There are several myths surrounding the idea of piano practice, a few of which I will try to debunk in a series of posts. It is important to notice that as per any myth, each contains a certain degree of truth.
You need to practice until perfect
Also presented as ‘you need to practice it until it is perfect’. The myth that says music exists only in its perfect form, suggesting that anything less than perfection is worthless, contains a certain degree of truthfulness, but the exact ratio depends on subjective opinions.
It also romanticizes the idea that playing an instrument must only ever be an act of purity, precision and transcendence. With this view, we are not allowed to be flawed, incomplete, contradictory or awkward. In other words, ‘normal’. It is hard for some to decide to start practicing piano, given the number of flaws and problems we see the very moment we think about it.
Remember, even the Renaissance masterpiece ‘David’ was initially just a huge, cumbersome piece of marble. Michelangelo used a hammer and chisel to carve him out. In other words, our best work comes out if we collect the poor tools that we have and get our hands dirty. We must start hitting the rock, roughly at first, but more and more accurately as our view gets more sophisticated.
In short, we must decide that it is worth doing our best, even if it’s not going to be perfect. If it turns out to be perfect in the end, even better! Perfection as a model to refine practice
The path to perfection is too long, it is overwhelming when we start thinking about it. Worse, the better we get, the longer it seems to become. Practicing piano until the music sounds perfect is not always an inspiring motivation, particularly if you are already giving it blood, sweat and tears and the results are still not quite right.
I wonder whether sometimes the search for perfection is motivated by the genuine need for a piece of art to beautifully and immutably exist in the world, demanding complete sacrifice and devotion to the cause from us. Or it is a caprice of our inner Narcissus, wanting to see his own personal beauty mirrored in our performances.
Regardless of what you think of that, perfection is something to strive for, to imagine and to regard as our model. Use it to refine your taste and to practice better: don’t judge yourself against it.
The goal of piano practice is not perfection
The goal of practice is not perfection then. Rather, we practice in order to make the result better, not necessarily perfect. In fact, there are always plenty of ways to make your music sound better. Ask those internationally recognised, world-class performers, who – at 15 – sounded perfect. They continue working at it day after day in order to play better than before!
- If you have played a wrong note, stop and take care of it.
- If the pedal is not clean, modify your use of it.
- Your tempo is not precise? Arm yourself with a metronome and don’t overlook rhythmical issues.
- You don’t know why it sounds wrong? Stop, look and listen until the situation becomes slightly clearer.
If at the end of one piano practice session,
your piece sounds better by even just one element,
that is a success.
Update 2 September 2019
Check this recent Guardian article for another take on practice in music. Blow to 10,000-hour rule as study finds practice doesn’t always make perfect
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