your introduction of equally important thematic material overlapping each other. This more or less confuses the listener. Decide which one or which ones are important, or if you can fit it into a format of sorts. This is kind of the opposite of the skin minus backbone theory: it's like being a skeleton. Sort of fun when they sing and dance (pun totally intended), but I guess not literally for this situation?

You have no theme

You have no theme—no “main” melodic passage. Get one and do something with it.

Your harmonies are very thin

Ah, a criticism I love to give. Allow me to explain: first off, no, your harmonies are not physically fit or attractive, so don’t even go there, it’s not what I/we mean by “thin”. But we don’t want them to be anorexic. You either don’t have enough components of the chord you are going for, or you’re orchestrating your chords improperly causing them to sound like that. First, identify the chord. Then what I recommend you do to cure your anorexic harmonies are make them tighter (closer together). This proves to be a quick fix that with listening you can work out the bugs; it helps specifically to make the “alto” and “tenor” lines closer together in choral writing. I put those in quotation marks so they can be substituted with 2nd violin/viola, etc. I can help you out individually with this if it becomes confusing.

Your piece sounds jerky/jumps around

You’re most likely not utilizing voice-leading, and the chords you have written simply just jump with no lead-in to each other. The point of voice-leading is to change the chord with as little notational movement as possible; the bass notes are sometimes, but definitely not always, slightly exempt from this in earlier writing, or if you need to “fill in” in the harmonic gaps. Complete your chords with as little movement as possible. A great and ingenious example of voice-leading is in Verdi’s Ave Maria for a capella chorus. Check that out, it’d be easy to get a hold of. Notice how he builds the entire piece off of this scale, and the voices hardly jump around much to mold to the chord structure of this “scala enigmatica”. Once again, an entire book could be written on the subject of voice-leading.

Your orchestration is bad

Hard to explain; the reviewer should elaborate on “bad”.The best thing to do if you get this comment, I suppose, is consult the reviewer or someone you give your musical respect to help you out; any real musician would be glad and privileged to help you out.

Non-critical remarks

This piece sucks

If someone says this to you, either A) it’s me or B) they’re jealous. It’d be best to ignore comments like this, unless it's somebody of merit, at which point spiralling into a hopeless depression is understandable. If it is out of jealousy, you can be a judge of your own talent. If it obviously isn’t, well … *pat on the back*.


Congratulations! Either you’ve stumbled upon a musically retarded listener (compared to the comment contrast), or … you’re just that good. Makes you feel warm inside, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, these comments don’t help you in any way, so are in the long run sort of pointless, unless the reviewer is kind enough to tell you what specifically you did WELL, which is really nice.

…why are you composing?

Just ignore these types…


Here concludes my very small little dictionary of some very common commentary. If I come across a criticism as general as thus, I will make it a point to add it on to here. Also, if you feel I should elaborate on something, I’d be glad to help you out. Thanks for reading, hopefully you learned something without falling asleep…hard to read people, though…they could be being sarcastic ;).

Happy Composing!