Cello Thought For The Day: The Best Practice

“Practice makes perfect.” (It doesn’t.)

“Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.” (It doesn’t.)

“Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”

But…if you aren’t allowed to do imperfect practice, how will you know what perfect practice is?

I spend a lot of time with young musicians, and one of their top anxieties is a fear of “doing it wrong.” They’ve been told to do “perfect practice” all their lives. What “perfection” looks like depends on the teacher, but it usually involves hours and hours of improving scales and etudes.

I know this because I was highly anxious as a young music student, never thinking I was good enough or hardworking enough.

The fear of imperfection can hobble your creativity. If you live your life afraid of “doing it wrong,” this creates the perfect conditions for…you guessed it…procrastination.

Procrastination and perfectionism are two sides of the same thing. Both of them are toxic characters. Can we all agree to release them into the woods where they belong and let them slug it out until they both get tired and give up?

Sometimes, when times are hard and anxieties are high, you aren’t going to do perfect practice. You aren’t going to accomplish everything you’d like to. You aren’t going to learn all the notes you were supposed to learn or make as much progress as you think you could/should/would.

Why don’t we change the saying to “Practice mostly makes better“? Then we might do something. And something, after all, is better than nothing.

Barring illness or injury to ourselves or our cellos, all of us can do some practice. Even if it’s just getting your backside in the chair.

Once you’re in the chair, how about trying some imperfect things that maybe don’t work? Sometimes mistakes turn out to be the wellspring of creativity. Try a practice snowball. Try the surprisingly effective practice strategy of aiming low and dreaming small.

Happy practice, everyone.

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