Extra Music Practice Hours Don’t Equate to Perfection
How does the phrase “Practice makes perfect,” make you feel? Does it make you wince? It does me. Music practice doesn’t make perfect. How about the modified, “Practice makes better?”
Personally, I can live under the second phrase. Practice makes better. The first phrase is painful. It implies that if I follow all the rules, that is- if I practice enough- I will play perfectly. But it isn’t true. It will make it better, but I am not a machine. I am not a robot.
Practice doesn’t make perfect, and it doesn’t even matter how effective our music practice is.
Because on any given day:
- We can be tired. (It’s tough to play well when you are tired.)
- We can be hungry. (Our blood sugar has dropped, and so has our focus.)
- Depending on the weather, our fingers can be cold, sweaty, or stiff.
- We can feel nervous, and not perform well due to anxiety.
- We may be fighting a cold, and our ears are stuffy, or our singing voices are not clear.
We are human after all.
This whole concept that musicians are resilient to playing poorly as long as they have proper preparation is a fallacy. We must forgive ourselves for being human, for messing up, for making mistakes.
Giving Grace to ourselves in our Music Practice
When we give grace to ourselves in our own music practice, we are also able to truly love and support our students. We show them that it’s okay to mess up. Our own mess-ups become a message that we are all in a process of learning. We don’t expect our own perfection, and we also don’t expect it from them.
We do encourage excellent technique and practice habits. We do mentor these good things, but we allow for the imperfect. We will make mistakes often. We need to care for one another and that starts with accepting our own weakness. It also requires patience of ourselves, of our students.
Sadly, I have had so many students get really upset in their lessons because they can’t play something. They had practiced, they thought they were ready to play it well for me. It is in those difficult moments that I have to be all the more vigilant in my care. I remind them that I make mistakes all the time and that it is okay.
I tell them I am not a robot. I let them know that if I had to be perfect, I would have found another job a long time ago. I tell them that I make mistakes all the time.
Letting my students (and their parents) know that we can make mistakes helps them breathe a little easier. We trust each other in the process of learning new skills. We understand that each new skill takes time. This freedom to be real, makes them want to come back. They are validated in their humanity. It’s okay, to take our time.
It is in our imperfections that beauty happens. Because we feel, we play and sing expressively. That is the magic of it all. We may perform well, or not. But, we are always free to try again in our music practice.
Let’s make music practice consistent and fun. Let’s give plenty of smiles, and praise for the good things we catch. Let’s give stickers liberally. Let’s tell jokes and have fun contests. We must laugh at ourselves, and laugh together.
I am always trying to think of ways to make practice more fun, but it truly starts with loving even our sour notes. Because those sour notes are teaching us what the beautiful notes sound like. They show us what we can do differently when given the safe space to try again. Practice makes better.