Many of us are caught in the trap of perfectionism, and yet attaining flawlessness is so anti-human. Music played perfectly would actually be boring and predictable – what makes performance interesting is the human element, and what makes it electrifying is the element of risk when the performer is pushing the boundaries of what is possible or imaginable (and might even teeter over the edge here and there). Here’s what Beethoven had so say about this!
To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.
No live performance can ever truly be note-perfect, and no single interpretation can ever be the one true realisation of the musical possibilities of particular piece. It’s precisely this difference between the ideal and the reality where the humanity of musical performance lies, and the wrong notes in Alfred Cortot’s recordings matter not one iota to the communication of the music’s beauty. I would even go as far as to say it what makes me love his recordings all the more – they show greatness and fallibility at the same time. The problem is that audiences raised on a steady diet of today’s recordings (often a collection of the best takes spliced together) only recognise the perfection possible in that scenario, and are unprepared for live performances.
Perfectionism has been defined in psychology as:
A personality disposition characterized by an individual striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations. (Stoeber and Childs, 2010).
Healthy v. Neurotic Perfectionism
Wrong Notes and Other Errors
Practising a Performance
In the confines of our own practice room (perhaps occasionally with a microphone as listener), or in front of our teacher we begin at the beginning and we play right through to the end, come what may. It is important not to do this too soon, only when we have gone through the first stages of thorough learning, and to remember that the first time (or first few times) we do this we might be very disappointed with our results. All our hours of careful and painstaking efforts appear to come to naught as passages we thought we had mastered crumble beneath our fingers. Do not get dispirited! Clock your mistakes and make a plan to return to them afterwards. Once you are clear on the weak spots, do some practice on those areas and then move on. The next time you decide to play through (and remember, a playthrough must be a conscious choice and not an accident) those spots may have sorted themselves out – or not. If not, go through the practice routine again. The combination of playthroughs in alternation with spot practice is a terrific process for performance preparation, in fact I know of none better.
Practice like it means everything in the world to you. Perform like you don’t give a damn.
A Soprano on Her Head: Right-side-up Reflections on Life and Other Performances (Eloise Ristad) (nothing to do with singing, everything to do with self empowerment)
The Inner Game of Music (Barry Green/Timothy Gallwey)
Cavaliers and Roundheads (my blog post on developing performance skills)
Practice v Performance (a previous post of mine on the subject)
If you want to learn more about the history of the piano and piano technique, Part 2 of my eBook Series, Practising the Piano is now available. Please see below for details of how to get your copy.
Practising the Piano Part 2