Friday, June 15, 2012

On Accepting Imperfection

Recently I received some good advice on practicing the piano. I've started thinking differently about how I work on things that I want to get better at, with the idea that I can accept progress, even if it's not perfection, and move on.

This goes somewhat against my nature, which is to be doggedly determined to get things "just so." That's probably been a good thing for me in some respects, but it can also be a burden. No matter how much I've worked, no matter how far I've come, my inner voice always tells me that it's not good enough.

Having had a close relative whose life was almost overtaken by her obsessive-compulsive disorders, I've been alerted to the fact that this tendency, left to its own devices, gets worse over time. The little voice that wants things to be better is only trying to help, but I want a balance that allows me to appreciate right here, right now.

So, I've taken a new mantra, which I repeat to myself throughout my day:
"Accept imperfection"

I accept imperfection when I can't get up into a forearm stand, even though I did it yesterday.
I accept imperfection when I've played the scale for 10 minutes and am still making mistakes at my target speed.
I accept imperfection when I just couldn't throw that tall young man from Phoenix without getting tense and flustered.
I accept imperfection when I can see dust bunnies under the bed but I don't have energy to get down on my knees.
I accept imperfection when my husband's piles of mail reach the toppling point in the living room and he prefers them to stay that way.
I accept imperfection when my son doesn't seem to want to follow my excellent advice.

This little phrase has been a surprising source of calmness for me. I find myself accepting things as they are in more ways than I expected. I'm more content with the piano solo I just played, instead of focusing on the few "bad" notes; I'm accepting of my life situation, with its list of "wants" and "to do's" that's forever growing faster than time or income will allow; I'm accepting of the people in my life, who are, after all, doing the best they can; and I'm accepting of myself, for not being able to complete a limitless set of tasks. I'm even accepting that I forgot to use this mantra for the last month, till I came back to finish this post.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Advice from Chick Corea on Practicing

Chick Corea, the 18-time Grammy winning keyboard legend, offers some advice to a fan who asked about managing practice time. I think this advice applies to all types of practice. Here it is:

To learn how to prepare properly or practice properly, to make advances in one's technique, or knowledge at the instrument, or music in general, is a really important thing. 
The main thing that I can see about practicing—and it's also true about playing—is that the very basis of practicing, and knowing "when" and "how" and all of that, stems from first having an intention to advance, an intention to improve. An intention to take a certain challenge, or a certain piece of music or a certain phrase, or any particular thing that you think of, and then you have an idea that you would like to improve it, and you also have an idea of how it probably would sound, when it sounded right. 
And this is another real important aspect—how you know when you've arrived, is that you have to trust your own judgment of what it should sound like. You can't just accept another's opinion about it. If a teacher is listening to you practice, and they say, "Oh yeah, that's right," when you play, you have to make sure you understand that that's someone else's opinion; it's not yours, unless you can also see that same thing. 
So it's all about one's own understanding of what his own goal, or target, or object of accomplishment, is. You have that in mind, and then you just go for that. You apply yourself calmly, and create the time, and you just keep doing it, until you've got it. 
That's the simple explanation of how to practice. I try to do that, and I get better at it, actually, as I get older. I learn more and more how to do that. And how to slow things down, sometimes, to the right speed, in order to understand every little part of it. You don't want to go too fast or too slow, but just at a tempo and pace that you can have success at, and really know that you're gaining on your goal.