Practice makes perfect...Really? (revised version)
“Practice makes perfect.” Is this true? Can it really be true? Let’s start with the word “perfect." Over my 45 years of piano, I can only conclude that this word is at best, an illusion created by our own minds. “Perfection” is limited to represent only what one defines as “perfect." The problem is that in order to achieve this “perfection,” standards have to be so low that anyone can ace them. So, can this mentality that “everyone should be able to succeed” be associated with practicing piano, music, and the arts in general? The answer is a resounding no. Practicing develops skills, one’s ability to master his or her craft, but perfection? It is and will always remain, stubbornly, only a concept.
So specifically why is it that we can never reach this ideal? Simply put, every time “perfection” comes along, it brings two friends: expectations and demands. Said differently, I realized that once I could excel in a specific aspect of my instrument, it opened a door to what I could do better next. Then, this new door opened another, which opened another, and at some point, it became clear that this journey of discovery would continue forever as our demands and expectations can only aim higher and higher. This learning process is precisely why perfection can’t exist. Philosophically speaking, this is the same passage one experiences in every aspect of life! One could never claim a “perfect” education, relationship or family.
Let me share one of my first “ah-ha” moments. When I was a student at the Paris Conservatory, I attended the concert of a very famous pianist and one of my idols. Part of the program was the 12 Chopin Etudes Op.10, which was among the repertoire I was working on at the time so I was expecting “perfection” technically and musically. I was ready to learn from the best. I did learn, however, the lesson was quite different than what I had imagined! The concert began, and despite many technical mistakes, I was instantly pulled in by the depth of the music. I felt as if Chopin himself was speaking to me. The pianist spoke the true language of music, and forever changed my perspective. I realized that the pursuit of “perfection” extends so much further than technical mastery. My idol understood a level of “perfection” that I had not yet discovered. That concert opened a new door for me: I was made aware of how much can be found “behind the notes.” And once we cross the threshold of a new door, we can never go back to our old perceptions as we will forever see the world through new glasses.
Each door opens another world of wonders that could not have been unlocked unless the previous has been mastered. Knowing that we are constantly on the brink of infinite discovery is an incredibly exciting realization that keeps me on the highest of highs all the time.
And this brings me to my next point. Once one discovers the endless amount of doors that lies ahead, it becomes apparent that another quality is necessary to continue: Modesty. When we realize that the road ahead will never end, we undoubtedly ask ourselves: How many doors have I gone through so far? Although we might not ever have a definite answer this question, the ability to ask for the help and perceptions of others is essential to continue on this journey.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to speak with Martha Argerich after one of her concerts. She began by thanking me for coming to the concert, and by asking if I was a pianist. The conversation continued, “How did you like the concert? The Prokofiev is actually quite difficult…” I replied, “It was magnificent, and that doesn’t surprise me about the Prokofiev.” She looked at me with worried eyes, “You mean you could hear that it was difficult? That means I have to work harder…”
Martha Argerich genuinely demonstrated how modest she is in her willingness to listen to outside perspectives and comments. It is safe to say that if we stop being open to those around us, we may simply stop improving. From the highest level musicians to the audience members who might have just attended their first concert, everyone may have something to teach us, and it is our choice to have the humility to listen.
Albert Einstein left us with this wisdom: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” So instead of focusing on “perfection,” let’s focus on expectations, demands and improvements. Let’s keep a humble approach, take our time, and remain open to this beautiful, endless, door-filled journey — ready to say “yes” to each wonder and challenge, treating each of these moments as an opportunity to learn.
On my end, I created a YouTube channel where I love to share and educate people who enjoy music and piano. I explain the texts, history and give musical explanations of all 32 of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, one movement at a time. My hope is to give the listener an idea of what it truly means to expand one’s interpretation, which eventually might lead to that “Ah-ha moment” when one first experiences what is “behind the notes.”
Am I doing this job “perfectly?” Probably not!