We've all heard the saying "practice makes perfect."
I can't stand it.
We are as familiar with the concept that perfect doesn't exist as we are with that age old saying.
No matter how good we get - there is always something that can be better, always something left to tweak, adjust, improve..
So if we're not striving for perfection, what are we doing when we practice? What are we aiming for?
We are exploring the expression of imperfection.
Every time we practice, we are striving for a different type of imperfection - one that serves us better than the previous version.
As we develop our musical abilities we make large and small changes to the habits we have created. Sometimes we are trying to adjust the direction our air travels by the slightest amount, sometimes we are taking on a more monumental task like changing our embouchure.
Over the course of our long musical journey we may change those things again at a later time, and then again after that. They're never perfect. Rather, they serve us better each time we make an adjustment.
I once took a week long class with Thomas Robertello, who is an extremely logical and systematic teacher, and this topic came up. His comment shaped my view about this idea of perfection and mistakes in a very impactful way. Someone who was performing in the class bemoaned how poorly they did something and how it held them back. Robertello's response was that at one time that method, that way of doing things, was their best. Just because it wasn't anymore didn't make it or them bad.
At some point as we grow, our imperfections shift and change. We leave behind what used to be difficult or impossible for a new difficult or impossible. We don't need to berate or judge ourselves for the old way of doing things - we were simply working with the resources we had. Instead, we can focus on exploring our new knowledge and skills.
Taking this mindset in practice is mentally freeing. It allows us to release judgement of previous mistakes and "imperfections" so we can focus on attainable goals that lead us to better expression of our true abilities.
Many of us have or have had the mindset that we are practicing to make something perfect, when in reality we are practicing to make ourselves able to consistently display our current best.
Instead of zeroing in on perfection in practice, we should be exploring what is not serving our playing and focus on developing those habits to better express our true ability.
We will never be perfect. No one will be. But we can develop our skills and continually work to display a truer picture of them.
Trying new things in practice, a willingness to explore our focus and method, and digging in to why a certain "mistake" or "bad habit" resurfaces is where we improve.
Mistakes and difficulties are where we grow and a curiosity of them is the catalyst for that growth.
Our overarching goal in music making is not the absence of mistakes, but playing intentionally and thoughtfully so that we can share our music. Mistakes will happen because we are human and not perfect, but by exploring imperfection we can release our focus on mistakes while developing and expressing our abilities.
What you accomplish in practice depends completely on your mindset and objectives. The next time you practice, instead of focusing on the need to make a passage perfect, focus on what's not serving you and how it can be embraced as a tool for improvement.