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Have you ever heard the expression, Practice Makes Perfect? That has got to be one of the worst clichés, ever. Practice will not make you or your playing perfect. You see great improvement when you practice, and hope to achieve a high level of competence and beauty when you have practiced a piece thoroughly. But perfection is transitory, and not even worth pursuing. 

Sometimes we say, “Nobody’s perfect,” but do we REALLY embrace that? Do you actually accept yourself as you are? Do you accept your friends’, family’s or spouse’s flaws? Or do you feel disappointed or angry when you or someone else doesn’t live up to your expectations or standards? Who is the judge of what is perfect or not? I don’t always share my pets’ view of perfection!

There are things about music that are perfect, such as the perfect 5th pictured above. Perfect 5ths are always 7 half steps apart. Like mathematics, music has rules and formulas that are precise and constant. I love that you can count on musical principles to be perfectly consistent. But that’s not what we love about music. We love the nuances; the way that music can express our deepest longing and our greatest joy. We love a beautiful melody, the full sound of chords, and complex rhythms. We love the way music makes us feel.

I have been thinking about the word perfect and way the word is used. A perfect stranger is a total stranger, but certainly not someone we see as ideal in any way. I was born with what is called perfect pitch, but it is not so perfect anymore! I am often off by a half step now. A perfect score means that you didn’t have any wrong answers, but it doesn’t mean you are perfect! I hope to never find myself the victim of a perfect storm, or perfect murder, but I’ve often experienced what feels like a perfect day. So the word perfect can mean either flawless, or complete.

Where piano performance is concerned, I hope you will let go of the idea of playing perfectly. It’s just not going to happen, for any of us. I have yet to attend a concert anywhere when I haven’t heard at least one clam in the orchestra. Sometimes my students feel that they have ruined a piece if they make a mistake. Don’t do that to yourself. Accept your mistakes, and enjoy all that is good about your music, too.

Of course it is important to work on the difficult sections, but sometimes just play it through and listen for what is right, instead of what is wrong. Maybe if we use the other definition of perfect as complete or total, we might not find the goal to be so elusive. Practice Makes Complete doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as well, but complete feels friendlier than flawless. You can complete a piece without playing it perfectly.

What are your thoughts?

With love and music, Gaili

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