Hey Perfectly Imperfect Pupil of Pulchritude–
I was kiiiindofa perfectionistic piano lesson disastah when I was a wee boy child.
You see, I had this ear. 👂🎹
It could hear a little ditty, and I’d run over to the Baldwin upright in our living room and plunk it out.
So when my septuagenarian sage piano teacher Mrs. Mildred Roberston played the new song of the week from my John Thompson’s Teaching Little Fingers to Play, I’d hop into the blue vinyl backseat of my mama’s Ford Fairmont station wagon with “Beautiful Dreamer” fixed firmly in my musical mind.
I faked Mrs. R out for a good year and a half until the Clementi Sonatinas came into the picture.
As I struggled through the first movement of one of these gems, Mrs. Mildred looked over at me and said, “You can’t read music, can you?”
I mean, give me four minutes to count G-B-D-F-A up the bass clef, and I might be able to identify that round dot on the third line.
Give me a little more time, and I could tell you how many beats.
But the answer was nope. I was relying on my trusty ear, and the infuriating dots and lines just needed to cooperate with MAY!
It was a child ego-imposed system fraught with much frustration.
Enter my perfectionist period. (still happening ps)
It looked like this: Little Dan would begin to play a piece. 🎹🙂
Measure thirteen, little Dan would play a wrong note. ❌😖
Little Dan would begin the piece from the beginning 🎹😬and make the same mistake on measure thirteen. ❌😤
Little Dan would begin the piece from the beginning again. 🎹😠
Little Dan got very good at the beginnings of songs.
Mrs. Robertson would all but bang her forehead against her studio upright when I’d insist on my da capo addiction.
“Just pause there and work on the part you’re having trouble with,” she admonished.
That was much too existentially painful. No thanks. From the top, people.
So when BOTH of my sons insist that they return to the top of the staircase so that they can descend on their own power instead of Daddy carrying them down halfway or wrestle with the Sisyphean futility of reunifying a broken banana, I see that my penchant for the perfect is indeed genetic.
Where’s your I-have-to-start-at-the-beginning-of-Für-Elise-again moment happening?
Or do you do the other thing I do? Ignore the priority task that’s super frustrating and start making a spreadsheet to make yourself feel productive?
I know all the tricks.
When it comes to songs, how does this show up for you? A technical snag or super tricky notes and rhythms you’d rather fudge than learn?
The time period from can’t do yet to I’ve got a handle on this can be a real dooze.
Because it’s full of unknowns, and our brains HATE unknowns.
They send out danger death signals whenever we encounter something that can’t connect safe and sound to past context.
So when you’re tryina make a sound you’ve never made before, your brain is certainly gonna say “We haven’t done this! This is new! Danger! Who are you, even???” 😳
Anything in life that presents ignorance puts us in this awkward newborn fawn walk. We wobble and find our way, but eventually we’re leaping and bounding over logs and creeks. The fawn’s quicker at it, though.
So here’s your encouragement to nestle right into measure thirteen and see what’s up there.
Practice your hands separately. Give your brain time to connect that dot on the third line of the bass clef to your left pinky.
And trust that if you show up to your work every day and practice with smarts and wisdom, you’re gonna end up somewhere great and full of discoveries that you didn’t know you were gonna make.
It always happens like that. That I do know.
No matter what, remember that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.
ps Hey guess what. I have a clue about what my BoCo teaching skedge is gonna be, so if you need some help with measure 13, I’m Zoom-able to fix all your vocal probs.
Email me here (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we’ll set up a time to make you feel a lot better about life.
pps I’m also gearing up to get a NYC workshop rolling in October. 🎃🏙
We’ll pick a song or two that sangs your unique and effortless energy. We’ll Zoom about it a couple times, then I’ll come to the Citay, work with you one-on-one. And we’ll meet as a group for some communal song magic.
I’ve got a list of interested folk, so please email me if you wanna join me in New York, and I’ll make sure you get all the pertinents.
ppps If you read this far, you’re the best, and you get this quote dessert from brilliant artist writer human Anne Lamott, from her book Bird by Bird.