How letting go of perfect can free classical musicians from fear
One of the beautiful things about being a musician is that we never stop growing.
As artists we continue to mature, our interpretations develop as we go deeper in our understanding of a composer or a piece. Our playing itself continues to become more refined and consistent. We find the things we used to struggle with have become strengths while we simultaneously discover new areas to delve into.
We are ever evolving as our instrument becomes a natural extension of our imagination. It is a gorgeous reality - that the player you are at 25 will be different than the player you are at 60.
Accept That You Are A Work In Process
It is easy for us to see this in our students. The in process-ness of learning music. The building blocks are obvious - learning notes, rhythms, how to produce sound, how music is put together, interpretation - and we lead our students patiently and diligently step by step through the process.
Our expectations of them are appropriate based on their age, their skill level and their commitment to the craft. We celebrate when a fifth grader plays their first solo just as much as we praise the grad student who was accepted into the festival of their dreams.
We don’t judge them for where they are in their development, we simply walk next to them, guiding them on the path forward.
And yet … as we ourselves walk our path as a musician in process there is often no such grace or understanding on our own behalf.
When it comes to us, perfection is the only acceptable achievement. And even when we play perfectly, it is only … just acceptable. There’s no joy, no celebration.
Perfection is the base line, where we need to be just to be in the game at all.
Many of us have had that teacher. The one who pushed and pushed, who shamed, whose voice we still hear in the practice room.
I certainly did.
I remember winning my first “big” competition in 8th grade in Chicago. I was so proud. One of my musical idols won an age group above mine and I couldn’t believe I’d get to perform in the same concert as him.
I was downtown Chicago and as a kid from deep in the suburbs, it was absolutely magical. Truly. The big buildings, all those musicians warming up together in a huge, windowed space, getting a chance to compete in the big leagues.
It was a whole new world for me.
And they chose me to win.
Fast forward to my next lesson. Horrible, shaming teacher, “I heard a tape of the competition. I would not have chosen you to win.”
Who says that to a twelve year old girl?
My dears, this is how we treat ourselves. Our precious, creative, intuitive selves. I would argue that that soil is not fertile for creating great music.
Creativity can not happen in its fullest form when the creator is shaming herself throughout the process.
We MUST give ourselves grace. Not to slack off, not to do less than excellent work, not to go in unprepared.
We must give ourselves grace because that is where our art will grow and flourish.
Being an artist is a hugely vulnerable way to exist in this world. We are the translators of heart languages. We must go deep within ourselves so we can communicate that truth of being a human to our audiences.
That kind of deep vulnerability cannot happen when we berate ourselves every step of the way.
What we need to do every day, is accept that we are in process. That it is not only OK to be in process, it is the very nature of being a fruitful, vibrant, interesting human and musician.
We need to release the notion that perfection is achievable. Who would want it to be, anyway?
A world of perfect.
An orchestra of perfect.
That is not the human condition and it certainly is not what our hearts are longing to communicate through our music.
Give yourself grace and love. Your music will be the better for it.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
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First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!
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Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.