I just realized something.

We often hear three things:

“Practice makes perfect.” (Aspirational but ineffective because doing something over and over again won’t create improvement.)

No no no, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” (Unforgiving. Unless you’re perfect, you’re making things worse if you so much as touch your instrument.)

Actually, “Practice makes permanent.” (Fear-based. You are digging your own grave and will never be any good unless you do things perfectly, which no one can ever do. Once again, approach your instrument with trembling and trepidation.)

when what we should actually be saying is:

“Practice makes consistent.” (You will consistently sound like how you sound when you practice, minus about 20-25% for nerves. Decide for yourself where in the carpet you want to wear a bare patch.)

That’s about it. Really, that’s all it is. We need to just get the word “perfect” out of the equation. How good you want to sound is your call — are you playing for an audition panel? Then, you’ll need to aim for perfect. Are you playing for a less picky audience? Then calm the hell down and maybe be less picky yourself. Are you a nitpicking pain in the ass for your own reasons? Then either go ahead and hold yourself to unforgiving standards, or else cut yourself a damned break depending on what you think would suit you best.

Practice makes consistent, be that consistently perfect, consistently good, or consistently okay enough to get by but I’ve got crap on my mind right now and that’ll have to do.

Which of those you pick is your judgment call, and you don’t have to defend it to anyone.

Again, you get to decide where in the carpet you want to wear a bare patch, and that decision is valid. If anyone tries to use fear or guilt to get you to choose the patch of carpet they want you to choose, ignore them. And that goes for the nasty, judgmental voice in your head. (I know it’s there. It’s always there.) If it is trying to nag or guilt you into picking the least forgiving part of the carpet, tell it to take a hike.

Easier said than done, I know. Believe me, I know. I am writing this as someone who falls into the trap of self- and hand-hatred far too easily, and I’m just an amateur.

You get to choose where your bare patch will be on that carpet. Sure, you are probably capable of more than you think, but please don’t use guilt or nagging to get there. If you have to use nagging or guilt to get there, there’s a good chance it’s actually not a very worthwhile place for you to be. Maybe it’s someone else’s worthwhile place and not yours. Places you need to punish or hate yourself into going to are often not worth going to for you. Maybe for someone else sure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go there.

And you don’t have to aim for the same place that professionals aim for or else you’re a worthless slacker. If you are a g/d amateur doing it for fun, or you are not playing at Carnegie Hall, you do not have to sound like Rachel Barton Pine, Yuja Wang, or Isabelle Moretti. Calm the hell down. Pine appears not to need self-hate and nagging to get to the Paganini place in the carpet. If you do, there is probably a much nicer place on that carpet that you’ll enjoy a lot more. It’s a carpet, not a ladder damn it, with ranked rungs.

I mean, we do realize that

musicallandscape

is not the only beautiful place on that landscape worth going to, right? (If you think it is, then … oh my god you poor thing, you really need a lie-down and some decaf.)

We do realize that the people who’d rather hang out among the trees or drive along the road or dig around in the rocks are not losers, right?

Just have fun. You and you alone get to decide what’s fun. And anyone else — stranger, judge, or nasty little internal voice — who tries to harsh your buzz with nagging, guilt, or snobbery is not welcome in the room or in your head.

I think I needed to hear that more than anyone else did. Why else would I have written it?

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“Fast and loud” = lack of confidence

I remember a Simpsons episode where the town was due to be flattened by a comet, leading many people to attempt to abandon it. Problem was, the bridge was out.

This didn’t stop people from trying to leave via the bridge. They just gunned the engine and tried to “jump” the gap, falling to their deaths in a display of what the newscaster character Kent Brockman called “the never-give-up never-think-things-through spirit that made this country great.”

Gravity won’t let you jump a horizontal gap. Gunning it won’t change that.

And that’s sort of what you’re doing when you hit the accelerator and try to power your way through a tricky part of the music, just hoping that your forward momentum will carry you over the potholes with as small a bump as possible. And just as with real potholes, it never works. In fact, the faster you try to go, the more of a spine-compressing jolt will be delivered and the more impressive the resulting crack-up will be.

You cannot paper over your problems with speed and volume. This is a symptom of lack of confidence (and in my case, desperation through not knowing what the hell one should do to deal with these problems).

I’ve just been thinking more and more of how instinctive it was as a kid to just go fast and loud in order to camouflage errors, how my own dynamic range tends to run from mf to fff, and how much better I’ve gotten on certain problem spots in the Etude version of “Mormorio” since practicing slowly and as quietly as possible.

  1. Slow.
  2. Quiet.
  3. Flexible rhythms.
  4. Stress the off-beats.