Mythbusting Perfectionism, Part 1 of 2

January 25, 2018

Does your child get embarrassed easily or have a tough time with any kind of criticism? Does s/he have low confidence, a hard time in social situations, or a tendency to “put off today what can be done tomorrow?” If so, it’s possible that you may have a young perfectionist in your midst!

 

Why do I bring up perfectionism? Well, if you’ve ever heard the phrase “Practice makes perfect,” you probably innately understand how many young musicians might feel an immense amount of pressure to play every piece with absolute precision. The problems with perfectionism as an instrumentalist are many fold, and in this two part blog, we’ll discuss what these problems are and how to fix them.

 

 

 

First, music is a highly subjective art form. As players, we spend our time interpreting the notes on the page, intuiting the composer’s intentions from what is written. Some things, like note names and values (this is a quarter note, it counts for one beat) are not debatable. However, tempo markings (how quickly or slowly a piece is played), dynamics (playing louder or softer), phrasing, and other aspects of musical interpretation are left largely to the player.

 

In this way, there really is no such thing as a “perfect” rendition of a piece of music. However,  many young Suzuki students and traditional classical players alike, focus so much on the technique used in the piece, that playing risks becoming mechanical. For those focused on auditions and the opportunities that come from them, a hyper awareness of mistakes can develop, and young players can consider each error to be more significant than it is in reality. It’s just math though. The longer and more complex a piece of music is, the more common flubs will be. We are humans after all, not machines.

 

 

This fear of making a single mistake while playing can lead to paralyzing stage fright which actually makes one’s playing worse, because it increases tension in the body, makes the breathing shallow, and decreases one’s ability to recover effectively from the inevitable flub. For those with this kind of anxiety, a trick that has worked for me might help.

 

Before any practice, and especially before any performance, I tell myself some version of the following: “I will make a lot of mistakes tonight. I will breathe through these and push forward. This performance will be as it will be, and no amount of worrying will change it for the better. The less I worry, the better I play. I am better at this when I relax.” This performance anxiety mantra has been the single biggest thing that has helped me improve my playing and performing ability.

 

How about you? Do you have any creative tips to help you get out of your head and back into the fun of what you’re doing? We’d love to hear your ideas!

 

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