One of my students started crying the other day. And no, it wasn’t because he was misbehaving and needed to be told to stop.
It was because he was disappointed that he couldn’t finish his work the way he had envisioned.
He had wanted it to be perfect.
In that moment I remembered a teacher that I trained with, who when we created a ‘blind’ art contour in class (if you’re not sure what it is, look here) said that she wouldn’t cope doing this activity with 7-year-olds, because it wouldn’t look ‘good enough’ to display on the wall.
Safe to say, every other adult sitting in the messy, covered in dry paint art studio were quite shocked, and a bit uncomfortable.
Her response was that she is a perfectionist. And that she wanted her students to make perfect work as well.
Which brings me back to the student we’ll call Joel.
Just because he was crying, I didn’t change my mind about making him stop his work. Instead, I asked him to come over to talk to me. And I did what I’m certain countless people had to do for me.
“There is no such thing as perfect.”
There is no such thing as perfect.
I have all the trademark qualities of being a perfectionist. But because of the consistent effort of adults around me, I have the ability (most of the time) to let go of something being perfect.
How does this relate to music education?
In every way.
How many adult professional musicians do you know who have had to battle performance anxiety?
How many performances have you yourself said no to because you believed that you weren’t ready?
How much music has not been shared by countless people around the world because they were worried it wasn’t ready yet?
So I have a very small piece of advice today.
First of all, for yourself, let go of the idea of a perfect performance. It crippled me for years, because I truly believed that I could get through an entire 25 minute program without the smallest mistake, and it wasn’t true.
Perfect doesn’t exist. You could always have managed the dynamics better, left a longer pause on that fermata, the list goes on forever.
Secondly, stop looking for perfect from your students.
If they are already looking to become virtuosic on their instrument, chances are they already have clear perfectionist tendencies.
Instead of perfect, look for joy. Look for their strengths, and their weaknesses, and guide them in how to improve in all of them.
And teach them this: music isn’t perfect.
Music is more than one good performance, because there’s always more than one way to give that performance.
Music is more than one tradition of how it should be played, because there’s always more ways to interpret it.
Music is more than hitting every note at exactly the right time. It’s about enjoying the sound that is being created.
If you remember nothing else, remember this.
Music isn’t perfect.
So stop looking for it.
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This post was originally published October, 2021.