The Perfectionist’s Dilemma

There’s a stereotype of the laid back musician who wakes up at noon everyday, works a laid back job (usually the service industry) and then plays music until 3 in the morning. They’re described as chill and easy going. The snarkier term could be “lazy.”


But this is just a stereotype.


There are so many other types of musicians and the one that holds a double-edged sword is the perfectionist.


The perfectionist can blow you away when the time comes to show off what she knows, but in private she is constantly doubting her abilities. When the perfectionist practices, it’s a battle of ego verses artist. The ego does everything he can to destroy the artist by focusing on every. single. mistake.


When you focus too much on your mistakes, you lose sight of the real reason for wanting to play music. Yet, this self abuse is what pushes you to work so hard. So, we have a little dilemma on our hands.  What to do about this?


First of all, let’s define a perfectionist. According to Wikipedia:


“Perfectionists strain compulsively and unceasingly toward unobtainable goals, and measure their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment. Pressuring oneself to achieve unrealistic goals inevitably sets the person up for disappointment. Perfectionists tend to be harsh critics of themselves when they fail to meet their standards.”


Now, I’m not a psychologist. My perspective is simply as a piano teacher. I identify my perfectionist students as the ones who cry or throw tantrums when they don’t get something perfect the first time. That’s kind of the extreme version. The more common version I see is the student who generally plays well and learns new concepts quickly, but seems to believe they are terrible musicians or lack talent, and no one is ever able to convince them otherwise.


If you can relate to that, read on dear perfectionist.


You’ve probably thought about quitting every time you make a mistake. But then you work really hard to learn a song and play it beautifully and when you perform it for an audience, the response convinces you for a few moments that you may not actually suck. You may even be as good as they say you are!


But the moment is fleeting. The next day, you go to your instrument and the first blunder sends you back on the insecure train, wondering why the hell you do this still. Ok, here is where you need to STOP. Just take a moment and do something for me.


When you feel yourself spiraling into the abyss of self-doubt, I want you to ask yourself why you wanted to play music in the first place. If you can’t remember, then ask yourself why you like music in general. What does it do for you? How does it feel when you can play something you love? If you can remember the answers to those questions, then use them as fuel to keep playing.


You know how people always say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey? That’s what I’ve had to learn about playing music. As a recovering perfectionist, I have had to constantly remind myself that I wanted to play music because I love the way it feels to create music with my own hands and voice. That it makes me feel happy and it helps me release sad and angry feelings.


What it is NOT about is proving how perfect I am to myself or others.


The perfectionist doesn’t have a quick fix to their problems. It’s something you have to work on all the time if you ever want to feel good about playing music. It’s a gradual mind-set change.


What are some things you do to help with your perfectionism? If you are not a perfectionist, how does your practice differ?



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  1. This is a very good article. I connected with whatever you’ve written. Now, this has helped me build up the self confidence again! Thanks! 🙂

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